Arjun Reddy

Poster

Sandeep Vanga’s début film is epic. I don’t mean epic in the sense of Sanjay Leela Bhansali style staging (although at points it is), but rather epic in terms of story and exceptional attention to detail. It’s an all-encompassing tale of one man’s journey through love and loss, through addiction, pain and despair but still managing to survive with the support of his friends. The attention to detail in the story is exquisite and Vijay Deverakonda is outstanding as the titular character who is essentially a modern-day Devdas. But this story is so much more complicated than Devdas. It’s almost a documentary where every small facet of Arjun’s life is laid bare for the audience to pick over and examine in detail. So, we see Arjun’s family, his girlfriend and her family, college friends and enemies, work colleagues, even friends’ families who all have a role to play in the story. It’s also epic in terms of the love story where the passion is so large and so over-whelming that it bursts from the screen in waves of emotion that almost drown out everything else; where nothing else matters to Arjun and Preeti except each other and the scale of their love. This is selfishness and single-mindedness taken to the extreme and yet Sandeep Vanga somehow makes it seem plausible. And finally, it’s epic in terms of Arjun’s descent into alcoholism and drug abuse to the point where I was amazed he was still alive after his binges, let alone coherent. It’s also a little over 3 hours long – epic indeed!

Arjun (Vijay Deverakonda) is a Masters student at medical college when he first sees Preeti (Shalini Pandey), one of the new intake of first year students. He desires her as soon as he sets eyes on her and as college topper and all-round hero of the college he quickly marks her as his ‘property’. Strangely Preeti doesn’t seem too upset by Arjun taking over her life, but acquiesces to all of his demands, even when he tells her who to befriend, and she falls quickly fall into love and into Arjun’s bed without any objections. But then Arjun is popular and smart, so perhaps her instant attraction is understandable. He’s also brash and over-confident with anger management issues. He picks a fight at a football match and refuses to apologise afterwards because the fight was pretty much the whole point of the event for Arjun. Once Arjun falls for Preeti, he is completely obsessed by her and every single insult is of monumental importance, requiring instant satisfaction for which he is willing to beat the entire world to death if necessary.

It’s interesting that Preeti doesn’t have a voice until well into the narrative. Perhaps her reticence is because she’s simply over-whelmed by the attentions of the most popular guy in the college. There is the usual stalking = love trope as Arjun basically bullies Preeti into being his girlfriend, but somehow it seems possible given that Arjun is a free spirit and the normal rules don’t seem to apply. However, once Preeti falls in love, she’s just as obsessed as Arjun, to the point of following him up north when he moves away to finish his surgical residency. The love story is intense and physical with both Arjun and Preeti as single-minded as each other, and both utterly dependent on the other for their happiness.

Of course this is a story of loss and when Preeti’s family reject Arjun and marry her off to someone from their own caste, Arjun immediately sinks into despair. He quickly becomes an alcoholic and drug addict, although still manages to work as a surgeon with a devoted team of nurses who hide his drinking from management. His obsession with Preeti leads to an estrangement from his own father (Sanjay Swaroop) and the emotion in these scenes is raw and very believable. My favourite line in the entire film is when Arjun’s grandmother (Kanchana) is talking to Arjun’s brother Gautham (Kamal Kamaraju) and sums my own thoughts up beautifully by saying: ‘he wants to suffer – then let him!’

The story works because although Arjun lives life right on the very edge, his bad decisions are believable and mixed up with actions which so often are right. He’s a capable surgeon who really cares about his patients, and who all love him as a result. Ditto the other staff at the hospital who adore him. He is rather less considerate of his friends and continually abuses Shiva (an absolutely brilliant Rahul Ramakrishna) for having no ambition, even when Shiva is constantly rescuing Arjun from the consequences of his own excesses. No matter what his friends try, Arjun remains fixated on Preeti and addicted to alcohol or any other chemical that can blot out his misery for a few hours.

Sandeep Vanga conveys the fundamental selfishness of love in his story, and in his focus on Arjun succeeds in painting a realistically raw picture of despair and a broken heart. With all his flaws, Arjun is still a sympathetic character and the sheer depth of the emotion portrayed here drives a visceral response to many of the scenes in the film. Vijay Deverakonda really is incredible as Arjun and it’s a testament to the excellence of his acting skills that the character remains sympathetic despite Arjun’s many shortcomings. He ensures Arjun’s obsessive nature is sharply revealed in the early scenes and the swings between lover and addict, anger and happiness, hope and despair are amazingly powerful. This really is excellent work from Vijay and it will be interesting to see what he does next.

Also very impressive is Rahul Ramakrishna who strikes exactly the right balance as Arjun’s long-suffering friend Shiva, and his mixture of humour and concern feels true to life. His character is also very relatable, made even more so by the clever scenes with his own father that are so different to Arjun’s posturing, making Shiva my favourite character in the film. His dialogue too is clever with some great self-deprecation, but Rahul also manages to convey his hurt at Arjun’s remarks, despite knowing it’s the alcohol and drugs talking. The other friends, Kamal (Kalyan Subrahmanyam), Keerthi (Anisha Alla) and Vidya (Aditi Myakal) are also very good, as are the rest of the support cast. Radhan provides the music which suits the film well and the songs are used as backdrop while moving the story forward. No big song and dance numbers, but this is not that sort of film.

Even with the over-blown nature of Arjun’s romance and subsequent melt-down, the story feels realistic and plausible, mainly due to the excellent characterisations and honest dialogue. Arjun’s addiction is particularly well done and is an surprisingly  accurate description with his downwards spiral into self-absorption, mania, paranoia and continual pattern of pushing people away despite their attempts to help. This is good storytelling and I really hope the Telugu film industry can start to move away from current clichéd and formulaic screenplays into similarly more open and realistic films. It’s been a trend in the rest of the South for the last few years and it finally seems to be reaching Hyderabad. While Arjun Reddy may not be a film for everybody, it is an excellent watch and I enjoyed every minute – even if it’s not always a comfortable film to view. Highly recommended.

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Athey Kangal (1967)

Athey Kangal DVD

Athey Kangal (The Same Eyes) is loads of fun. My DVD has this fabulous teaser leading up to the menu. How could you resist?

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After a funky track over animated titles, the story kicks off with a bang. A spin on the country house murder mystery, AC Tirulokchandar opens with a murder staged to look like a suicide, a further murder attempt and a complement of suspects on the spot. A voiceover in the film asks that viewers refrain from spoiling the film for others so I will do my best to comply.

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The suspects include landlords Kamalanathan (S.A Ashokan), Vimalanathan (Ceylon Manohar), a visiting doctor friend (K Balaji), Nair the cook, and their resident physician. Things are further complicated when their niece Suseela comes home from college for a holiday, bringing a gaggle of girlfriends. Who will be next? And whodunit?

Don’t get too caught up in the murder mystery. The characters only give it occasional attention and they are easily distracted from the sense of impending doom. Despite the death toll, the tone is generally light and the romance between Bhaskar (Ravichandran) and Suseela (Kanchana) takes the centre stage. They meet, they like what they see and love blooms.

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Bhaskar is a jolly and uncomplicated hero except for pretending to be married (to Nagesh in drag) so he could rent a room reserved for married couples. He is working as a musician at the Hotel Emerald and seems happy with his life and prospects.

Suseela is equally straightforward. When she found out her true love was already ‘married’, she severed communication with him. But when he stalked her and produced both his wife and the explanation, she forgave him and enjoyed the absurdity of the situation as much as I did.

One of the best things about having a boyfriend in a hotel band appears to be access to the dress up department for New Year celebrations. This is such a demure can-can and yet it does provide the obligatory riot of colour (and a glimpse of tinsel trimmed bloomers)

There are abundant clues and red herrings. A cigar stub is found near all the victims, a mysterious lady in white flits around, Kamalanathan goes on ‘out of station’ journeys and just how many pairs of two tone wing tip shoes can there be? The aunty who survived a strangling attempt is unhinged and in danger. Following her near-strangling she also develops a fear of knives, loud noises and tomato sauce. Suseela starts to receive death threats over the phone and Bhaskar finds himself drawn into the hunt for the killer. This is good as the police have a sporadic and not very productive involvement in the case. Everyone seems to have been told to maintain an ominous expression with the intent to keep them all as viable suspects.

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Suseela puts on a brave face and surrounds herself with her friends but the threats escalate and so does her fear. The girls stay with Suseela and while they have very little dialogues, they do have excellent outfits and accessories which give them some individuality. I was tickled by their idea of suitable attire for social work in a village. Susi’s friend Julie is another bright spark although why why why would you look upon Nagesh and find insta-love?

The costume team reserved their best efforts for the ladies, and maybe Nagesh. I cannot think of a good reason for his pale pink satin dress with red velvet dragon applique but I am pleased they came up with it.

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AC Tirulokchandar has opted for a broad, slightly over the top, style from his actors. Ravichandran looks like he is having a fine time in most of his scenes and gives the dancing a decent try.  While there should be a question mark over this plausible stranger he is just too nice to be the real killer. Kanchana is bubbly and a good match for Ravichandran, although thankfully her dancing is better. I did wonder at Suseela’s ability to seemingly forget that her life was in danger but maybe it takes more than a gunman mortally wounding her birthday cake to rattle Susi. It was nice to see a heroine who isn’t a total panic merchant. Nagesh is reminiscent of Jerry Lewis, and that stops me from liking him wholeheartedly. To be fair, he does enliven some scenes very nicely especially the dances or musical breaks.

Veda’s music is wonderful. Borrowing heavily from the James Bond theme at times, the tone is jazzy big band and brassy. The songs are beautifully filmed and have an exuberant and cheeky humour. There is a wonderful scene where Suseela and the girls are scared at home alone. As a way of whistling in the dark they put on a record and the dramatic percussion is a very funny counterpoint to their increasingly fearful faces.

The visual design is a delight from start to finish. The main mansion set is crammed with sculptures and taxidermy, just the thing to create startling shadows and get the nerves jangling. The interior designer loved feature walls with elaborate mouldings. There is excellent use of windows and niches framing shots, giving a sense of people lurking. I like the way the windows in the aunt’s room look like eyes gazing down at her. No wonder she was a basket case.

I like the relationship between Bhaskar and Suseela as they seem to have similarities in their approach to life and are equally committed to song interludes wherever possible. The comedy is painful at times and I just don’t think fat or wearing a dress is an automatic joke. But the hijinks are in keeping with the rest of the tone so while I could wish away the comedy uncles they aren’t a total disruption to the narrative. The supporting actors, and iMDB is useless for naming them, are mostly fine.

There are a few vague similarities to Teesri Manzil in the Bhaskar and Suseela romance and the murder mystery, but the story is different in some details and the level of angst is considerably lower.  Often with older films I find myself taking lots of notes or making diagrams and charts to keep track of who’s who. I just sat back and enjoyed Athey Kangal immensely. 4 stars!