Certain sections of the English-language media had a strange complaint about Mani Ratnam’s ‘Cheliyaa’ (‘Kaatru Veliyadai’). The reviews written by some apparently feminism-loving critics unequivocally pointed out that Varun (Karthi) was the wrong kind of lover, a misogynist that he was. Leela Abraham (Aditi Rao Hydari), we were told, was in an abusive relationship.
Some commentators actually made a social analysis of the movie. “Why do women live in such relationships?” righteous voices thundered. Reading them, one could almost see them cry.
Among Varun’s sins, as per the reviewers, were this: he physically pushed around Leela, his body language exuded arrogance, and he even shouted her down on a bad day (read the interval scene).
In what is intriguing, ‘Arjun Reddy’ has been received with so much of hyperbolic praise and even reverence from the same sections! Why not, you may ask. Only that Arjun Reddy (Vijay Devarakonda) can be accused of the same sins that Mani Ratnam’s hero was.
He physically pushes around Preethi (Shalini) in an intensely emotional scene, his body language is intimidatory in the initial scenes, and he curses her on a bad day, that too for no mistake of hers.
There is more…
While Mani’s hero turns out to be an unflawed lover as the story progresses, living with Leela’s memories while being a Prisoner of War in Pakistan, Arjun Reddy, unable to outlive his traumatic break-up with Shalini, doesn’t mind getting raunchy, if only to put his past behind.
Mani’s hero was almost poetic. ‘Na swabhavam vidhvamsam’ (Annihilation is my nature), he tells the heavenly Leela, implicitly urging her to help him rid of his guilt by walking out (?) of the relationship.
Yet, if the critics are to have their way, Arjun Reddy is lovely whereas Varun was a jerk.
Remember, Varun comes from an unhappy background (an overbearing father who bullies his family, a mentally-challenged brother), while Arjun hails from a near-perfect family which would rather celebrate a granny’s death by playing the departed soul’s favourite number instead of wasting away the lifetime opportunity by sobbing.
There is a psychology at work here…
Mani Ratnam was too mature not to have his heroine talk about her lover’s flaws. She questions him. Exhausted, she warns him that if his rude behaviour with her continued, she would permanently bid adieu to him.
On the other hand, Arjun Reddy’s girl is very meek. Give her six hours’ time to break free from her family, she would never question his unworkable option. Behave like a rowdy with her family, that too after her marriage, she wouldn’t even give an angry gaze.