Until August 25, 2017, Arjun Reddy was just a random name in the Telugu speaking states. Today, it is a cult movie. A game changer. A revolutionary celluloid experiment. The movie starring newbie Vijay Devarakonda (of National award-winning Pelli Choopulu fame) has caught the attention of the Telugu film goers like never before.
The reasons for the success of Arjun Reddy are many. First, it is made by a bunch of newcomers who have got nothing much but passion and a burning desire to tell a story on their own terms. Who would otherwise dare to show us a story of a medico who embraces smoking, alcohol, drugs, debauchery and still come across as a youngster with swag? The movie tells it like it is. Perhaps for the first time in Telugu cinema (not that it is an accomplishment), the Telugu audiences heard choicest Telugu expletives mouthed by the protagonist with full gusto. The lead stars in the movie are those who live their lives unapologetically. Overall, Arjun Reddy is a movie about a man who does what he wants to do and thus connects with the Gen X in a big way. That the entire cast speaks in the Telangana dialect (something which has for long been ridiculed in Telugu movies) and makes it sound cool is another instant connect. And above all, there is Vijay Devarakonda’s ace acting – he lives in the role. All these factors have made what is being hailed as a cult film.
The movie begins with a glimpse of the kind of guy Dr Arjun Reddy is. Brash, irreverent, sarcastic and cynical but loyal to his love, college, values etc. He is a top doctor with an impeccable academic record and has performed a record number of surgeries, but is one who scores a zero in anger management. The first half is about Arjun falling in love with his junior, Preeti Shetty (Shalini Pandey), who hails from an orthodox Tulu family, in his medical college at Mangalore. He falls for her at first sight, pursues her violently (he kisses her in public, ahem, and without her consent), then manages to woo her and they live in together with lots of sex thrown in. “We made out 549 times in three years!” is what he reminds her of in a scene. And not to forget the 16 lip-lock scenes through the movie. But soon the love story falls apart when they decide to formally get married as her family objects to their marriage based on caste and because Preeti’s dad is pissed off to see Arjun kissing his daughter right under his nose on their terrace when he comes to talk to him for the first time. Heartbroken, Arjun goes home to give himself an overdose of Morphine while giving Preeti six hours to join him to get married. She has her own compulsions and she cannot make it within the deadline. Arjun now decides to live through the agony of the broken love story through drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol. Even his career is at stake after he is caught doing a surgery under intoxication. There comes a stage where he is literally left with nothing. He loses his job, has no love left and his family almost abandon him. What finally rekindles the life in him towards the end and whether he manages to eventually win over Preeti forms the climax of the film.
Admittedly, the heartrending love story has a lot of flaws and contradictions that would irk progressive thinkers. Should a heartbreak lead to substance abuse? Dr Arjun Reddy talks about how women should not be objectified but goes on to tell Preeti that she should befriend a ‘fat chick’ as there was always a great connection between the two. He talks about consent and leading an open life, but never bothers to ask her before he kisses her in public. Director Sandeep Vanga who comes across as someone who embraces free spirited living but ends the story with Preeti telling Arjun that she hasn’t been touched by anyone but him, while he is shown sleeping around with other women. While he is shown as a man of values who confesses to the judge that he was indeed under intoxicated at a particular surgery although his lawyer and family try to portray it differently, the same Arjun Reddy seems to have no qualms when he did hundreds of other surgeries after consuming alcohol.
However, the movie engages despite these misogynistic shortcomings. It moves briskly, has sharp humor, questions marriage and the other age old relationships in the country, talks about what true love is and holds a mirror to the ideologies of today’s youth. The movie is very macho – be it the way it opens with a robust football game or talks about the way boys think about sex and marriage. It is completely seen from a young man’s perspective. No wonder, the trailer became sensational and one can hear the Gen X preempting all of the dialogues (including the beeped out words) even before Arjun utters it on screen (unusual for a movie without big stars). Their social media marketing was also innovative asking people to change their display pictures in their social media accounts and later an app where one could use the same font as the movie logo to read their names like in the poster.
The background music is phenomenal, very techno in its feel and it touches the heart. The only song that registers is the breakup song (Telisena by Indian Idol Revanth and has rocking rock feel). Raju Thota’s cinematography is top notch. Whether it is the frustration in Arjun Reddy’s face when he sees himself in the mirror as he is asked to shave and do away with his unkempt look or when he and Shalini enjoy a lip-to-lip kiss on the sea shore as the waves come gushing by, it captures Arjun’s world beautifully. In fact, the lip-locks and the making out sessions are captured aesthetically without looking sleazy. Shalini Pandey is innocence personified but has a rather sketchy role as a girl who is brave enough to break the societal norms to embrace premarital sex, but seems rather wimpish in talking over to her dad about her love for Arjun Reddy. Also, we have no clue what happens to her when Arjun Reddy is going through his bitter heartbreak. Rahul Ramakrishna, who plays Arjun Reddy’s friend Shiva, gets the role of a lifetime. His Telangana dialogues, especially when he pulls up the maid for breaking wine glasses is hilarious and connects with the Telanganites well. To use the language of the movie, Arjun Reddy looks freaking awesome in all his avatars – as a clean shaven young medico and as heartbroken Devdas with copious facial hair and all towards the end of the movie. Not many actors put up such a great show so early in their career and one has to commend Vijay Deverakonda for his flawless and brilliant performance. And last but not least, yesteryear heroine of the 1960s and 70s, Kanchana, plays a progressive grandmother who believes that the heartbreak trauma that Arjun Reddy is going through is transformatory.
Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga apparently had a tough time selling his movie but looks like post Arjun Reddy‘s success, he is going to be a director in demand with the film running houseful in India and abroad. And, to his credit, it is undoubtedly a movie that is well worth a watch. Just be ready to defend your point of view about the film once you’ve watched it because the entire states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana are already busy discussing the movie in minute detail.
Telugu, Drama, Color