Arjun Reddy movie review: Vijay Devarakonda-starrer heralds a new chapter in Telugu cinema
Director: Sandeep Kumar Vanga
In 2016, when Vijay Devarakonda-Tharun Bhascker’s Pellichoopulu hit the screens, the film felt like petrichor after a long dry season. A year later, Vijay’s latest film — Arjun Reddy — has a different aftertaste. This time, it feels like you were in the middle of a Category 5 hurricane. Yes! Arjun Reddy heralds a new chapter in Telugu cinema with its bold, brave new storytelling style that depicts a man’s falls and rise in its purest form. There’s hardly a scene that feels out of place and it’s not everyday you come across a Telugu film that’s as intense and honest as this one. In other words, it’s not a film. It’s an experience.
Every story has a beginning, a middle, and an end. But Arjun Reddy doesn’t bother to give you an idea of what the plot is about or what to expect from the film. After a point, you even forget thinking about how this film is going to end. The path, that the titular character chooses, itself becomes a conflict point and as we dig deep into its layers, it becomes even more evident that Arjun Reddy is a character study about a man who’s heartbroken. It’s not a question of whether the path that the lead character chooses is right or wrong, but what constantly haunts us is how long will he keep enduring the pain before he breaks down.
Writer-director Sandeep demands our full attention to the world he has created and once you submit yourself unconditionally, Arjun Reddy turns into a hugely rewarding experience. There are no gimmicks, no surprises, no twists. And in doing so, we are forced to absorb the film at a more personal and subconscious level. Every scene has something to say — whether it’s about the characters or the idea of suffering and pain. And every character is pushed to the brink because of a choice one person makes.
At its core, Arjun Reddy is a modern version of Devdas, of a protagonist who embraces suffering and resists change in his life after he’s heartbroken. We are told that Arjun Reddy (Vijay Devarakonda) is an alcoholic; however, his track record as a surgeon is impeccable. He’s a loner, but at times, he can’t resist his carnal desires. Despite all this, he’s constantly haunted by the thoughts of his ex-girlfriend Preethi (Shalini), who he met in college. The rest of the story is about how Arjun deals with the heartbreak and how darkness envelops his life as a result of his alcoholism.
One of things that strikes you early in the film is that it’s drawn from real life experiences. There’s no way someone could have written this story without having lived or seen those characters in real life. A huge part of the film is set in a medical college in Mangalore and the landscape becomes a character of its own in the first half of the film. Sandeep Kumar Vanga is so aware about what he’s making that he goes by his gut instincts and turns the tale of Arjun Reddy into a biography. This, in turn, leaves us clueless about what to expect next. The unpredictability makes it even more enticing to follow the journey of the lead character. It’s almost like reading a book, where every page sparkles with life.
If you are looking explicitly for one sequence which defines what Arjun Reddy is all about, then it has to be the segment where he gets a phone call and he yells — “Em Matladuthunnav ra…M&#*@#$d?” What follows next is the epitome of attitude, and the rise of a new star — Vijay Devarakonda — who personifies what anger and rage look like. But Arjun Reddy isn’t about just that one sequence alone. The whole film is filled with plenty of explosive moments and conversations, some of which are shot in long takes, that’ll make you empathise, sympathise, curse, love, hate everything that you see on screen.
Arjun Reddy might be the poster boy of machismo, but at the same time, he’s practical and his love story is driven by his free-spirited nature. He doesn’t understand the barriers that society has set for everyone and he wants to burn them all down. He makes a lot of questionable choices much to the dismay of his friends, but that’s what defines the character. For instance, we are left wondering if there was another way Arjun could have chosen to express his love for Preethi, who’s a damsel in distress in the movie. Maybe. The two start off their relationship on unequal terms. Everyone is afraid of Arjun in college and Preethi has no choice but to follow his instructions. And then, one fine day, she opens up to him, embraces his madness, and makes peace with the fact that he will not change even for the sake of their love.
While Sandeep Kumar Vanga paves the way for a new style of filmmaking which doesn’t adhere to any rules of conventional storytelling, please put your hands together for Vijay Devarakonda, who is the life of Arjun Reddy. I can’t think of any other actor in Telugu cinema right now who could have pulled off this film with such conviction, and that is an understatement. Be it his anger or self-inflicted pain, Vijay nails every single shade in his character, and he does all this as if it was child’s play. No matter what you think of the the film, let this be inscribed in stone — Vijay Devarakonda: What an actor! What an amazing actor.
Rahul Ramakrishna, who plays Vijay’s friend in the movie, is terrific and he gives us some of the best moments in the film with his quirky one-liners. More than anything, it’s a relief to watch a film where characters talk like normal people. And Rahul brings this sort of authenticity to his character. Shalini, who plays Preethi, is good and it’s the vulnerability that she encapsulates that makes the love story so intense.
The film also scores big in terms of its music — Radhan does a terrific job with his background score, and the cinematography is top-notch. At a runtime of just above three hours, Arjun Reddy is a lengthy film and the second half, in particular, drags a tad much, but when you think about what a first-time director has achieved through this story, it’s worth it. If you tear few pages from a book, you might still get the gist of it, but here, Sandeep Kumar Vanga wants you to read every single page of his story.
Arjun Reddy isn’t a bold and a brave film because it has plenty of expletives or sexually-charged scenes. It’s bold and brave because Sandeep and Vijay Devarakonda have walked down a path none have before, and in doing so, they have opened the doors to a new chapter of Telugu cinema, where you can just about tell any story if you have the conviction to do so. There’s a dialogue in the film, where Arjun’s grandmother says, “Suffering is personal. Let him suffer.” That’s the whole point of the film. It’s the personal journey of a man who tumbles down the rabbit hole and when he climbs out of it, his redemption feels like a triumph. I went to watch this film with an open mind, and now, I can’t stop thinking about it. The crack of a new dawn, even if it's at the movies, hasn’t felt this good in a long time and all we can do is sit and marvel at it. We just witnessed a hurricane. Two big thumbs up for Arjun Reddy. If you are planning to watch a Telugu film this weekend, this should be on top of your list.