Varmaa Movie Review: A listless, lifeless remake of Arjun Reddy
Bala’s remake of Arjun Reddy feels dead on arrival
I remember the clamour following the release of Arjun Reddy’s faithful Tamil remake, Adithya Varmaa, last year, when a section of people asked to see Bala’s version of the remake. I won’t lie to you—I too was among those who fantasised about the cinematic joys the Bala version of this film would hold. After all, the Arjun Reddy universe is Bala’s backyard. It’s pretty much his debut film, Sethu. The one-liner is the same: A misanthropic, alpha male forces a meek woman to submit to his ‘pure love’, and when it all goes to hell, he becomes deranged. Given the inherent melancholy and madness in this subject—Bala’s playthings—the question was, how would he reinterpret this story that is right up his alley? What would the Bala of today change about/add to this story that’s been told so many times now that you can predict its every beat? Well, it turns out that he hasn’t. He has settled to giving us a jaded, curtailed version instead.
Cast: Dhruv Vikram, Megha Chowdhury, Easwari Rao, Akash Premkumar, Raiza
Sure, if you had to nitpick, you would find minor changes here and there. The football match is a hockey match, only so Varmaa can flaunt the hockey stick as a symbol of his masculinity. That’s not the only organ-ic commentary in this film, of course. Varmaa shows someone the middle-finger. He makes a girl pray to his member. Later, there’s a Muslim patient who talks about the pain he suffered when he underwent circumcision—which results in a nurse giggling. Women aren’t excluded from such strange situations. When asked to undress during a bullying session, a couple of women share that they have their periods. Later, a cigarette lighter is involved in making a half-delivered baby do a backflip. In good Bala films, such ideas add to the viscerality of it all, but here, they make you react in much the same way as a woman does when she sees Varmaa slipping ice cubes into his underwear.
Strangely, the overall milestones of Arjun Reddy remain untouched. Be it the toxicity of the protagonist’s pursuit, the questions over this Stockholm Syndrome romance, the romanticisation of his asphyxiating presence, the convenient end… they are all left untouched. I did notice though that he avoided that fat-shaming angle from the original, where a plump girl is forced by the protagonist to sit beside his girlfriend.
I didn’t mind Dhruv Vikram too much, and though this remake’s emotional beats lack intensity, it’s not for want of his talent. The actor I most liked in this film is Easwari Rao, who plays Bhavani, Varmaa’s housekeeper, and proxy mother, in a sense. It’s a useful angle in the film, a suggestion perhaps that something broken within the Varmaa family dynamics might have caused Varmaa to become the petulant child he is. I was also pleasantly surprised by the comfortable English-speaking in this film and the physicality of the Varmaa-Megha relationship, aspects our cinema often struggles with. But then again, these are blink-and-miss moments in a film that struggles to create engagement.
Arjun Reddy, whatever its faults, is a film that explodes with firepower and raw emotion. In contrast, Bala’s Varmaa feels dead on arrival. I waited and waited for this auteur’s influence on this film. Would it happen after Varmaa’s descent into drugs? Would it happen after he loses his medical licence? Would it happen after the passing away of a loved one? Would it happen after his friends desert him? But it never does. And that’s the true tragedy of this remake. Oh, hey, what do you know—it appears that despite a rare happy end in a Bala film, he has still managed to deliver a tragedy.