Telugu cinema

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

Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s breakout Telugu movie is an intense study of a man with an aching heart.

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.”

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Arjun Reddy (2017).

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.”

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The Breakup Song, Arjun Reddy (2017).

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.”

Sandeep Reddy Vanga.
Sandeep Reddy Vanga.
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Ten awesome TV shows to get over your post-GoT blues

With those withdrawal symptoms kicking in, all you need is a good rebound show.

Hangovers tend to have a debilitating effect on various human faculties, but a timely cure can ease that hollow feeling generally felt in the pit of the stomach. The Game of Thrones Season 7 finale has left us with that similar empty feeling, worsened by an official statement on the 16-month-long wait to witness The Great War. That indeed is a long time away from our friends Dany, Jon, Queen C and even sweet, sweet Podrick. While nothing can quite replace the frosty thrill of Game of Thrones, here’s a list of awesome shows, several having won multiple Emmy awards, that are sure to vanquish those nasty withdrawal symptoms:

1. Billions

There is no better setting for high stakes white collar crime than the Big Apple. And featuring a suited-up Paul Giamatti going head-to-head with the rich and ruthless Damien Lewis in New York, what’s not to like? Only two seasons young, this ShowTime original series promises a wolf-of-wall-street style showcase of power, corruption and untold riches. Billions is a great high-octane drama option if you want to keep the momentum going post GoT.

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2. Westworld

What do you get when the makers of the Dark Knight Trilogy and the studio behind Game of Thrones collaborate to remake a Michael Crichton classic? Westworld brings together two worlds: an imagined future and the old American West, with cowboys, gun slingers - the works. This sci-fi series manages to hold on to a dark secret by wrapping it with the excitement and adventure of the wild west. Once the plot is unwrapped, the secret reveals itself as a genius interpretation of human nature and what it means to be human. Regardless of what headspace you’re in, this Emmy-nominated series will absorb you in its expansive and futuristic world. If you don’t find all of the above compelling enough, you may want to watch Westworld simply because George RR Martin himself recommends it! Westworld will return for season 2 in the spring of 2018.

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3. Big Little Lies

It’s a distinct possibility that your first impressions of this show, whether you form those from the trailer or opening sequence, will make you think this is just another sun-kissed and glossy Californian drama. Until, the dark theme of BLL descends like an eerie mist, that is. With the serious acting chops of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman as leads, this murder mystery is one of a kind. Adapted from author Liane Moriarty’s book, this female-led show has received accolades for shattering the one-dimensional portrayal of women on TV. Despite the stellar star cast, this Emmy-nominated show wasn’t easy to make. You should watch Big Little Lies if only for Reese Witherspoon’s long struggle to get it off the ground.

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4. The Night of

The Night Of is one of the few crime dramas featuring South Asians without resorting to tired stereotypes. It’s the kind of show that will keep you in its grip with its mysterious plotline, have you rooting for its characters and leave you devastated and furious. While the narrative revolves around a murder and the mystery that surrounds it, its undertones raises questions on racial, class and courtroom politics. If you’re a fan of True Detective or Law & Order and are looking for something serious and thoughtful, look no further than this series of critical acclaim.

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5. American Horror Story

As the name suggests, AHS is a horror anthology for those who can stomach some gore and more. In its 6 seasons, the show has covered a wide range of horror settings like a murder house, freak shows, asylums etc. and the latest season is set to explore cults. Fans of Sarah Paulson and Jessica Lange are in for a treat, as are Lady Gaga’s fans. If you pride yourself on not being weak of the heart, give American Horror Story a try.

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6. Empire

At its heart, Empire is a simple show about a family business. It just so happens that this family business is a bit different from the sort you are probably accustomed to, because this business entails running a record label, managing artistes and when push comes to shove, dealing with rivals in a permanent sort of manner. Empire treads some unique ground as a fairly violent show that also happens to be a musical. Lead actors Taraji P Henson and Terrence Howard certainly make it worth your while to visit this universe, but it’s the constantly evolving interpersonal relations and bevy of cameo appearances that’ll make you stay. If you’re a fan of hip hop, you’ll enjoy a peek into the world that makes it happen. Hey, even if you aren’t one, you might just grow fond of rap and hip hop.

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7. Modern Family

When everything else fails, it’s comforting to know that the family will always be there to lift your spirits and keep you chuckling. And by the family we mean the Dunphys, Pritchetts and Tuckers, obviously. Modern Family portrays the hues of familial bonds with an honesty that most family shows would gloss over. Eight seasons in, the show’s characters like Gloria and Phil Dunphy have taken on legendary proportions in their fans’ minds as they navigate their relationships with relentless bumbling humour. If you’re tired of irritating one-liners or shows that try too hard, a Modern Family marathon is in order. This multiple-Emmy-winning sitcom is worth revisiting, especially since the brand new season 9 premiers on 28th September 2017.

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8. The Deuce

Headlined by James Franco and Maggi Gyllenhaal, The Deuce is not just about the dazzle of the 1970s, with the hippest New York crowd dancing to disco in gloriously flamboyant outfits. What it IS about is the city’s nooks and crannies that contain its underbelly thriving on a drug epidemic. The series portrays the harsh reality of New York city in the 70s following the legalisation of the porn industry intertwined with the turbulence caused by mob violence. You’ll be hooked if you are a fan of The Wire and American Hustle, but keep in mind it’s grimmer and grittier. The Deuce offers a turbulent ride which will leave you wanting more.

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9. Dexter

In case you’re feeling vengeful, you can always get the spite out of your system vicariously by watching Dexter, our favourite serial killer. This vigilante killer doesn’t hide behind a mask or a costume, but sneaks around like a criminal, targeting the bad guys that have slipped through the justice system. From its premier in 2006 to its series finale in 2013, the Emmy-nominated Michael C Hall, as Dexter, has kept fans in awe of the scientific precision in which he conducts his kills. For those who haven’t seen the show, the opening credits give an accurate glimpse of how captivating the next 45 minutes will be. If it’s been a while since you watched in awe as the opening credits rolled, maybe you should revisit the world’s most loved psychopath for nostalgia’s sake.

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10. Rome

If you’re still craving an epic drama with extensive settings and a grandiose plot and sub-plots, Rome, co-produced by HBO and BBC, is where your search stops. Rome is a historical drama that takes you through an overwhelming journey of Ancient Rome’s transition from a republic to an empire. And when it comes to tastes, this series provides the similar full-bodied flavour that you’ve grown to love about Game of Thrones. There’s a lot to take away for those who grew up quoting Julius Caesar, and for those looking for a realistic depiction of the legendary gladiators. If you’re a history buff, give this Emmy-winning show a try.

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For your next obsession, Hotstar Premium has you covered with its wide collection of the most watched shows in the world. Apart from the ones we’ve recommended, Indian viewers can now easily watch other universally loved shows such as Silicon Valley and Prison Break, and movies including all titles from the Marvel and Disney universe. So take control of your life again post the Game of Thrones gloom and sign up for the Hotstar Premium membership here.

This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Hotstar and not by the Scroll editorial team.