Much has been written and said about Arjun Reddy and its Hindi counterpart Kabir Singh, but they still offer scope for more discussion. In this conversation with Baradwaj Rangan, director Sandeep Reddy Vanga speaks about the creative choices he made, why he wrote many dialogues in English, and more. Excerpts.
In an interview, you said: "When I made Arjun Reddy, I wasn't sure where to draw the line on certain things, but I believe there will be more freedom in the Hindi film industry." What exactly were you referring to?
That was a childish comment. (laughs) I thought this freedom was not enough when I was doing Telugu, but…
What do you mean? Freedom to say fuck and things like that?
No. For example, you couldn't do three hours and 35 minutes. So, I thought the Hindi industry was bigger on the unconventional side. In Telugu, I was doing whatever I wanted, and that is more than what anyone can ask for. I thought I'd make it bigger, I thought I could make it at least three hours and 15 minutes at least. There were a few key scenes that I wanted to add in the film. Kabir Singh was two hours and 15 minutes, and after this, I figured out I'm not going to work for any other production. I'll produce and direct as well.
So the crime drama you spoke about… it's going to be your own production?
Yeah. T-Series will be the studio and my brother and father are producing it in Hindi. I thought this is a much happier space.
Do you feel that having an external producer puts a good kind of restriction on a director… like what happened with Coppola in The Godfather?
I didn't experience a phase where I was breathless, because I come from a place where I had full freedom, and whatever little things happened, they got magnified. I'm not saying that I was completely unhappy with the producers. I thought I'll have control, but what you said is true. Sometimes, you become very resourceful. For example, what I figured out while writing was that the actual fight was during heavy rain. The rain begins slowly, becomes heavy, slows down again, and then it's over. I wanted to treat the fight like that — the rain's heavy and they're bashing each other, and when the rain slows down, they're exhausted. That required a lot of budget and a week's time. Then, I went to the location and saw a train, and decided to use that sound for the entire scene. This happened because I was resourceful. In Hindi, they wanted me to do the same thing. I told them this was not my idea. That's why I said, I wanted to go beyond Arjun Reddy. That couldn't happen. But, I could do little things that were new. Other than that, I couldn't change anything.
One thing that is remarkable in Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh is the usage of English. In Tamil cinema, they are paranoid about using more than a certain amount of English, because they fear the audience beyond what they call the A centres will not come to the movie because they do not identify with it.
Maybe, I was trying to avoid the filmy nature of dialogues. I mix Telugu and English when I speak, and I think that came out in the dialogues too. Vijay [Deverakonda] was very concerned about it. He'd tell me, "Everything is good, but 50 per cent of it is in English." My reply was that it's just 20 per cent. In Hindi, there's less English compared to the Telugu film.
In Arjun Reddy, the caste of the leads is clearly demarcated — he's Arjun Reddy and she comes from a Tulu family. In Hindi, they're both Punjabis, but he's not a turban-wearing Sikh.
So many told me that is a major mistake in the film, and might pose a problem. I felt that for a girl's father to say 'You're a Reddy and I'm a Shetty,' is a point. In Kabir Singh, she's from a turban-wearing Sikh family, and he's not. I don't know much about their cultures but now I know the clear differences — the turbaned Punjabis are portrayed as angry and hot tempered, so it went in the favour for the character.
With both Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh, one thing that I took away is that we're seeing a traditional Indian movie with emotions and love, but in a modern way. Do you think the audience still responds the same way they did, say 20-40 years ago or was it just with this film?
I don't know, it depends. You're asking me whether another love story of this kind is going to grab the same number of audience? People in the industry say that probably once every 10 years, a love story of this level comes. You never know, it might happen next year too.
That's also defining, because you mentioned Hum Aapke Hain Koun! and in that era that was a defining love story. In this era, Arjun Reddy and Kabir Singh become a kind of a defining love story. I'm just amazed that people find new ways to tell love stories for a broad Indian audience, it never goes out of fashion.
Yeah, it's the perspective. If you dissect Arjun and Kabir, they are simple stories — a boy meets a girl in college, they fall in love, they depart, whether they meet again or not is the crux. That's pretty much there for every film, so the way you look at it makes it special.