Varmaa movie review: The insipid ghost of Arjun Reddy
Arjun Reddy made me angry. Varmaa is insipid because it is a half-hearted copy-paste of the original.
I have always maintained that calling something overrated is not a critique of the thing itself, but merely others’ opinion of it. By that standard, Arjun Reddy was grossly overrated. And passionately critiqued multiple times over across languages. The makers and the actors have been adequately interviewed and re-interviewed. With the bombing of Adithya Varma — the official remake of Arjun Reddy in Tamil — I was hoping the phenomenon was put to rest.
Today, the ghost of Arjun Reddy rose from the ground in the form of Varmaa, director Bala’s version of the film that the producers rejected entirely just a few months ago.
For the uninitiated, Varma (Dhruv Vikram), is a medical student and later a brilliant surgeon, with anger issues. He falls in love with Megha, a harmless Megha Chowdhury who has lesser to do in this film than Shalini Pandey did in the original; frankly, I didn’t think that was even possible. Anyway, Megha’s parents reject their relationship because Varma is apparently of a lower caste. He responds by taking to alcohol and drugs to soothe his pain, only to have his life handed back to him on a platter.
Bala has not changed the story much but has made many deletions and some significant additions. There is more phallus in Varmaa — a woman is forced to beg in front of it, a hockey stick symbolises it, a patient compares shaving bodily hair to circumcision, you get the drift. Yet, the film does not look, feel and smell of hypermasculinity.
In fact, from the very beginning, Varma Vasudevan appears vulnerable, even somewhat gentle, if you will. Much of the blatant misogyny and its glorification is missing from this film (thank heavens!) — there are no remarks about fat girls or knife-laden blackmailing for sex or damaging emotional violence.
In short, there is simply not enough Arjun Reddy in Varma. The bad news, however, is that there is not enough Bala either.
Varmaa is not rooted anywhere. The milieu does nothing for the film. Varma’s pain, which is what made Arjun Reddy intense, is heavily diluted. In fact, for the most part, he is just your average alcoholic, only too pampered.
It really does not help that Bhavani, Varma’s house help and a motherly figure, keeps making fun of his predicament. Not like dark commentary, but like he is a child who is searching for the source of the bad smell all over the house, when it is actually coming from his diaper. That Easwari Rao is fantastic as Bhavani is no saving grace. Varma’s friends are forgettable, so are his brother, mother, and everyone else. The music is distinctly second-hand, a half-hearted copy-paste of the original.
Arjun Reddy made me angry. It was a disagreeable film. Varmaa was just an insipid one, something that Bala will be glad to put behind him. So will all of us.
Varmaa is streaming on Simply South.
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