With Valentine’s Day fast approaching, there’s no better time to share something that’s been gnawing at me for a while now. And this dawned on me during a conversation about films — it seems that conversations sometimes can be more insightful than a million minutes of private introspection. So, what’s this great realisation? Arjun Reddy is just a contemporised version of Sethu. WHAT?
Once the initial shock wears off, think about it. Here are the basics: Both Chiyaan/Sethu and Arjun Reddy are alpha males and are surrounded by friends who give more than they get. We assume that Sethu and Arjun Reddy love their friends a lot because well, they just have to, don’t they, despite their rather stunted emotional range. Both Arjun and Sethu are a drain for their friends. Sethu casually slaps his friends around. Arjun, well, he is too busy being Arjun to care. He also is a man of violence, and in words too. In many ways, you could say that they are both defined by their anger, by their unshakeable faith that if they are angry, it must mean they have been wronged. That they are beyond reproach.
The lead women in both films have very little agency, and we learn precious little about who they are. I mean, fair enough, given that both films are named after their respective leading male characters. But you still have to note that the women seem less in love and more in fear. At one point in Sethu, when he asks — no, demands — that she open up to him, she’s so frightened that she thinks he’s asking her to remove her clothes. Preethi of Arjun Reddy, meanwhile, seems as meek and terrified in Arjun’s presence.
Both men take great liberties with ‘their’ respective women; they do this to the extent of seeming delusional about the relationship. Sethu reels off monologues during at least two points in the film, and goes on and on about how he can be the only person to make Abitha happy. Arjun is as convinced too, given how he takes it upon himself to ‘care’ for Preethi. He even determines her friends for her. Sethu gifts her a kolusu. Arjun gifts her a lesson in human anatomy. Sethu explains that his instinct to beat her up is actually because he thinks of her as being his. Arjun straight up falls asleep on her lap. Well before Preethi has given him any real reason to believe she is in love with him, he is shown telling another student that if he were to die, the person most affected by it would be Preethi — not his father, not his grandmother, but Preethi.
The leading women of both films eventually succumb to the pressure, and are, I would argue, almost hapless victims of Stockholm Syndrome, when they make their peace with the possibility that they may be in love with the alpha male who’s taken possession of them. Abitha indicates her acceptance when she meekly nods after Sethu kidnaps her, ties her down, and expresses his ‘love’. It’s a more cultured kidnapping in Arjun Reddy, when he decides that she should live with him at his beach house so she can recover from some injury whilst ‘preparing’ for exams.
And then, of course, the big separation occurs, with there being a real possibility that the girl could end up married to another man. It all comes as a big blow to the head of both heroes. In Sethu, it’s a literal blow, as he’s driven to insanity. In Arjun Reddy, it’s insanity of a different kind. Sethu becomes a prisoner of his medication. Arjun becomes a prisoner of drugs of a different variety. Bala wraps things up as he does, while Arjun Reddy gives you a contrived Telugu cinema end.
So, yes, for those of you wondering why Bala showed interest in remaking Arjun Reddy, well, why wouldn’t he? It’s, after all, a story he’s very familiar with (Sethu). It’s the film that marked his arrival into Tamil cinema, the film that truly launched the career of its lead actor, Vikram. And now fascinatingly, with the same story, Bala will be launching the career of Vikram’s son, Dhruv. It’s the sort of coincidence that makes real life stranger than fiction. But given who’s remaking Arjun Reddy, you can be sure of one thing. There won’t be a conveniently happy ending.