Monday, October 16, 2017

Arjun Reddy is Shiva for the post-millennials

Arjun Reddy is a bravura piece of filmmaking. First, let me get done with the social commentary. Yes, I believe the concerns about how he treats the heroine and the glamourization of alcohol and drugs having an impact on society are real. At 27, I was mesmerised by AR's lifestyle choices so I know there are many guys, kids, like me who'd set AR on their pedestal of role models. And after listening, from Sravani and Sravya, to firsthand stories of stalkers, I can only imagine how many more girls will now be followed and pestered by loons and junkies. Despite all my arguments about idiots always managing to find social proof of their conduct, I know this is yet another film that legitimizes that sort of psycho-lover behaviour. Having said that, it must be accepted that a film is also a reflection of the ways of the society. Based on the voice of my memory, I think the time when eve-teasing became a heroic thing- On the release of Puri Jagannath's Idiot.

Okay, now that we're done with the business of adults, we can get back to talking about the film. Where were we? Yes, AR is ballsy filmmaking if not in its content then in its form. People who called the film realistic need better dictionaries. For some reason mainstream Indian moviegoers think calling a film realistic is paying it a compliment. No film is realistic simply because all art is subjective gaze and observation. Reality is objective, it doesn't give a hoot about your existence. To create art is to project your view onto the indifferent void of the universe. AR is fantasy and it is of a type more dangerous than your vanilla flavour fantasy with wizards and hobbits because it wears the cloak of normalcy. There are two Arjun Reddys in the film- One the filmmaker envies and the other he needs. In one avatar he is the alpha male, the arrogant genius, the charismatic outsider, the hyper confident man swaggering across life. The other is the attention-craving loner, the cranky child who wants his toy back, the egomaniac who needs to be constantly fawned upon. Arjun Reddy is Wake up Sid for the sexually awakened.

The scene where Arjun and Preethi walk into Amith's college has a long, single, steadicam shot that reminded me of Shiva. No wonder Ram Gopal Varma loved it; AR also has many similarities with the peak-Scorsese phase of Taxi Driver and Raging Bull. The film Arjun Reddy, like its protagonist, is solipsistic, obsessed with a certain type of masculinity, feeds on the 'weaker' males around to reinforce its idea of masculinity, claims women and is too enthralled by its own image to see clearly that its not as free-spirited as it wants to be. Interestingly, I could also find an exploration of, what Ebert stresses is central to Scorsese's filmmaking, the Madonna-whore complex in Arjun Reddy's relationships with Preethi and Jia.

I love the way the football scene panned out. The sound design throughout the film was magnificent. A part of me questioned the reason for the love story being a flashback. Why couldn't the film just unfold linearly? Isn't the arc more 'complete' then? Self-content to devastated to searching and catharsis to salvation. I had a similar issue with Gamyam when it came out as to why there must be parallel tracks? Is the switching a writing gimmick to ensure the audience's engagement- What Orson Welles so memorably called, "Meanwhile back at the ranch". The dialogues are refreshingly original. Despite the claims of being a bold movie, you can clearly see that it's made for an audience not least because of the titillating cuss words and the obsessive kissing aimed for their shock value. Rahul Ramakrishna's digressions are entertaining but they come at the cost of narrative focus. The most novel thing about Ramu's Shiva was its unrelenting increase of intensity. AR squanders that for a few easy laughs.

Ultimately, Arjun Reddy works because self-destruction is a sight to behold. For the wingless, jumping off a cliff into the abyss can seem like flight. And you are never more fully alive than when you're wrecking your life with complete consciousness. Arjun Reddy is Shiva for the post-millennials. Shiva was relevant to those growing up in the 1980s because it created a reluctant hero who wears his power like a thorny crown, who understands that one cannot destroy the villain without turning into someone like him (what Nolan keeps trumpeting in The Dark Knight). AR is for the new generation of adolescents who don't need an external villain, who are so enamoured by themselves that all their suffering will be self-created; For those of us who feed ravenously from our support system without ever giving anything back.

I'm glad a film moved me so much that I was pushed out of languor to write about it. I'm beginning to believe that those who write about film or talk about books are the ones who are afraid to write down their own books and make their own films. Their life is not fertile enough for them (us?) to plant their imagination, to write a song. It is great that so many people had an objection with the explicit content of Arjun Reddy; That doesn't mean they have a right to stop it. If anything, it should motivate them to create something more powerful based on how they think the world ought to be. To create art is to be wonderfully alive, it is to wrestle and dance with life to create something beautiful, original, real, concrete.

We have been tuned by narrative art to expect epiphanies from life. By the end of a 3-hour film, the hero has gained enlightenment. And that sets him free. We want that, we need that, we crave for that liberation. So we emulate his actions and recreate those settings in the hope that we'll can escape the tyranny of our doubt-filled, cowardly brains. (Digression: I just realized that the protagonist of Tom McCarthy's Remainder is in the same quest, only the narrative comes for his previous life instead of an external source). See, this is what we want. Eureka moments. For everything to make sense. I don't know if humans desire certainty and control because we are wired that way or we have been rewired for insisting on walking in that direction, yet another chicken and egg problem, but I think we don't crave for clarity as much as the moment when Clarity springs up, when all molecules rearrange themselves to show you that what you thought was real, hoped was real, is indeed real. And then the high abates and we go back to being petty, cribbing beings. Until we're not. Wash, Rinse, Repeat. All enlightenment, then, is extraordinary delusion. Great movies are the ones that bypass our bullshit meters to trigger dopamine surge. And I will hold onto this thought until I encounter another beautiful piece of art that'll, if only temporarily, quell this belief.

To art.