I don't think there is any film that has been part of discussions, uproar, protest and controversy as much as Arjun Reddy has been. This film has outplayed the most controversial films of even Kamal Hassan in this regard! The buzz and also the inadvertent publicity (most of it not the kind the film-makers would have liked) only skyrocketed when Sandeep Reddy Vanga announced that he is going to remake this film into Hindi with Shahid Kapoor and Kiara Advani in the lead roles.
As for any other film this film also had its fair share (or maybe more than the fair share) of takers and haters. I guess, the film has been more on the spotlight for misogyny, objectifying women, abuse, patriarchy and so on. When I first watched Arjun Reddy, what struck me real hard was the honesty in showing the various shades of grey in a person who has anger management issues and falls in love with a girl. I didn't follow the review of the film or even the buzz around the "issues" with the film. I watched the film on Prime Video after watching its IMDB rating.
Two years later, Kabir Singh released with Sandeep Reddy Vanga himself helming the direction. I was a bit cynical as to how the magic would be recreated. What impressed me from the trailer was the filmmaker's wise choice to not touch the music, which is one of the strong suits that made the original a cult film. Radhan's background score is the film for the blind. Following Kabir Singh's release, there was a lot of noise about the film being misogynistic, patriarchic and what not! I didn't watch the film till it had released on Netflix. Even before I watched Kabir Singh, Adithya Varma released and this time I made it a point to watch all these three films in immediate succession.
Having quit my full-time job it was easier to watch all the three films in immediate succession. This, along with the various interviews of Vijay Deverakonda, Sandeep Reddy Vanga and Shahid Kapoor, made me watch the films in a more informed manner.
The film is about a short-tempered Arjun/Kabir/Adithya, a Devadas of the new millennium who is destroying himself because the love of his life got married to someone else. There is even a dog that is named after his girl (Remember Paro?)! This film's rousing success in the box office and acclaim from the fans and critics alike for his portrayal of the character is public knowledge. What has been criminally ignored are the different aspects of the film that make it a cult. My favourite shot is the interval block where the camera turns upside down after Arjun passes out. That is one of the only two times that the camera turns upside down. That shot shows how Arjun's life is going to be after the interval. Another important aspect is the use of silence in the films. Arjun's emotions are reflected in the brilliant background score by Radhan. His excitement, whether it is anger, sadness or frustration is brought out in the rousing rock score in the background. However, when he is calm and happy, there is no music - showing his complete focus on Preeti.
The characterization of Arjun is as close to reality as it can get. He is reckless in college - fights during the last few minutes of a football match, decides to quit college when asked to apologize, calls a girl "fat chick" and so on. His growth is shown in the second half where he calls his friend's to be groom out for objectifying women. He doesn't let his inebriated state affect the life of the patient he treats. He waits for consent after he proposes a physical relationship with the actress. He grows. He matures. Vijay as Arjun is simply a treat to watch and does complete justice to the character. This character arc is well brought out in both the remakes and largely satisfied me. And Vijay aced that character. He lived as Arjun Reddy and his shadow looms large on both the remakes. Shahid Kapoor adds his own style to it and his disturbing gaze speaks a lot. Dhruv Vikram is great too, especially with his inherited genes of the deep voice from his father Vikram. But having watched Vijay, the other two are only far second in the run. I connected with Vijay's portrayal the most.
Preeti/Meera is that crazy girl who is hopelessly in love with Arjun/Kabir/Adithya. Yet, she has a mind of her own and is quite intelligent. She is very confident about herself and is the only person who gets Arjun. Except for the first few interactions with him, she is the only one who is not at all intimidated by his temper. Shalini Pandey enthrals us with the portrayal of absolute innocence and the hopeless romantic. Kiara Advani does well too. Her love portions are good but the innocence doesn't quite stick. When it comes to Banita Sandhu in Tamil, she only looks nervous throughout the film and even the chemistry between her and Dhruv doesn't work out too.
Shiva is a character that is very difficult to play. He is one character that has equal screen presence if not more. I liked Rahul Ramakrishna and Soham Majumdar's portrayal more than Anbuthasan's. It is probably because of this physiology that is very frail and the voice that is quite thin.
The other supporting cast in the Telugu and Hindi version was far better than the Tamil version. The only exception is the character of the grandmother played by Leela Samson in Tamil. She added her own layer of softness and a very personal understanding of the dubious puzzle that her grandson is. My favourite scene is where she says, "Suffering is very personal Sidharth, let him suffer" with a smile.
The editing in the remakes is handled in almost the same way as the original. The same holds good for the way the camera is handled too. The songs strike a chord across languages. My favourites are: Ela Ela and Madhurame ee kshanamey in Telugu, Yen ennai pirindhai in Tamil and Tujhe Kitna chahne lage, Bekhayali, Tera ban jaunga in Hindi. Each of the tracks beautifully complement the corresponding emotion in the film. A shout out to the almost wailing "O Priyathama" - this rendition gave a lump in my throat in the climax of all the films.
Even the dialogues were almost the same as the Telugu version in the remakes. However, the Tamil version had more additions to suit the "Tamil" taste of the audience. These additions, like the ones where Adithya prevents them from entering the guest house, dilute the poetry of the scene and also add a little bit of unwanted devaluation. The removal of two scenes to cut down the run time caters to only that aspect and doesn't help in adding more value to the film. I would have preferred keeping those two scenes in Hindi and Tamil.
To sum up, Arjun Reddy/Kabir Singh/Adithya Verma is a dark film. It is a difficult film to watch. The characters are flawed. As much as the outrage against the terrible treatment of other people by Arjun, we should also acknowledge that, at the end of the day, it is a film. We can dislike the film and rant about it. But we are nobody to judge "If you like Arjun Reddy, something is wrong with you." The least one can do after trashing the film in his/her own reviews, is to acknowledge the various aspects of the film if not appreciate or praise the craft. This is something that we should remember: The film is a weekend affair for us, but it is a part of a lot of people's very being who made it. Let us not fall into the vicious trap of a judgmental attitude and at least acknowledge their effort if not appreciate it.