People praised cult Telegu film Arjun Reddy, highlighting all the ‘cool elements’ while turning a blind eye to the problematic ones. People might say, ‘Hey it’s just a movie’. But in a film driven society like ours, should it be treated as just a movie?
A bearded hunk wakes up. He chugs some whiskey and rides his Royal Enfield without a helmet. No, I’m not describing a stereotypical stud from my locality. I’m describing Arjun Reddy or should I say, Kabir Singh.
The film directed by Sandeep Vanga is a remake of Vanga’s own Telegu debut Arjun Reddy. When Arjun Reddy released in 2017, critics and audiences had gone gaga over it. I decided to give it a watch myself and what I discovered shocked me. After Kabir Singh’s release, I was equally shocked.
Spoilers ahead! Tread carefully.
Arjun Reddy is the story of a high functioning alcoholic surgeon with anger management issues. His downfall starts when his girlfriend marries someone else as her father wants her to marry a boy of her own caste. While the caste angle and depiction of a ‘non-Devdas-like’ alcoholism can be appreciated, my take isn’t meant to praise it.
The first half builds up on Master’s student Arjun and fresher Preethi forming their relationship in college. And this is where the problem starts.
Arjun is sitting outside and his gaze shifts to a line of girls walking in a glum fashion. Arjun’s eyes and the camera, zoom in straight at Preethi. He is smitten. So, he keeps on staring, and staring, and staring. A whole song plays in the background for this ‘staring sequence’! Of course, all of this is normal behaviour. He’s just looking at the girl like how creeps stare at you in the metro. So normal right!
Arjun intimidates the freshers saying that nobody should mess with Preethi. It clearly seems like Arjun is a product of the ‘She’s mine’ mentality. And he’s having these possessive notions for a girl whom he hasn’t even talked to yet. Sigh.
As critic Sowmya Rajendran wrote, ‘He has marked Preethi for himself, without as much as knowing her name or having a conversation with her.’
Finally, the two leads have a one-on-one conversation. Preethi is uncomfortably silent. Arjun walks ahead and gets closer. And guess what? He kisses her on the cheek! All of this in the first meeting! Error 404. Consent not found.
The last straw was this scene where body shaming is thrown straight at your face. Arjun makes Preethi sit with a chubby girl in class. Arjun gives the logic behind this, ‘Fat chicks are like teddy bears. They’re warm and loyal’.
While I start scratching my head, Arjun doesn’t stop. He tells Preethi to be good friends with her because ‘a good-looking chick’ and ‘a fat chick’ form a ‘deadly combination’. Of course, only slim girls are good-looking, right!
I get it. Most of the rowdy college boys have problematic thoughts. And I get it. Vanga wants to show such a rowdy college boy. But the only repentance that Arjun has all throughout the movie is regarding his drug abuse. But we never see him repenting on his mentally abusive behaviour.
When Preethi’s parents show their casteism, Arjun is angered and he has every right to be. But when Preethi runs towards him and cries, Arjun straight-up slaps her! Yes, of course, when life gets hard for us, we should take it out on our lover.
If Arjun got what he deserved and the movie ended on a tragic note, all of this would have been justified. But no, Arjun gets a happy ending where he shows Preethi that he has quit drugs and gone back to normal. And of course, they end up getting married, yada, yada, yada.
You might think Preethi forgave Arjun after he got sober and accepted his mistakes. No, right from the time when she got slapped and verbally yelled at by her angry, young man, she has continued to love him. She admits that she didn’t let her husband touch her. She loved Arjun all this time. 100 points for the ‘sati-savitriness’!
If you made the choice of standing up against your husband in your forced marriage, that’s great Preethi! But if you have always excused your lover boy Arjun’s toxic ways, that’s messed up!
What the film fails to show us is that Arjun has been dominant with his ego right from the beginning. A love story that started with staring and ‘marking territory’ is shown as a pure bond towards the end.
Needless to say, Kabir Singh brings the same elements from Vanga’s script to Hindi speaking audiences. While people are still wooed by the ‘coolness’ of Shahid Kapoor as the bearded hottie riding his pike past Miranda House and are posting Instagram stories reading ‘Need a Kabir Singh in my life’, there are also people and critics who are saying such movies are only going to give a boost to toxic male egos, and are posting Instagram stories reading ‘How did this movie even get made?’.
I don’t know about Kabir Singh’s future. As for Arjun Reddy, I agree if people say it’s a trendsetter in Indian cinema but that’s the sad part. If critically-acclaimed ‘modern’ dramas have such problematic angles, then what good can we expect from the ‘no-brainers’ in the film industry.
Featured Image Credits- YouTube
Shaurya Singh Thapa