Does the world need another ‘Arjun Reddy’, the hugely polarising and compelling Telugu romance about a toxic man who doesn’t have the emotional maturity to handle a messy break-up?
Wasn’t Shahid Kapoor’s career-defining ‘Kabir Singh’, a scene-to-scene 2019 Bollywood remake of the Vijay Deverakonda-led 2017 movie, enough?
Our questions don’t stem from a place of malice, but from genuine curiosity. And, who better than the team of ‘Adithya Varma’, ‘Arjun Reddy’s’ Tamil remake, to answer them?
“Tamil Nadu, our state, needed another version … The Telugu version was widely appreciated, but there’s a different essence to our ‘Adithya Varma’ altogether,” says Dhruv Vikram, who makes his movie debut in the titular role.
There’s ample space for this troubled love story to flourish, believes the glamorous trio comprising Dhruv, the son of South Indian superstar Chiyaan Vikram, Banita Sandhu and Priya Anand.
Dhruv’s sole fear was whether he would be able to do justice to such a complex role.
“We have a different approach in ‘Adithya Varma’. The criticism that ‘Kabir Singh’ received … We won’t face that backlash. My equation with her [Meera, played by Sandhu] is slightly different … On a subconscious level, we are somehow different. But we don’t spell it out, yet you can feel it,” Dhruv says.
Its primary cast is acutely aware that their leading man isn’t a shining example of a well-rounded individual, and it’s Adithya’s fractured personality and conflicts that set him apart.
In both ‘Arjun Reddy’ and ‘Kabir Singh’, the male protagonist is a rage-filled surgeon who goes into a downward spiral when his college girlfriend marries another man under duress from her conservative parents. It’s an explosive portrait of an emotional and violent man who clings to the love of his life with rabid intensity.
Scenes where the title character desperately tries to get intimate with a random woman under knifepoint didn’t bode well amid the global #MeToo movement.
Have those scenes been updated in director Gireesaaya’s version? Sandeep Vanga, who directed ‘Arjun Reddy’ and ‘Kabir Singh’, has written the story of ‘Adithya Varma’.
“It’s a scene-by-scene remake … With ‘Arjun Reddy’ and ‘Kabir Singh’, it’s the director’s way of telling their story and the characters that he has written. He didn’t know there would so much criticism, although he knew there will be some judging because the protagonist isn’t white or black … Somewhere, it’s about two people who fall in love and things don’t work out for them,” Dhruv says. He also points out that films such as the mobster thriller ‘The Goodfellas’ were celebrated in the past.
“‘Adithya Varma’ reaches a phase in his life where he doesn’t care about anything or anyone anymore … They start the film with him waking up on the terrace, smoking a couple of joints and he’s drunk from the morning itself. Imagine a football captain and a medical college topper going through such decay. When some people watched ‘Kabir Singh’ and ‘Arjun Reddy’, they found that [woman at knifepoint] scene funny … But while I am doing it, I did not think of it as funny,” Dhruv adds.
‘Kabir Singh’, which collected a whopping Rs379 crore (Rs3.79 billion, Dh193 million) at the box office and remains the second biggest Bollywood grosser of 2019, wasn’t immune to criticism and Kapoor’s role was blasted for its blatant misogyny.
Sandhu, who plays the winsome Meera in ‘Adithya Varma’, was acutely aware of how her role could be perceived. Her role was played by actress Kiara Advani in ‘Kabir Singh’ and Shalini Pandey in ‘Arjun Reddy’. Many critics found the female leads problematic because of their lack of choice displayed in the film.
“There were two words, autonomy and agency, that I kept repeating to the director. We did that in terms of performance but also in terms of filmmaking … I just didn’t want the male gaze directed at me. It is more two-sided,” Sandhu says.
While Anand and Sandhu would never fall in love with someone as volatile as Adithya, they believe that young girls often get involved with such broken men.
“Girls are stupid enough to think they can change the men … In real life, we will be walking away from the guy in less than six hours. She won’t be tolerant,” said Anand.
She plays an actress who falls in love with Adithya when he’s on a path of self-destruction and self-loathing.
Dhruv explains that attraction, saying: “At the end of the day, Adithya Varma is a flawed guy. When you fall in love there are certain things about your partner that aren’t attractive. But to them, their partner believes you can help and change them and be their best version.”
Don’t miss it!
‘Adithya Varma’ releases in the UAE on November 21. Watch the trailer below: