Spoilers ahead about ‘Arjun Reddy’, which has been remade as ‘Kabir Singh’.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga took two years to write Arjun Reddy and four years to find a producer until his family stepped in. The 2017 Telugu-language film revolved around a heartbroken man who dives into drugs and alcohol after being separated from his college sweetheart. Arjun Reddy was a big hit and propelled its hero Vijay Deverakonda to superstardom overnight.

Soon enough, producers lined up for remake rights. June 21 will see the release of the Hindi version Kabir Singh, which has been directed by Vanga and stars Shahid Kapoor. Kiara Advani steps into Shalini Pandey’s shoes for the role of Arjun’s lover, Preeti. Reddy Vanga spoke to Scroll.in on how different , will Kabir Singh be from Arjun Reddy – and what the two films share.

What has life been like before and after ‘Arjun Reddy’?
There’s a huge difference. I can’t even put it in words. Back then, people hardly even wanted to have a conversation, because so many people roam around with a script.

Obviously, now it’s totally changed. People want to listen to my story now because my film is a superhit. Nobody gives a fuck about the story. Five per cent of the producers believe in the writer’s talent, but others don’t care about the story. They will only talk if you have made a super-hit film.

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Kabir Singh (2019).

Why have you directed the Hindi remake, and have you tweaked the original story?
My main reason to do it is Shahid Kapoor. I know how he acts, and having seen him in previous films, I wanted to work with an actor like him. Once the producers got the rights, they got in touch with Shahid, and he called me, and I was in. If it wasn’t for Shahid, I wouldn’t have done it.

The changes include the topography, the language, the change of the background from Reddy to Punjabi, the seven songs, which add to the characters with their lyrics. Harshvardhan Rameshwar has done the background score for both films. The screenplay and story are pretty much the same.

I actually wanted to add some bits to it. There was a different, higher take on the character, which didn’t make it to the Telugu version, that’s why I tried making it in Hindi. But I have ultimately stuck to the original.

Shahid Kapoor is 38, at least 10 years older than his character, unlike Vijay Deverakonda, who was age-appropriate for ‘Arjun Reddy’.
That is of no concern, because Shahid has a huge female following who want to see him in a college guy’s role again. When you think of Shahid being around for 15 years, you may wonder such things, but on screen, you won’t feel it. He has really worked on his face, body and attitude.

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Arjun Reddy (2017).

Any concerns that ‘Kabir Singh’ might seem too familiar to Bollywood audiences who have already watched ‘Dev.D’?
Dev.D has a different take. It’s about a self-centred man who can clearly differentiate between love and lust. My story is completely different. Arjun is lost in love. He is a man with anger issues who is heartbroken.

What purpose does Arjun see in his continuous self-abuse?
Arjun always thought that their love would work in the end, but suddenly it didn’t. That was a shock and that’s why the angst.

But the anger is not because of Preeti. It’s his basic quality, which got enhanced in Preeti’s absence. Like the football fight happened in a fit of rage. Later, in the Holi fight scene, it is Preeti’s presence that stops him from the fight. She reins him in. Without Preeti, he gets worse.

Is Arjun based on anybody?
Arjun’s anger comes from me, I think. He is a sportsman because my brother was one. It’s tricky to pinpoint the exact inspiration.

Why is everyone in the film so nice to Arjun even as he continues to behave badly?
I don’t think he behaves badly with anyone. He is heartbroken, and everyone around him understands. If you’re asking me about the scene where he pushes his friend Shiva out of his room, well, if for one you behave rudely with your best friend, I don’t think they would judge you or leave you immediately.

There’s a scene that comes right after that point actually, which did not make it to the Telugu film as it was getting too long. It would have added depth to the moment. You might see it in Kabir Singh.

Shalini Pandey (left) in 'Arjun Reddy' and Kiara Advani in 'Kabir Singh'. Courtesy: Bhadrakali Pictures/Cine1 Studios/T-Series.
Shalini Pandey (left) in 'Arjun Reddy' and Kiara Advani in 'Kabir Singh'. Courtesy: Bhadrakali Pictures/Cine1 Studios/T-Series.

Why is Preeti such a bland character?
The film is titled Arjun Reddy. The camera looks at what Arjun is looking at. It’s a totally a character-driven film. We see Preeti only when Arjun goes to pick up his bike. He looks up, and we see Preeti.

Also, Preeti is a black-and-white character. Arjun is a flawed guy with a lot of shades, and he will always fall for a simple girl. Many people asked me this, actually. If I explained Preeti too much or gave her more space in the second half, then the surprise in the end would be spoiled. The surprise works because we haven’t shown her for one hour and people have given up hope that Preeti will return. Not having the heroine for 90 minutes is challenging to write in a mainstream film about love, but I enjoyed writing every bit of it.

The ending is too convenient.
Our human brain does not want to accept something so light and happy after an hour of dark cinema. After 90 minutes of dark drama, people have adjusted to Preeti’s absence, so I understand. Secondly, I can’t make Preeti look like a weak character. Preeti is strong. There is no middle ground for her.

‘Arjun Reddy’ was criticised for promoting chauvinism. How will you respond if similar charges come up against ‘Kabir Singh’?
This is not arrogance, but I genuinely do not bother about pseudo-feminists and pseudo-sympathisers. There is not one place where I have showed women in a derogatory way. There is no bum or cleavage shot. I never asked my audience to look at the girl’s body.

Before people ask me this, they should look at other films in India. I don’t think anyone with these concerns are actually sensitive towards women. That question could have been put forward in a different way. Just because something is wrong in society, you cannot put out your frustration in a question like that.

Sandeep Reddy Vanga and Shahid Kapoor on the sets of Kabir Singh.
Sandeep Reddy Vanga and Shahid Kapoor on the sets of Kabir Singh.

Also read:

‘Producers told me to forget this story:’ Fortunately, the director of ‘Arjun Reddy’ ignored them