New Delhi: Telugu cinema is certainly on a roll. After the record-smashing box office performance of director S.S Rajamouli’s Baahubali 2: The Conclusion, which made more than Rs500 crore in India alone, there is more reason to rejoice. Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s black comedy drama Arjun Reddy has crossed Rs31 crore worldwide by the end of its first week, more than double its Rs12 crore budget.
This reminds of Marathi musical romantic drama Sairat, which too was made at a shoestring budget of Rs4 crore, but touched the Rs100-crore mark when it got released last year. Sairat remains the highest grossing Marathi film currently.
“But Marathi cinema is known for such experimental stuff. Arjun Reddy has broken the shackles and traditions of commercial Telugu cinema," said independent trade analyst Sreedhar Pillai, who refers to the black comedy as the Angamaly Diaries of Telugu cinema. Angamaly Diaries is a recent Malayalam indie on gang wars in a small Kerala town that received unprecedented critical and commercial success.
Arjun Reddy features Vijay Deverakonda and Shalini Pandey in lead roles and has been touted as a modern-day adaptation of Devdas, which is about a lover who drinks himself to self-destruction.
“More than 99% of the time, Telugu films are star-driven vehicles, you can’t experiment like you do in Malayalam or Tamil cinema. But with no stars or fancy locations, this one has proven the trade wrong," Pillai said.
Deverakonda, known for his trendsetting romantic comedy Pelli Choopuli, which won big at the National Awards in 2016, had built some expectations for the film. But nobody, trade experts say, could have anticipated the massive impact of the film, especially outside Hyderabad. At last count, the film had earned Rs8.87 crore in the US, building on the massive audience that Telugu films have in the country.
“(What has worked for Arjun Reddy in such a big way) is the rawness it brings to Telugu cinema," said film critic Baradwaj Rangan.
“Arjun Reddy works wholly in the mainstream tradition, right down to the rousing music (by Radhan) and the woman who remains ‘pure’ for her lover. But the narration is new," Rangan wrote in his review for the film. “The director’s success is in rendering Arjun (Deverakonda’s character) sympathetic. Part of it is simply the gaze we are used to in mainstream cinema—we are conditioned to root for the hero. It helps that, unlike the Devdas figure, Arjun is no loser. Deverakonda does to his character what the director does to the film: he smooths over the clichés, and makes the rest of it ring true."
Pillai calls the sleeper hit a welcome change for Telugu cinema, and one of the hottest remake properties in India right now. “Everyone, including Ranveer Singh, has evinced interest in the film. So there is a lot of pressure to remake it in both Hindi and Tamil," he added.