Adithya Varma Movie Review: Mr Misogyny is back with a new face
The punches don’t land, the outbursts don’t hit; all we get is a watered-down version of a problematic film
Let me begin with something I have never understood about remakes. Why remake the same movie in a different language, if you aren’t going to change anything about it? It becomes even more paradoxical when the original has been watched by most of your target audience. Adithya Varma, the Tamil remake of Arjun Reddy, is the fourth version of the story of the titular misogynistic new-age Devdas (counting the shelved Bala version). And Adithya Varma is an exact remake. Every scene has been recreated with such excruciating care — the camera angles are the same, the costumes and locations look similar. At least Kabir Singh, the Hindi version, had a new soundtrack. This film doesn’t even get that. The dialogues have been translated verbatim and even the caste angle hasn’t been altered to suit our region. Basically, it’s Arjun Reddy with a face transplant.
Cast: Dhruv Vikram, Banita Sandhu
The only reason I can think of for Adithya Varma’s existence is to create the ‘perfect debut vehicle’ for Dhruv Vikram. You might wonder why a misogynistic masochist is a great option, but hey, it worked for Deverakonda, right? And to be honest, Dhruv gives a good performance. But I wish he had gotten a different debut because there’s no escaping the Vijay Deverakonda shadow.
I had several issues with Arjun Reddy but it's undeniable that Deverakoda was terrific in the role. This film wants us to look at Dhruv the same way; in a few scenes, Dhruv even looks like Vijay Deverakonda. But you know Dhruv’s struggling to carry the weight. Vijay sold the anger and arrogance too well, with such conviction, that at the end, he almost makes you sympathise with him. Dhruv tries hard to bring that swagger, but fails. The punches don’t land, the outbursts don’t hit. All we get is a meek version of this flawed, complex beast.
One can say the same about Meera, played by Banita Sandhu. In the original, Shalini brings a steely resistance to Preethi. This woman might not look it initially, but she is as crazy as Arjun himself. There was conviction in Shalini’s Preethi. Despite her minimal dialogues, you feel Preethi’s presence in Arjun Reddy. She was convinced that this was love, and this was the form of it she desired.
Banita’s Meera, on the other hand, feels bland in comparison. Despite the physical intimacy, Dhruv and Banita don’t conjure the crackling chemistry that Vijay and Shalini had. I couldn’t help but think of Banita’s interview where she says that she couldn't turn an indifferent eye to the film’s misogyny just because she was part of it. The lack of conviction certainly shows on screen.
All this only makes the film’s problematic stance harder to digest. They’ve faithfully retained those parts as well, with unflinching confidence. In the beginning, Adithya holds a woman at knifepoint and asks her to take off her clothes. But a blessed moment of clarity comes, and he seems to be aghast at what he’s doing. This faint trace of regret was missing in Arjun Reddy, and I was hopeful for a moment that this film would correct some of the mistakes. But it doesn’t. There’s still the fat girl 'joke'. Slapping someone, kissing them without consent is still ‘cool’. (If you’re thinking doesn't Preethi also slap him, just notice the music in both scenarios. There’s funky music when he slaps her, silence when she does.) It’s ridiculous and also disappointing that none of the outrage has brought about the slightest change in the film’s tone and politics. I guess only box office matters, huh?
People who liked Arjun Reddy argue that one should see it as just a story of two flawed people. The problematic story isn’t my grouse, it is the glorification, the normalisation, and also the justification of such behaviour that irks me. I am all for stories about flawed people — hell, we could use more grey. Art reflects life, after all. The dynamics and rules change with each relationship; life is messy and people do not always stay within the bounds of political correctness. Several films have done this well. Take, Ispade Raajavum Irudhaya Raaniyum, or even Kaatru Veliyidai, for that matter. These aren’t perfect films, but they hold a mirror to toxic relationships rather than see it through rose-tinted glasses. To instead celebrate this misogyny with annoyingly catchy music and stylised shots, and also recreate it multiple times with precision is what I find infuriating.
I couldn’t help but wonder what Bala’s Varmaa would have been. Problematic or not, at least the director would have given us something new. That’s a film I would have been more interested to watch and discuss. It would have been an interpretation of a solid premise, rather than a replica. Love his films or hate them, it isn’t possible to be indifferent to Bala's work. And thanks to Arjun Reddy, I found myself quite indifferent to Adithya Varma.