This year Telugu cinema seems to be on a roll. From an industry which is known for churning out nonsensical but enjoyable masala potboilers – this we’ve got many refreshing realistic dramas that feel like raindrops on a parched desert. With films like Ninnu Kori, Fidaa, Nene Raju Nene Mantri (reviews coming up soon), and now Arjun Reddy being made and becoming successful, Telugu cinema seems to be in an interesting phase this year.
Out of all these films, Arjun Reddy would be the most radical one. Not that the story is something that has never been told before, but the way it is told is so startlingly different as compared to the usual Telugu films. Arjun Reddy is so raw, so disturbing, so real in a way I haven’t seen in any mainstream film recently.
Arjun Reddy (Vijay Sai Devarakonda) is a brilliant medical student with a promising future. However, he has one major flaw – anger management issues. His professor addresses this issue by saying how ‘a surgeon who can’t control his temper is like a murderer carrying a scalpel’. When one day in a fit of anger he decides to leave college, he sets eyes upon Preethi (Shalini Pandey), a docile first year student. It’s love at first sight, and decides to stay on. Slowly the two embark on an intense relationship, both mentally and physically. Until family pressure forces Preethi to marry another man, leaving Arjun devastated. He goes on to become a wonderful surgeon, but has set out on a path of self-destruction, relying on alcohol, drugs and women to numb his pain.
Arjun Reddy is a film with attitude. It doesn’t try to tone things down to make it more palatable to the mainstream crowd. Take the poster, for example. How many Telugu film posters have shown the leads kissing? Or the scene where Arjun stuffs ice cubes in his pants to control his sexual urge. The film doesn’t make a big deal of the intimate scenes. Instead it feels natural, organic, like you see in Western films. The film has a lot of English dialogues too, which is not so common in a mainstream regional language film. There’s even a bit of cussing.
The romance in the film seems somewhat problematic in the beginning. The imbalance in Arjun and Preethi’s relationship reminded me of Kaatru Veliyidai, and even Sethu (Tere Naam in Hindi). It’s quite obvious that Arjun is the dominant one in the relationship. The moment he sets eyes on her he goes to a first year class and warns them away from her, claiming her as his. The first time he talks to her, he gives her a peck on her cheek. He decides her roommate, her friends and pulls her out of anatomy class and teaches her himself by drawing muscle structures in her arms. We never really get how Preethi feels about the whole thing, until a scene where he falls asleep on her lap, and she asks her friends to get him a blanket.
Though all this feels quite disturbing, as the film unfolds, our perspective begins to change. If we wonder why Preethi reacts so normally at Arjun’s domination, we see later that she has known no other way. As Margaret points out, she comes from a family that is equally, if not more, dominating and controlling over her. Arjun making decisions for her is not a novel thing, that’s how she has lived all her life. But we see how, slowly, she starts steering the relationship forwards. She is the one who initiates their first kiss. She is the one who makes the first move in maintaining their long-distance relationship when Arjun moves away for higher studies. And then of course, there is the climax (which I won’t spoil) where we truly see the strength of her love which is, in fact, even more powerful than Arjun’s love for her.
Post interval, the film gets darker and more intense. The medical portions are very well done (which isn’t all that surprising, considering that the director has a physiotherapy degree). We see how, despite his addiction issues, he excels in his medical profession (he makes the nurses mark a line in his liquor glass to ensure his sobriety). Until of course, the two mix. Like many other reviewers pointed out, the second half pans out like a modern-day Devdas tale, complete with a Chandramukhi-esque character in the second half. Only, its more realistic. And less self-obsessed. Apart from just showing us Arjun’s misery and suffering and forcing us to sympathize with him, we get to see how his despair affects each character around him. His friend Shiva (Rahul Ramakrishnan) who sticks by him despite Arjun’s not-so friendly jibes. Another friend Kamal, whose love story draws a beautiful parallel to Arjun’s, Arjun’s brother, his parents, and even his grandmother.
However, the film unexpectedly also offers many laughs. There’s a hilarious scene where Arjun tries to explain his situation to Shiva using a PMS analogy. And another scene where Shiva describes his friendship with Arjun as ‘pissing over himself with only him being able to enjoy the warmth’.
Vijay Devarakonda is the highlight of the film. It is to his credit that despite many unlikable characteristics, we still root for him. Every expression is pitch-perfect. He exudes the right amount of anger, arrogance and pain the character demands, not once going overboard. And I applaud him for the scene where he urinates on the bed after an overdose. I can’t see any other image-conscious actor agreeing to play such a scene. Also, as an added bonus, he’s HOT!
Shalini Pandey does a decent job too (kudos for the self-dubbing despite not knowing the language). Among the supporting cast, Rahul Ramakrishnan was wonderful as the loyal friend who gets to crack many interesting one liners. Veteran actress Kanchana as Arjun’s grandmother has a beautiful role in the film, and she was lovely. Rest of the cast played their parts to perfection.
The direction is great too. I was specifically impressed by the interval block, when the camera, after focusing on Arjun lying passed out after his first overdose, showing quite literally how his life is going to turn upside-down. The music is decent, but I felt there were a few too many songs. But Madhurame is beautiful.
The climax was quite unexpected, and I did feel a bit like the makers was trying a bit too hard to end the film on a happy note. But on second thoughts, the ending kind of works. In fact, it’s the ending that truly does justice to Preethi’s character and makes us look at their love story in a new light.