Arjun Reddy is introduced to us as a brilliant medical student and later on as a surgeon dealing with addiction issues. The most impressive part is the way director stayed true with the choices that the character makes at various stages and faces the repercussions of those choices with utmost honesty. We are mostly used to characters that are rebels for various reasons, some of which we empathize with and some not so. But it’s still hard to take the character through so many upheavals and all along keep those choices strictly within the purview of the character and not tone down based on what society and common sense expects or stipulates. The reason Arjun’s love for Preethi (who is a fresher in the college) starts to stand out is the unique way he openly declares his love for Preethi, with his friends first and then Preethi’s class and hostel-mates even before he confronts Preethi.
Arjun’s scant regard for game regulations was evident when he’s confronted by atrocious tactics from his opponents which opens up the flood gates of his anger. His actions thereafter devoid of any regret, makes us aware of his irate and impulsive nature. Arjun never provides explanation for his actions which is always the turn of his buddy – Shiva. Even when faced with ominous consequences Arjun does not cave in to pressure. We will see patterns of this aggressive behavior repeat at other equally dire stages and events that confront him and even for things so beloved to him, he’s never the one to budge. That is something very rarely seen in an Indian movie not just Telugu, where most of the rebellious characters are pushed into a crater that they themselves dig into but they rarely venture into an endless abyss. This aspect of staying true with the character and not delving into a character’s motives halfheartedly made it look as if we were looking into someone’s life in an autobiographical fashion but not as fiction unfolding. Vijay Devarakonda breathes fire all through the film and his scenes when doused with anger are simply cinema at its best.
Arjun’s sensitivity to a women as an individual who needs proper respect and space were given to us in ample evidence esp. during the Holi festival incident. And also when discussing the way women need to be cared for during their menstrual periods or when his friend Shiva introduces his future brother-in-law who seemed to objectify a women’s body in a crude way. In continuation of this chivalrous theme, Arjun’s scenes with Preethi were very well written to show us that there is a very fine line between expressing your love to your girlfriend and in trying to impose yourself on her in deference of her wishes. Initially Arjun does appear to be doing the latter on Preethi but slowly we (and Preethi) realize when she gets injured or when she’s physically abused that there is much more to Arjun’s passion that is out of the ordinary. And the scenes that surround the first time prolonged separation between the lovers when Arjun goes to Dehradun for his further studies show us the depth and intensity that has engulfed both the characters.
Again there have been lovers (at least on screen), with similar passion and longing but never before have we seen a physical aspect to their relationship (549 times ?) being treated and talked about very casually without any guilt pangs on either sides. There have been umpteen moments in Bollywood where the consummation of a romantic relationship was talked about, meandered but never carried through for obvious reasons. Marriage was the license that had to deliver it. How come that sacrosanct principle was casually broken and we accepted it without a fuss? Is it just the new generation talking or is it how the director views physical needs as just an extension and natural expression of love? The same attitude towards the physical aspect comes into picture when Arjun post his breakup with Preethi, looks for sexual gratification with no strings (read emotions) attached, with his patients which includes a movie heroine. And even from a sex worker he would not seek that gratification. Spoiler alert – liked the way the episode with the heroine was added back to the story when Preethi confronts Arjun.
Looking at how the director cares so little about the physical aspect of a relationship, the cause for pregnancy might have originally been her abrupt marriage and she might have moved out of her marriage by the time she met Arjun again in the end. And the kind of love that Arjun professes and lives for, he’s prepared to embrace the unborn child as his and be a father to Preethi’s kid. The ending seems a tad tame considering the risks taken and the age old conventions that the movie has bashfully enjoyed in breaking all along its narrative. Sandeep, should we wait for the Hindi version to see the ending you had originally written?
One other aspect, which was very impressive, is the rawness that has made it look so life like. There are multiple factors that add to that realism. The dialogues were written in natural Hyderabadi accent which some movies recently have started to use and that was a huge factor in making it feel as if it was happening in your friends’ or cousins’ house and you were just witnessing it firsthand. And a lion’s share of the reason we feel empathy for Arjun (and humor too), should go to Arjun’s friend – Shiva, who just did not act. He simply lived it. There have been sidekicks before but none as endearing and selfless as Shiva. His reactions are so spontaneous that we start laughing at his dialogues and observations from his second scene itself. Very well written and executed, all with a straight poker face. The dialogues also had depth when needed notably when the grandmother spoke and to make her feel real, the director made her multi-lingual and thereby ahead of her times.
The camera does not try to garner attention with weird angles but just stays a silent observer capturing and conveying only what is needed. But when needed the camera did enhance the scene like when the hero after the breakup injects dope to himself. And without saying much the camera just rotates the frame with Arjun lying unconscious and the camera takes a 180 degree rotation which ends with Arjun feeling on top of the world. Speechless! Here the background score slowly slows down the songs playing in the background and in effect making us go through exactly what Arjun was going through.
The background score is another landmark which added layers to the drama as and when needed. The sound design was eclectic with a very edgy feel and scenes that stood out were the football match episode, the Holi festival incident, and when Arjun gets addicted to drugs and alcohol. The director has a very clear idea of what, where and how much he wanted to add music to the scenes. Like during the break up when Preethi was trying hard to hold on to Arjun on the street and a tussle erupts, there was no music. The music with a symphony feel starts when Arjun breaks away with an ultimatum to Preethi. Very unlike Tollywood and the ensuing effect made it feel very surreal. The recurring image I have been having is that of Arjun going on his Royal Enfield bike to take revenge and the BGM that accompanied that scene was so pacy, intense and raw. Vadavowvow vadavow vadavow… Brilliant!
The length of more than 3 hours for a love story is definitely risky but the director went the extra mile, to give us more and more facets about the hero and his travails as the character was worth journeying with and worthy of all the extra footage and drama. It was not a case of take some bricks/chapters out of the building/movie and the whole structure would collapse. It was more like add some more sub stories/plots to the structure and it would become one of the tallest towers in a landscape of towering love stories. It was a calculated but well thought out move and in the process severely challenged existing norms of content and run times. Maybe because of the extended runtime, towards the end of the movie, it feels as if some of the dope has rubbed on us too.
Arjun Reddy can be called a triumph of character to give well deserved credit to the writer in Sandeep. Writing is a painful process and writers are always chasing a delusion of some kind with their characters. The challenge is in making that delusion palpable without being too indulgent. Most of the writers start with a rough sketch and discover and unravel the eccentricities of the character as they go along. They are together in this journey and it helps the script if they do not out run each other.
We all hope this movie will be a harbinger for many more realistic experiments like this. In the end what decides the fate of any story is how real and layered are the characters and how honestly are the writers and directors willing to explore and to what depths. Will the wait for the next Arjun Reddy be akin to the wait for the next Total Solar Eclipse? Hope not.