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It is a ‘different’ film

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Arjun Reddy, with its fresh telling, takes you into the life of the protagonist, layer by layer

Bengaluru is a boon for cineastes. The advantage is that though not fully many understand a smattering of at least four languages. Films get a wide release and are lapped up irrespective of language. Stars from various States enjoy a huge following but small films with strong content sustain commendably. I heard about ‘Arjun Reddy’ from a wannabe director who’d watched it thrice two days after it was released. Suddenly everyone seemed to be talking about the film. The hushed encomiums for this seemingly nondescript film drew more crowds dwarfing the efforts of giant hoardings outside theatres showing ‘Vivegam’. A few days after it was released it was being hailed as a ‘cult classic’.

Indian cinema experiences periodic seismic waves that don’t sustain but unsettles time tested norms, temporarily. The Telugu film industry is speckled with various, diverse genres accepted with equal enthusiasm creating a colourful mosaic. Raghavendra Rao’s films may have been loud and garish when compared to a K. Vishwanath or a Bapu effort but the response was equally rapturous though probably from different sections. There’s space for every genre and taste. Only a lover of meaningful cinema can churn out good films. That’s purely because he treats the ticket buyer as an equal rather than an intellectual inferior. Ramgopal Varma did it with ‘Shiva’ as Mani Ratnam with ‘Mouna Raagam’. The stories were the same but the narration was fresh. These two were successful in refining clichés and the fact that they were untrained encouraged a horde of youngsters with cinematic dreams.

The lines have blurred between fact and fantasy in films. Relatable is the key word. The definition of ‘hero’ has changed if the fare is not run of the mill. When the college bully struts around menacingly you wait for the hero to appear from nowhere and save the damsel in distress by bashing him up. None of this happens in ‘Arjun Reddy’ because the bully plays the titular role. The key term to use about the film is not different but defiant. The director dares not to conform to the characterisation of the usual protagonist. The tale is as old as ‘Devdas’, about obsession, disappointment, wallowing in self pity and abject surrender to Bacchus. It’s love at first glance for the hero. There are the friends who mostly treat him like a superior, supportive of his violent bursts and pitying his frequent bouts of self destruction. There’s the understanding grandmother and the torn father. It’s the elder brother who emerges as fresh, trying to heal and save him from every self inflicted wound. The heroine looks intimidated at first and later surrenders physically and emotionally but faced with parental resistance marries on the rebound. Why girls in our films are brazen when in love but marry and destroy an innocent man’s life when it does not culminate in matrimony is puzzling.

Most of us are closet voyeurs. We love to eavesdrop and are curious about others lives. Cinema allows us to pay, peek into and judge the lives of abject strangers. ‘Arjun Reddy’ is about a youngster who wants to remain unfettered by caste, religion and accepted societal norms. The film is not contemporary or bold because of the frequent kissing scenes or the freely used cuss words. It’s because he gives his ladylove the emotional independence to choose when he could have used his proven force. That, for me was ‘different’. The lingering opening shot of sands, the sea and a couple entwined in bed set the tone. You know the director is going to snare you into some engrossing fare. It reminded me of the languorous first shot of a cloudless sky in Mysskin’s ‘Anjadhey’. Similarly, Sandeep’s narrative is unhurried letting his protagonist’s life seep into you layer by layer. Everyone is talking about the daunting length but I didn’t find anyone glancing at their watch or checking WhatsApp. Every interesting scene was applauded by the packed hall with some youngsters shouting out the muted cuss words on cue that suggested repeat audiences in the first week. Nobody budged till the last of the credits rolled. Pithy lines are spoken, not rehearsed and parroted like dialogues. It’s the vulnerability of two souls caught in an unnecessary conflict that’s refreshing. Thankfully there’s no confrontation between the parents. You are told right at the beginning that they’re two bodies with one soul. The director tells you the tale of the tumultuous journey with the conviction and confidence probably only a debutante will have. Vijay Deverakonda is a revelation in a role diametrically opposite to what he did in ‘Pelli Choopulu’. Every performance is pitch perfect and it’s endearing to watch the still ethereally beautiful Kanchana as the sagely grandmother.

Strangely I was reminded of Mani’s ‘Katru Veliyidai’. It’s all come a full circle. A young director has made a film similar to what Mani, probably one of Sandeep’s idols intended but in a more contemporary and convincing manner.

sshivu@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Dec 11, 2019 9:50:05 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/it-is-a-different-film/article19592951.ece

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