As I leave the topic of how original or derivative this film is for better men and women to discuss, I would like to dissect my wholly personal opinion about Arjun Reddy. As with the audience at large, I was left split right down the middle when it came to the film’s message, theme, tone, story, and performances and so on. The simplest reflection of this would be seeing my unbridled jubilation at the interval card which left me clapping at the screen (which had one of the best camera moves and edits I’ve seen all year) like a drunken seal and pure disdain at that cop-out of an ending which was succinctly expressed by a groan for the ages.
As I recovered from a bout of illness, I found myself with ample time to put the dichotomy I experienced to words. With most members of the film’s target demographic embracing it as the second coming of the cinematic Christ and declaring director Sandeep Vanga as the next iteration of Mani Ratnam, Arjun Reddy is in no way lacking audience engagement but the simplest question I asked myself while trying to place this film on my scale of quality was “Is this film as groundbreaking as its supporters say or is it as poisonous to the very fabric of the society we live in as its detractors say?”
The answer to that question like the film’s overall quality itself lies somewhere in the middle.
The film is bookended with an ethereal message (obviously aping scripture) about the importance of and the integral part a romantic relationship plays in the life of every human being. The audience is gently dropped into the world Dr. Reddy inhabits by means of a grandmother’s kind words echoing fond memories of her grandson. Seemingly opposing these words from minute one is the titular Arjun Reddy who threatens a soon-to-be-married woman into having sex with him, which she rejects owing to the presence of her fiancé, following which he drops a handful of ice into his pants which aids him in subsiding the fire in his loins.
This is a light bright approach to establishing a character for any movie, be it Telugu or otherwise. A film boldly daring an audience to connect with an almost reprehensible human being whose only redeeming quality is his excellence in his craft. This is bound to jolt a weary film viewer like me out of his seat. While this cinematic exercise and its lead character pull off these shocking antics to great effect at almost every turn, the film itself is still unapologetically a part of the industry it is trying to separate itself from and this caveat aids in undercutting the film’s overall impact at every turn.
The examples are not few and far between. Taking the aforementioned opening sequence as an example, the good doctor going through a debilitating breakup looking for a physical release of his urges never once actually ends up releasing said urges with another woman. While the film would like to anoint itself as different from its contemporaries, it also wholly believes that true love (true sex) happens with one woman and one woman alone and the lead character needs to adhere to this golden rule lest the audience grow to see him as a fresh character who truly defies the mould.
This is but one of many such instances. From Arjun Reddy never fully paying the price for the toxic masculinity he exudes to the solutions to his problems being present with him making no compromise or experiencing any consequence; the film while presented with a heft of originality never truly elevates itself to a higher echelon of storytelling because of the many tried-and-true avenues it takes.
Be it far from my pay grade to wholly dictate what constitutes a man’s fall from grace, my true analytical skills stand with going through the many aspects of filmmaking. With that in mind, this is a gorgeously shot and scored idiosyncratic powerhouse of a film. The erratic camerawork accompanying Vijay Devarkonda’s performance that has his character bear every destructive emotion he has on his sleeve is glorious to watch. While not being a character who slips from being unfathomably nice to being an unbearable dick, Arjun Reddy’s portrayal is one of an overbearing, uber-masculine boy in his mid-20s who was never truly advised against his nuclear ways because of the excellence he showcases in his field of study. Now there is a subtle lesson for society.
Through all the wisdom the film imparts both subtle and overt, Arjun Reddy and the problems in his life and film will never truly cease to exist. Let me use a scene from the film as an example yet again. At a juncture in the film when Arjun continues his downward spiral, a friend of his drops off a wedding invitation; Arjun realizes that his friend’s marriage was borne out of love and was not arranged by the elders of the household. Arjun berates his friend’s relationship saying it in no way compared to his because no other couple could ever share the kind of intimate connection he did with his girlfriend. To that, his friend replies that his own relationship took time, effort, patience and love to make it go the distance and end up at the upcoming nuptials. While this is meant to help the viewer understand that Arjun’s life is not one to aspire to, the film sends mixed messages by rewarding Arjun for his errant ways as the climactic scene rolls around.
If one does not learn from his past, one is destined to repeat his mistakes in the future. I for one want to see a sequel to Arjun Reddy some 10 years down the line. Finally a point in time where filmmakers believe that audiences are ready for an ending that isn’t sugar coated and wrapped up in a neat little bow. A point in time where Arjun’s atrocities catch up to him and he has to evolve as a person
what do I know, smarter people than I have said life is cyclical and maybe Arjun Reddy 2 would be another showcase of how being a whiny, self-actualizing, super intelligent, booze-soaked baby gets you everything you want after you’ve adequately damaged your brain and liver.