Vijay Deverakonda: Arjun Reddy gave me the confidence to speak my mind
Fame is, perhaps, the most uncertain of all things in the film industry. You can spend all your life in the film industry without making a name for yourself or you could be blessed with the love and affection of millions of people on a single Friday. In Vijay Deverakonda’s case, best known for his performance in Pellichoopulu so far, his life is no longer the same after the release of Arjun Reddy. Directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga, the film portrayed Vijay as a surgeon, who turns into an alcoholic after break-up, with severe anger-management issues. In a free-wheeling chat, Vijay talks about the film and what helped him to pull off the role. Excerpts from an interview:
In the past couple of years, we have come to know Vijay Devarakonda as a happy-go-lucky guy off-screen and the roles you have done so far have a similar vibe. However, in Arjun Reddy you were a whole new person altogether. Where did all that rage come from?
Arjun Reddy might be a challenging role, but it was the easiest thing for me to do. I would give the entire credit to Sandeep Reddy Vanga for writing such an amazing script and the dialogues blew my mind. That dialogue “Suffering is personal, let him suffer” was so profound. I don’t think anyone has framed it in those exact words before. I understood the emotion of every scene and I had the freedom to frame it the way I want. It’s not a dialogue anymore, it’s an emotion. I could use English wherever I wanted, I had to convert some stuff into Telugu. But few things sound better in English because they aren’t as profound and can’t be translated. Luckily, people absorbed all that.
I remember the first time we met and as he kept narrating the story, I had a frown on my face. I didn’t realise that I was already into the character and this intense gaze, where Arjun looks into a person’s eyes while talking, found its way into the film as well. When I listen to a script, I get plenty of ideas about how I’m going to play the role, if I like it. It’s one of those things. One of the traits of the character is that he has anger-issues. I guess we all have a radical side which we tame with time. We are trained to not attach so much importance to ourselves, be humble, and that also dictates the choices we make. But Arjun Reddy is unapologetic and he doesn’t think he’s doing anything wrong. Thanks to Sandeep, I tapped into that side of my persona while acting in the film. While doing the film, through this character, I learnt to be more straight-forward about my opinions. Now, when I listen to a script which I don’t end up liking, instead of telling, “Sir, I don’t have dates to do this film," I can say that I don’t see myself in the film. It might turn out to be a blockbuster, but I’m clear that I won’t do something if it’s not my cup of tea. This film felt liberating. It gave me the confidence to speak my mind.
So what is it that you don’t want to do?
There are films where people end up putting together interesting scenes, without an emotional arc. When I hear such stories I get scared. I love writer-directors. It’s okay if you using someone else to fine-tune a script, but I get jitters when someone else writes big chunks of a film. I guess I like telling stories rather than just entertaining or packaging to please the audience. More than actors, you end up falling in love with the characters. Rahul Ramakrishna (he played Shiva) and Shalini were amazing in Arjun Reddy. If I do 4-5 bad films in a row, I don’t think people will like me anymore, but they would still remember Arjun Reddy. Another area where I get disconnected very easily is stories which have larger-than-life characters. I tend to prefer realistic cinema. I even enjoy watching films like that in the sense that I prefer a Godfather or a Schindler’s List over Star Wars.
Going back to your childhood, you studied in a boys-only residential school in Puttaparthi in Southern Andhra Pradesh. How did that experience shape your thoughts?
I think my schooling in Puttaparthi helped a lot because when you start living away from your family from the age of 5, you are left on your own to deal with whatever happens in your life. The teachers knew that we were all devils [laughs], so they would keep threatening us that they would call our parents if we did something wrong. That meant a lot more trouble. We were encouraged to read a lot, play sports, and the school was so strict that we had no TV, and there was only one newspaper to read. Even there, the entertainment supplement was removed to keep us away from any distractions [laughs]. When you have so much time, you have to do something to keep yourselves engaged. I ended up writing plays, which are terrible when I think about them now, acting, and read a lot of books in general. I think studying in that school gave me the intelligence to understand, listen to a lot of things before I decide to do something.
You clearly aren’t that person anymore. How did this change happen? And when did you decide to become an actor?
The transformation happened soon after I came back to Hyderabad. It was a major culture shock for me. Can you imagine what it’s like to study in a boys' school all your life and suddenly end up in a college with a lot of pretty women? You get attracted to them, but you don’t know how to talk to them or interact in such an environment. Then, I went into a zone that I have to live life — drive a bike, get drunk, flirt with multiple women. I think I’ve a split personality. Every time I’ve an issue, I have one version of me who thinks about consequences, feelings of others; and then, there’s this other Vijay who wants to do what he likes because YOLO (You Only Live Once). I’m stuck in this dilemma till date. I’ve no clue who I’m and I don’t know if it’s truly possible to know who you are. I began acting in plays when I was in college. My first play was called “Sherlock Home”, which was an adaptation of Dongatakamu originally written by Vishwanatha Kaviraju. The feedback that you get while doing a play is instant and it was right after my first play that I decided to become an actor.
Coming back to Arjun Reddy, you play an alpha-male, who sort of bulldozes his way into every situation, even when he falls in love with Preeti. You are clearly the dominant personality of the two. How did you interpret the role and the love story that evolves between the two characters?
I know how grey and flawed the character is and I don’t want to pretend that he’s perfect. Arjun Reddy is an alpha-male, who has an overbearing personality. If I’ve to break down how the love story between Preeti and Arjun begins, let’s look at it this way: When she joins the college, Arjun sends a message that she doesn’t have to abide by what her seniors expect her to do while ragging the juniors. When he kissed her, he’s marking his territory. At the same time, he’s the sort of guy who would back off if the girl is uncomfortable with the whole thing. If you think a little deeper, going by the theory of Natural Selection, you’ll pick a partner who’s physically attractive and can protect you. But she doesn’t warm up to him instantly. He sleeps on her lap, but she doesn’t even touch him. Even when she’s sitting on his bike, there’s no physical contact. It’s only when she opens up that they come together. Yes, Arjun has an overbearing personality, but you don’t have to submit to him. It was her choice at the end of the day.
It’s hard to understand if there was any consent from Preeti’s side. Isn’t it?
It’s hard to talk to someone like Arjun, so we had to show everything through body language. When they make love for the first time, you see a long close-up of her smiling. You understand that she’s enjoying the moment. The two spend a lot of time with each other before she makes up her mind to take their relationship to the next level.
The film has quite a few scenes which are long. The pre-interval scene where you go to Preeti’s house is easily about 7 minutes long. Was it challenging or did you fall in love with that style of filmmaking?
Sandeep is the kind of guy who would give his actors ample time to get into the groove. He can’t stand it when lightmen take too much to set up everything, but those rules didn’t apply to the actors [laughs]. I love shooting long takes and this style of filmmaking is perfect for a realistic cinema. When you have two really good actors in a frame, who understand the emotion really well, it doesn’t make sense to restrict their movement. We understand each other’s body language so well that we got most of the shots in 2-3 takes, no matter how long they are. If Arjun Reddy was made in a regular filmmaking style, it would have taken us 200 days to finish it because there’s so much content in every scene.
I’m sure there was at least one scene for which Sandeep and you weren’t in sync…
One scene with which I struggled with a lot, and Sandeep wasn’t too happy about, was the conversation between Arjun and his brother, where Arjun ends up telling his elder brother that you can’t “plan” to have kids and that should happen out of love. I wasn’t too sure about the whole conversation because I have never spoken to my brother like that [laughs]. We kept arguing about how is it relevant to this film, but it was a very personal scene for Sandeep. He’s very attached to his brother. He wasn’t happy about the emotion, and I kept telling him that it’s perfect. He felt that I didn’t perform it to the level he wanted me to. I guess it turned out okay. It was one of the very few scenes which we disagreed upon, otherwise, we were in complete sync with each other. Sandeep and Harshavardhan Rameshwar worked on the background score and it turned out to be amazing. The film has this extent of authenticity because it came from one man and we all stood by him.
Where does his moral compass lie? And do you think he changes in the end? Does he find redemption?
I think the only thing he cares about are his profession and this girl whom he wants to be with. He doesn’t understand the barriers like caste, region that the society has erected between them. He thinks that because they can’t be together, a beautiful baby will never be born. I think Arjun is extremely comfortable and unapologetic about himself. I don’t think he thinks he is flawed, and he’ll continue to do what he feels. There’s no guilt in him.
The film has earned you a huge fan base. Have you come to terms with it yet?
I don’t know what it means to have such a fan base. If it means if they’ll watch all my films, then that’s great. To be honest, I don’t know what to do with it. I’m glad that these guys like me or admire me, and I can assure them that they are in good hands. They are idolising the right person. [laughs]
Updated Date: Sep 03, 2017 09:48 AM