In this weekly column, Reel Retake, we compare the original film and its remake. Beyond highlighting the similarities, differences and measuring them on the success scale, we aim to discover the potential in the storyline that spurred the thought for a newer version and the ways in which a remake could possibly offer a different viewing experience. And if that is the case, analyse the film.
In focus this week is Telugu romantic drama film Arjun Reddy (2017) and its Hindi and Tamil remakes Kabir Singh and Adithya Verma respectively.
What’s Arjun Reddy about?
Arjun Reddy follows its title character, played by Vijay Deverakonda, and his muse Preeti (Shalini Pandey) as they fall in love and separate as the latter’s family is opposed to their marriage. This simple formula film has acquired a cult status in the movie business and is largely considered one of the most authentic and raw portrayals of a romantic relationship and heartbreak in modern cinema.
Arjun is a surgeon who is drinking and drugging himself every chance he gets. In his past, we are shown that he meets Preeti during his last year in college and falls in love at first sight. Arjun comes across as a bully and a very aggressive man but he is a brilliant medical student.
Consequently, the management overlooks some of his disciplinary and rage issues. As Arjun develops a liking for Preeti, he takes her under his wing. Preeti also falls hard for him. Their relationship blossoms during Arjun’s last year in college and later he relocates for further studies. Over the course of the next three years, Arjun’s and Preeti’s relationship becomes stronger. Things go awry when Arjun visits Preeti’s house. Her father sees them kissing and throws Arjun out. Preeti’s father instantly opposes her and Arjun’s relationship due to his rowdy behaviour and also because they belong to different castes.
Arjun wants Preeti to choose between him and her family or end their relationship. Following this, Preeti is prevented from contacting Arjun. When she finally manages to visit Arjun’s house, he is drunk, injects morphine into himself and becomes unconscious for two days. In the meantime, Preeti is married to someone else. Arjun learns about Preeti’s marriage and goes to her house. He is assaulted and gets arrested for making a scene. Arjun’s father throws him out of the family home for ruining his reputation.
To cope with the heartbreak, Arjun swirls into drugs and alcohol intake. He has become a practicing surgeon, gets a dog, names her Preeti and we see him trying hard to move on in life. Like in college, he is now feared among his medical staff. He persuades one of his patients, a film heroine, to have a no-strings relationship with him. But she falls in love with him. Arjun, fearful, breaks it off.
On his day off, Arjun unwillingly agrees to perform a life-saving surgery and collapses from dehydration in the operating room. Upon examination, his blood samples show traces of alcohol and cocaine. He is charged with negligence and punished for violating professional ethics. Arjun’s medical license is cancelled for five years and he is evicted from his flat. Meanwhile, Arjun’s grandmother dies and he visits the family. They make up and Arjun gives up his self-destructive habits soon after.
Arjun chances upon a pregnant Preeti sitting in a park. Convinced that she is unhappy in her marriage, Arjun confronts her. Preeti reveals that she left her husband days after their marriage and continued to work in a clinic. She tells Arjun that he is the child’s father, and they reunite and marry.
Wherein lies the potential?
Arjun Reddy is about human emotions in its raw form more than anything else. Love stories in cinema have always been treading a cautious and formulaic path. Thus, heroes, heroines and their acts are enjoyed from afar. But here, the character is unabashed and so is his trajectory. Arjun is a free-spirited man and his journey in finding love and losing it is all a matter of choice, and we see him making some wrong ones. But like us, he is flawed and this makes him relatable. So, even during his bout with drugs and alcoholism, we root for him and pity him in his moments of loneliness. The character is so well written and rooted deep in modern day existentialism that his shortcomings mirror ours. We can’t help but empathise with Arjun at each turn, even though he is outrageous most of the time. The direction style of Sandeep Reddy Vanga solely focuses on baring Arjun layer by layer and does not make any commentary on him.
Usually, the characters with habits are shown in contrast lighting and a judgement bubble is created around them. With Arjun, that is not the case. He is lit naturally in most scenes and loneliness is made out to be his biggest enemy, not drug abuse. The movie depicts the problems faced by the youth and how in the absence of the right understanding and support from their loved ones and partners, one’s life can hit rock bottom. The compass of morality is swinging free in the world created by Vanga and herein lies the appeal of Arjun Reddy. Anything is possible and everything can be forgiven. Lead actor Vijay injects Arjun with the right amount of passion and puts up a roaring performance. On surface, you see his anger and brash behaviour, which Vijay enacts beautifully, but deep down, he is struggling to just make it through the day and the hidden fragility is visible in key scenes.
As for Shalini’s performance, Preeti is again a never-seen-before character. She is subdued and meek but does not bow down to unfair demands, be it Arjun or her family. Some of Arjun’s rebellion has brushed off on her and to be subtle and restrained in a hyperactive space certainly requires a temperamentally balanced actor. Her presence may be underwhelming as compared to Arjun but the impact of her character is not.
The two remakes- Kabir Singh and Adithya Verma
Shahid Kapoor reprises Vijay’s role in 2019 Bollywood blockbuster Kabir Singh. It catapulted the Telugu hit into nationwide fame and gave Vijay and Vanga well deserved recognition for this cult of a story. Shahid’s performance as Kabir is unrestrained, as it was meant to be, and he even takes it a notch higher in some scenes. At one moment, he is hopelessly lost in love, at another he is willing to risk it all in a fit of rage. Kabir’s anger is directed towards the hypocrisy of the society and to defy what pins him down, he will risk those most precious to him. Shahid seemingly internalised Kabir, which is an important aspect of hitting the right notes in this performance. Otherwise, it may appear tacky and unconvincing. But Kabir and Shahid are almost indistinguishable. He lives the trauma and angst of the character and we can feel what’s going inside him even though he is not talking about his pain out loud. The character suffers in long silences. The emptiness of the frames that Kabir inhabits or how he is walking against the crowd shows with novelty how a man who has pitted himself against the system pays the price of transgression. Kabir Singh is a faithful remake of the original and retains the conviction in the performance and the soul of the lead character.
In Adithya Verma, the role is reprised by Dhruv Vikram. The movie is largely along the same lines as Arjun Reddy and Vikram is as convincing in the lead performance. Considering it’s his debut movie and there’s a lot going on with the character, his performance as Adithya deserves praise even though there’s an existing model of acting to ape. The dialogues of Adithya Varma could have been a little bit better. It lacked the depth and seriousness which brought down the emotional quotient of the film to some extent.
Arjun Reddy launched Vijay into mainstream stardom. The Bollywood remake is Shahid’s highest grossing film till date. In addition, the music of both the films was a huge success and is talked about and enjoyed separately from the film. However, considering how most of the film focuses on a character stumbling through life and making all the wrong choices, it does not have much re-watch value. Also the story seems to be one that will lose edge with time. In an era when such deep commitment in love will be a far fetched thought, Arjun Reddy may seem too old for an idea. It’s a film that will be enjoyed as long as it plays on screen but leaves no afterthought with the viewers. The newness of Arjun Reddy also lies in the shock value it creates for a depraved character. It may be too relatable to some and to others simply offensive. Arjun Reddy polarises the audience. This is also one of the major factors why it has been so successful.