Sandeep Reddy Vanga gives a new dimension to Telugu cinema, helped by the brilliant Vijay Deverakonda
Hours after watching Arjun Reddy, it’s hard to shake off its effect. It’s like a hangover, albeit in a good way. It’s been years since Telugu cinema witnessed something this radical, maybe after Ram Gopal Varma’s Shiva.
Arjun Reddy is a non-conformist and so is the film that presents his story like a biopic. It’s a boy-meets-girl story. The boy is brilliant in academics and later, a sure-footed surgeon. But he’s deeply problematic and has anger management issues. He’s an enfant terrible, somewhat like Ranbir Kapoor’s character in Imtiaz Ali’s Rockstar. Only, Arjun Reddy is a more rounded film and the characters of both Arjun (Vijay Deverakonda) and Preeti (Shalini Pandey, an impressive debut) are etched out so well that you empathise with them and hope Arjun finds a way out of the abyss.
The film’s backbone is Deverakonda. He owns every moment on screen. Like Arjun Reddy, Deverakonda knows no fear. In a scene that signals his fall after his first drug overdose, you see him asleep and he has no bladder control. No image-conscious actor would do this.
The film moves between Mangalore and Hyderabad, unravelling chapters from the protagonist’s life. The narrative is free of cinematic twists and turns. The intense drama shakes us up as it unfolds. Arjun spews expletives, bashes up people and the couple isn’t shy of pre-marital sex. But all these are shot without voyeurism.
One may not be drawn into the story at once. It doesn’t sound right when Arjun threatens his peers to steer clear of the new girl in the campus he’s taken a liking to. The girl stays quiet; we don’t know if she feels intimidated. By and by, romance blooms and Arjun and Preeti tie their happiness to being with one another. Rage raises its ugly head when Arjun is insulted by her father.
Arjun could be interpreted as a modern-day Devdas. But Arjun lives life more dangerously. The film doesn’t justify his inherent temper, thankfully. There’s no sob story flashback. He comes from a well-to-do family with sensitive parents, brother and grandmother. There’s excellent support from his friends. Rahul Ramakrishna as the buddy is impactful.
As we watch Arjun despair in self-inflicted pain, we wish someone had counselled him on anger management in his early years. But now, as he sinks deeper and all pleas fail, his grandmother (Kanchana, in a lovely role) understands his plight and says, ‘suffering is personal, let him suffer’.
At each stage, questions arise — significantly, can Arjun be trusted to save lives on the operation table? The in-house court proceedings are the defining moments. Is there hope? A turning point? The film takes its time (187 minutes) to arrive at a logical conclusion.
The length isn’t much of a bother in this compelling story brought to life by Raju Thota’s cinematography, and Radhan’s music that varies from classical strains to more trippy beats. Kamal Kamaraju, Sanjay Swaroop and Priyadarshi chip in with brief but good parts.
The director dedicates the film to those in love, and we’re tempted to ask if it was inspired by someone. The film feels too raw and real to be absolutely fictional.