Rarely has a Telugu movie transfixed its audience as much as Sandeep Vanga’s Arjun Reddy.
In the past few weeks, everybody from Ram Gopal Varma to Samantha Ruth Prabhu has been raving about it. With a deeply flawed, broken young man as its hero, Arjun Reddy is an exploration of what happens to the male psyche, especially the Indian male psyche, when it runs into heartbreak.
Drugs, violence, attempted rape – all show up as manifestations of a raging mind and a bruised heart that can find no solace.
Sandeep, the film’s director, was perhaps influenced by Devdas. But he makes no mention of it during our conversation. Instead, he cites Selvaraghavan’s 7G Brindavan Colony, A Requiem For A Dream, and Tamasha as influences. All are films that, in essence, reflect some of the moods and emotions of Arjun Reddy.
“My film is basically a love story. Its about the relationship between a Telugu boy and a Tulu girl. It may sound like your routine Telugu film, but it is unconventional the way Hrudayam was unconventional.
“I grew up in Warangal, where Hrudayam – a movie in which the hero and heroine do not interact at all – ran for a good hundred days. So there’s a lot you can do within this format, irrespective of whether the one line is typical or not. I believe that I did a good job with this film, and I think that counts.”
Sandeep’s film, with its ‘kissing’ posters and uncensored teaser, ran into roadblocks on its way to the theatres. In the film itself, Arjun walks around naked, tries to force himself on a neighbour, and is shown to have performed surgery while intoxicated.
Controversial, and yet Sandeep chose to show them onscreen. He says it was necessary.
“I think, right off the bat, we kind of knew that this film would provoke some intense reactions. So we were prepared somewhat. I had an idea, a vision almost, about how the lead would behave and interact in the film. I wanted to stay true to that. I did not want to compromise in any way whatsoever.”
Initially, Sharwanand was to play the lead. But that didn’t work out.
“We met several producers who were frankly baffled that I would use ‘such a film’ ‘such a script’ for my debut. ‘Why don’t you go to Bollywood,’ was the constant refrain. At one point, the only way this film could have launched was with an upcoming hero and a smaller budget. My father and brother pitched in, and so the onus was on me to deliver a good product.”
Arjun Reddy may have audiences in awe today, but at one point, just the script narration had a few producers dozing off. Sandeep laughs, “That wasn’t exactly a promising sign then.”
Arjun Reddy, as the title suggests, is focused on its hero.
An arrogant man prone to temper tantrums, Arjun is by no means a knight in shining armour. “He is a guy shaped by the society around him. So many millennials are confused. Their parents belong to a time when ‘listening to your parents’ was the best thing to do.
“Now, that is not the case. There’s liberation, rebellion and what not. It’s a a changing phase. And people like Arjun are a product of this time. People who cannot make sense of loss, or pain. Who struggle with it.”
Curiously enough, Sandeep faced very little trouble when it came to the censor board. “The CBFC heard me out, I must say. I explained the reason behind the kissing scenes, the drugs. They didn’t touch any of those scenes.
“I have to say, that really helped.”
Sandeep’s argument was that everything in the film was artistic expression. “There are so many films these days in which they zoom into a woman’s private areas, and try to titillate the audience. This is unforgivable, unpardonable.
“A kiss, on the other hand, is a natural expression of the feelings a man has for his woman. There’s just no way you can explain away the first. But the kiss, yeah, I can explain that to people.”
The hero’s sense of entitlement has rubbed some people the wrong way.
“And that I totally respect. There’s no way a character can be universally loved without being lame, one-dimensional even. So when there’s such a response, I am happy. Arjun is not a guy that everybody can love. He has flaws. He is not the best.
“But, he is a man who loves, loved and is in love. That’s it.”
Now that he has paid back his father and brother, and ‘not brought them to the streets,’ Sandeep wants to have a meeting with Jr NTR and Allu Arjun. “I have a good script waiting,” he says.
The fans are also waiting.