Telugu director Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s debut Arjun Reddy is a portrait of a love-ravaged man. If you are thinking of Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay’s Devdas, you are not entirely to blame.
In Vanga’s film, Arjun Reddy (Vijay Devarakonda), a surgeon, takes to alcohol and drugs after his college sweetheart Preethi (Shalini) gets married to another man. Vanga takes us through Arjun’s life post-heartbreak seriatim and offers an intense sketch of the man, his thoughts and his unenviable actions.
The twist is actually embedded in the opening sequence itself, as alert viewers will attest. “I tell the entire story in the opening scene itself,” Vanga told Scroll.in. “I don’t know how many in the audience caught the hint. The idea is that if your love is pure, then no matter where you are, you will find each other.”
A reprieve for Devdas is unconventional, but Vanga makes it possible in Arjun Reddy. “A dark mood is what prevails across nearly 100 minutes of the film,” explained Vanga, a graduate of the International Film School in Sydney. “But then after such an intense love story and such implacable suffering, I thought if I give them a chance to be together, then that would be something else. It would be a surprise. I didn’t want the audience to go away sadly.”
When Vanga finished the script of Arjun Reddy, no producer in the Telugu film industry was willing to finance it. “Many producers asked me to go to Bombay and try,” said Vanga. “One producer said such a film will never see the light of day in the Telugu film industry. Another producer said that this should not be my first film. He asked me to forget this film and write a safer film.” Finally, it was his brother. Pranav Reddy. who offered to produce the film.
“When I wrote the script, I wanted to study a man’s mind after a break-up,” Vanga explained. “His irritation, extreme anger, obsession – all of it. I thought it’ll make for an engaging watch. Nobody has done this before in Telugu. All I wanted was for the film to reach the screen with all the intensity that was on my paper. If it appears on screen exactly the way I wrote it, I knew it could become a cult film. Going by the initial reviews, it seems to have succeeded.”
It is not so much the what but the how that matters in Arjun Reddy. Despite the tried-and-tested premise, Vanga breathes freshness into his script. The film is 186 minutes long, but the momentum does not slip, nor does its mood drift. Scenes are deftly written and admirably reproduced on the screen. Vanga even has the gift of good music accompanying his vision. As the reckless, heartbroken cynic, Devarakonda shines in the cast.
However, the compulsion to bring about a happy ending sticks out like a sore thumb. “I had two-three options for the climax,” Vanga said. “Originally, the film was three hours and 40 minutes long. So, like I said before, I didn’t have the heart to end the narrative on a sad note after all the darkness I subjected my protagonist to. It did feel a bit forced but I thought it would be better.”
Arjun Reddy is partially inspired from Vanga’s own experiences. Like the protagonist, Vanga too was in medical college. For Arjun, it is orthopaedics, but for Vanga, it was physiotherapy. “It is not my story but there are a lot of references from my life,” he said. “Some of my medical college friends saw the film and said that Arjun reminds them of me.”
It was in medical college that Vanga realised that he would rather be a filmmaker. “I had always been a film buff and was good at photography and painting, I liked storytelling.” While in college, he assisted VN Aditya. After film school, he worked as assistant director for the Nagarjuna-starrer KD.
“Then for about four years, I struggled to find producers,” he said. “It took me two years to write Arjun Reddy. Every time I’d write a good scene, I’d be so happy that I would take a break for a week.”
After a number of rejections from producers and actors, Vanga was asked to approach Vijay Devarakonda. “When I narrated the script to him, the shooting for Vijay’s debut Pelli Choopulu had just begun. It was the belief I had in the performer that he is and the script that I wrote that gave me the confidence to proceed. I had a feeling that we wouldn’t burn our hands.”
The gamble seems to have paid off. “Now, people are calling it a blockbuster,” said Vanga. “I did not imagine it would get such a response. If it does good business, then I can embark on my next project without having to worry about the finances.”