So happy to be writing this review! This is one of those movies when I was just ITCHING to rewrite the script just a tad and fix all their problems. And now I get to do that in the review! Thank goodness.
Whole plot in two paragraphs:
We open with Vijay drunk and miserable, unable to reach his girlfriend. Then we flashback, he was the leader of the student communist union and constantly getting into fights because he tried to do the right thing. And then a girl Rashmika Mandanna arrives to stay with her aunt and uncle in the house next door. She is young and smiley and clearly has a crush on Vijay and likes teasing him, especially about the crush he used to have on her older sister. He ignores her, until he sees her play Cricket and learns she is on the state level team, and suddenly he sees her in a new light and falls in love very quickly over the next few days. But when he confesses his feelings to her and says he wants to talk to her parents, she says she doesn’t want that, they are too different, she isn’t ready. And he fights too much, he is too much like her older brother who died in a campus brawl. He accepts that but can’t forget her. Finally travels cross country to find her again and confesses his love and she admits she hasn’t been able to forget him either. They are in love and ecstatically happy, he supports her in her Cricket dreams and is proud she is his girlfriend. Until he gets into a bad fight over an issue with one of his friends’ girlfriend and almost dies. She tells him in the hospital that she wants him to stop fighting, he says this is who he is and if she doesn’t want it, she should leave him. She leaves. Back in the present, he is drunk and missing her, finally decides to leave home and start traveling. INTERVAL
Vijay travels the country for years. And along the way, he starts recording the sounds of nature that he hears and it helps to heal his broken heart. He joins up with a group of researchers to put together a theraputic recording. He returns to Hyderabad to present their findings at a psychiatric hospital and bumps into Rashmika’s older sister who reveals that Rashmika was in a car accident and missed the try outs for the National Cricket team, and since then has sunk into a depression. Vijay breaks into the hospital and kidnaps her, takes her with him off into the hills and slowly brings her back to life, then returns with her 2 weeks later to her family home. Rashmika is now completely in love with Vijay and done with Cricket, dreaming of marrying him because he is so calm and mature now and makes her happy. But Vijay doesn’t seem to understand how she feels. At the same time, Vijay learns from one of her old Cricket teams that the reason Rashmika left Cricket and stepped into traffic causing the accident was that the state Cricket supervisor tried to force her to have sex with him. Vijay is furious and wants Rashmika to file a case against him, Rashmika resists and believes he doesn’t love her any more, just pities her and wants to use her to prove a point. She finds a recording he gave her which is a record of his 3 years of travel during which he thought of her constantly. She is now ready to go to him and confident in his love, but stopped because the news of her assault has gone public. Vijay is arrested and Rashmika is forced to testify before the Cricket commission. She lies and says nothing happened, and Vijay is shocked, but immediately backs her up and invents his own lie which exonerates her from any involvement. He is then dragged from the room and it is when the evil Cricket supervisor starts threatening Vijay that Rashmika finally speaks up for herself, furiously and fearlessly attacking him. She goes outside and gives a speech about how important it is for people to stand by women and how grateful she is for her “comrade” and then suddenly remembers Vijay and runs back inside to find him they finally make peace.
This is such a confusing movie!!!! The whole first half is telling the story of an unlikely love story between a troubled young man and an innocent childish young woman. And then the second half is about sexual harassment? It’s not unbelievable or anything like that, I can follow the film step by step, it’s just not good construction to make such a radical shift halfway through. And to throw in so many messages and themes that none of them end up really working.
Somewhere in there is a lesson about how Vijay was right to fight and Rashmika was wrong to be afraid, so in fact their first break-up was about him being right and her being immature. And his refusal to acknowledge his love for her and constantly pushing her to confront her fears and go back to playing Cricket and then file her case was all about trying to get her to stand up and fight for something instead of just being satisfied with love. And that true love isn’t about simply kissing and loving each other and finding some superficial form of happiness, but about standing up for each other and fighting together for what is right.
But if Vijay was right to fight, what was that 3 year journey to find peace about? And why did we have the whole plot about sound therapy that then was immediately dropped? And why did Vijay and Rashmika break up and get back together so many times I literally lost count of it?
Well, I know why. The 3 year journey to find peace was so we could see all kinds of pretty scenery and pretty bearded and tormented Vijay. The sound therapy plot was so Vijay’s character would have some kind of purpose in life to make him seem sexy and mature. And the break ups and getting back together was so we could have all kinds of lovely romance and drama and sweetness. If you watch the film as a series of delicious emotions, it works great. But if you watch it as a work of art that is supposed to have some kind of internal cohesion, not so much.
There is one simple change that I think would make the overall point come out that much better. It really doesn’t work to have Vijay and Rashmika seriously date for months and then break up. And then to have their break-up be the thing that sends Vijay off traveling. Because the second half of the film only works if Rashmika is constantly doubting Vijay’s love, thinking pity and shared goals and wanting to fight for her are different than love. And if Vijay thinks Rashmika only wants him because she is fleeing Cricket, not for himself. They already confessed their love, they were already planning some kind of a future together, just a few years ago. Why does it feel like they reset back to the beginning (besides a need to give the audience a chance to see the beginning all over again) and forgot this whole thing?
More than that, what makes the early romance unique is how differently Vijay approaches love versus Rashmika. Vijay is fearless and confident, he sees her and likes her and proposes. But Rashmika is still very young. She likes teasing him, she likes catching him watching her, but she isn’t ready for anything more than that. I was happy when it seemed to end before it began, I wanted Vijay to move on to the rest of his life. His character had so much going on besides just the romance, I wanted to see what happened with all the Communist party infighting and so on.
In my version of this movie, Vijay says good-bye to Rashmika after her sister’s wedding thinking that she never felt anything deep for him, she was just too young and not interested in a real romance. And Rashmika leaves, thinking his feelings were just a crush and he will forget her. Vijay goes back to his life of activism and something there happens that is tragic and sends him on a journey through India. Maybe one of his friends loses a limb in a fight or something. On the journey through India, he constantly finds himself thinking of and talking about Rashmika, that is what confirms for him that he will always love her. He returns to find her broken and her dreams dead (the same way he was disillusioned when whatever it was happened to his activist group), and takes her away to make her better. And then the tension between them is that his extreme behavior in kidnapping her from the hospital and taking care of her looks like love, but at the same time he is such a loyal friend to the whole world it could have been just to be nice, so she isn’t sure of his feelings. And in her fragile condition, he isn’t ready to press his own feelings on her again. Makes a heck of a lot more sense than a couple who was all-but-engaged now suddenly not sure of how the other feels.
Plus, that version has a nice parelal feeling, making it clearly equally the story of both characters. They both had that love that half-started. They both went off to follow their dreams only to find their dreams shatter. They were both saved by that love (Vijay by his memories of her, Rashmika by Vijay’s actual presence).
But the whole sexual harassment message still doesn’t work. There is a nice tension with Rashmika wanting to marry and be happy and forget everything and Vijay pushing her back to Cricket. An interesting message of “I want you to be the full strong person I fell in love with, not this broken person who needs me”. But once it gets into long speeches about how we need to support and believe victims and how women need help to stand up for themselves, I lose the thread entirely. It comes back in the end, when we see Rashmika finally stand up for herself and learn that she had that inside of her all the time and only Vijay knew it, but it takes so looooooooong to get there, and so many false starts and dead ends!
So, let me count down what all we have in this movie. Our hero is a campus rebel and dedicated Communist with a beloved Communist grandfather, who is in a fight with the larger Communist party in the area over the girlfriend of one of his friends who is being stalked by the younger brother of the Communist leader. He had a crush on the heroine’s older sister years ago. The heroine is teasing and laughing at him until they fall in love. Then she rejects him because, it comes out, her brother was killed in a campus fight while she watched. She goes back to her training camp and he dramatically follows her and they are in love. Then he gets into another fight and almost dies, and then break up. He travels to the Himalayas and becomes a sound recorder and sound therapist. He returns with ground breaking sound therapy recordings, only to find she is catatonic in depression. He cures her depression and she tries to make him fall in love again but he rejects her and pushes her back to Cricket. Only to learn from her friend that she was attacked and almost raped and that is why she left Cricket. He tries to force her to file a case, she refuses and instead asks her parents to arrange an engagement. The day of her engagement, they fight again, and she admits to her sister that she loves him but he only pities her. She finds a recording he gave her that proves he loves her and is ready to go to him. Only to be confronted with the news that her accusations are now public. The evil cricket commissioner works with the local police to have Vijay and his friends arrested and tortured. Finally, at the hearing, Rashmika won’t tell the truth until Vijay dramatically is dragged from the room, and then she does.
Any of these things could be their own movie! Heck, just the awkwardness of Rashmika being the one who delivered Vijay’s love note to her sister could easily be the whole first hour of the movie. But instead we have soooooooooooooooo much more.
Or, here’s another idea. Ultimately this movie is Rashmika’s story. What if we started with her instead of getting the Arjun Reddy Vijay opening? What if we started with her drugged up and dreaming in the hospital, remembering her love story? And then we come back from the interval to see Vijay traveling and finally finding her again? Makes a heck of a lot more sense than Vijay’s “wah-wah, my girlfriend broke up with me” trauma being equated with her “I was almost raped and all my dreams killed” trauma.
Or maybe we don’t have to change anything after all. The deep passionate love sequence may make the second half of the film illogical, but it is very pretty to watch. All the back and forth and break ups give lots of times for Vijay to emote at the camera. And it really is satisfying to watch Vijay be all angry and sad on behalf of Rashmika, and then watch Rashmika lay into her attacker at the end. I certainly had a wonderful time for the whole 3 hour running time of this movie, and isn’t that the most important thing of all?