Madharchod to Madam: Why Vijay Devarakonda’s Movies ‘Geetha Govindam’ and ‘Arjun Reddy’, and its Widespread Reception Should Frighten You

This article is an examination of Devarakonda’s two movies, Geetha Govindam and Arjun Reddy, that which seems to have taken over South India by a wave in its so-called ‘romance’. They are claimed as the bold experiments of the actor in choosing such radically different movies. But…when you distill the essence of these two characters, they’re not antithesis (as claimed) of one another but just different personas of the same archetype of Indian men…patriarchal, misogynistic, and entitled. Here’s why these movies should jolt you.

L to R: Arjun Reddy and Geetha Govindam

The super-hit Telugu song Inkem Inkem Kavale from the movie Geetha Govindam has been captivating the internet for a while now. I really do enjoy this song and its video was rather intriguing to me when I hadn’t watched the movie. I had imagined multiple contexts for this song: the heroine is conservative and likes to keep her guard up around her boyfriend, the couple had a scuffle and the hero is trying to pacify her, it’s their initial dating days where the man tries to set everything perfectly right for her, so on and so forth. In all those million interpretations, I didn’t once overlay what the context of that song in that movie really was, until I actually decided to watch it a few days ago:

A woman being put in the difficult position of having to work alongside a man who sexually harassed her on a moving bus in the dead of the night, just for her family’s sake.

Misogyny is of unlimited supply in Indian movies to the point of extreme normalization. Telugu movies have consistently been one of those industries that thrive on it (Tamizh, too). Geetha Govindam (GG)is no different despite how this movie was marketed. I spent two hours talking to my best friend after watching GG because I had to get the frustration out of my system. I wanted to scream into the universe, “Is no one else seeing what I am seeing right now? Are we all watching the same movie?” because this movie’s success is something I am unable to fathom.

Now, my friend hadn’t yet seen GG and so, I quickly explained the plot (I’ll get there) to her aghast countenance over video-call. She told me, in turn, about the actor’s previous movie ‘Arjun Reddy’ (AR) and how his character is claimed to be an antithesis to his role in GG. She was frustrated about that movie, and in the end, we made a pact that the two of us would watch the movie that each of us missed. So, I ended up taking three hours out of my Saturday to watch that mostly painful movie. Let me tell you something right off the bat with absolute certainty: these two roles that Devarakonda plays in these movies are not opposites, as claimed.

The two movies follow the same troupe of a misogynistic, sexist, and patriarchal hero who just happen to have different intensities and different means of manifestation of these said tendencies. If I have to put it in the terms of my academic degree steeped in research, they’re different personas of the same archetype.

What’s that, you ask? Simply put, archetypes are rooted in the behavior. They distill down to the key motivations, drivers, goals, and challenges of a segment of people. Personas, on the other hand, can be specific instances of a particular archetype. In this case, the archetype of the ‘hero’ is that he’s driven by patriarchy and is rooted in misogyny. The personas are a ‘brilliant’, short-tempered, alpha-male (city-bred elite) surgeon (Arjun Reddy) and the ‘submissive’, traditional, innocent and timid (virgin) college professor (Vijay Govind in GG).

When I watched these two movies within two days of each other, it really set me off. I was compelled to examine the overtones these movies have in common and how it’s only a difference in manifestation. It worried me that a lot of people, and sometimes even critics and women hailed these to be good and different movies. They talked about the actor’s courage in exploring such varied characters and movie plots. It drove me up against the wall and I had to pen this down…because I all I was seeing was a clear pattern.

Here is a single line summary as you’ll find on the internet for these two movies, I’ll explain how these plots reveal themselves as we go but it’s important you know how it’s being described.

  • Arjun Reddy: “A brilliant medical student starts down a self-destructive path after his girlfriend is forced to marry another man”
  • Geetha Govind: “An innocent young lecturer is misunderstood as a pervert and despised by a woman who co-incidentally turns out to be the sister of his future brother-in-law. Eventually, differences subside and love blooms between them.”

At the outset, you’d think these two movies are very different. Overtly speaking, Devarakonda and liplocks are common denominators and everything else claims antithesis. The actor plays an alpha male in AR, and a more ‘submissive’ character in GG. A well-knowing adult in AR and a well-meaning virgin in GG. A ‘progressive’ who thinks nothing is wrong with ‘pre-marital’ sex in AR and a man with ‘traditional’ marital views in GG. The ‘hero’ yells ‘Madharchod’ in AR and squeaks ‘Madam’ in GG. The heroine is timid in AR and ‘dominant’ in GG…it can be a lengthy list. However, the underlying thread of both these movies are one and the same.

THE BACKBONE

THE UNDERLYING PLOT | THE MAN STRIVES FOR THE ‘LOVE’ OF HIS LIFE (MEETS) THE TRADITIONAL INDIAN RELATIONSHIP DYNAMICS

a.k.a. the man goes (actively or passively) after his ‘love-at-first-sight’ prize and nothing will stop him from achieving the woman, because ‘love’ wins.

(GG) Govind is a 25-year-old man who has extremely romanticised ideas of marriage and is constantly found grappling away at ideas of patriarchal norm in the name of culture and tradition in this story, for e.g., you see an ideal wife in his dream (in the song ‘Vacchindamme’), he thinks greatly of the silent and understood communication between Kamal Hassan and Sukanya in the yesteryear’s movie ‘Indian’ to the point of mild obsession, and of course, the age-old ‘I-want-to-see-my-mother-in-my-wife’ desire.

The backbone of GG is built on the unrealistic and dangerous male fantasy of finding a perfect ‘wife’, while deeply entrenched in patriarchy and ‘tradition’. Govind sees nothing wrong with what he is seeking, and doesn’t question the social status quo.

In the context of a rigid-minded traditional Indian, a mother is an epitome of care, protection, and unconditional love: she takes care of your emotional needs, irons your clothes, gives you food and shelter, takes care of you through thick and thin with no expectations in return…in an extremely unrealistic manner. It’s the kind of oppression that comes with elevating one’s status to divine, really. This traditional Indian mother is usually built to serve her family, and viewed as a goddess. That’s what drives this character’s search for the perfect wife, to fill in the loss of his mother from his young age, with a wife (in fact, he falls for the heroine, Geetha, when he sees her in complete traditional wear at a temple lighting lamps, just the way he remembers his mother, if my Telugu serves me correctly). There is a scene in the movie where he dotes on his sister and praises her because she agreed to marry a man whom their father thought was the perfect match for her without ever seeing him. It’s a character that may have made sense thirty years ago but now, it’s just plainly regressive. It only reinforces his belief in a heavily patriarchal system that decides women’s future for them, as it has been ‘traditionally’ done.

Geetha Govindam: “You agreed to marry a man without ever seeing him. Wow, you are my sanskari sister. You get all my brownie points”

He kisses Geetha accidentally on a moving bus and what ensures is the gradual change in their relationship when they’re forced to see more of each other due to familial commitments. The movie is the male protagonist trying to convince the woman how he is a decent man and not a pervert. Follow the eternal love story trope and Govind ends up marrying her at the end of this movie.

(AR) Arjun, on the other hand, is a 27-year-old urban man, final-year medical college student who is extremely aggressive and has anger management issues. He calls himself a ‘rebel with a cause’ and casts a ‘progressive’ label because he doesn’t believe in caste as a reason to separate lovers (even though he is a ‘Reddy’, from an elite English-speaking rich family), thinks he doesn’t objectify women (he totally does!), and doesn’t see anything wrong with pre-marital sex (good for him!). He falls in love (at first sight) with Preeti, stalks her, is her local guardian which makes things easier for him, and makes sure as the college bully that everyone knows that she belongs to him. The movie is about their ‘love’ by which I mean it’s the story of a privileged male with a clear upper hand in power dynamics in the college ecosystem being capitalized to coerce a woman into a relationship with him. I almost feel like Preeti is a victim of Stockholm Syndrome, really, at-least in the beginning of the movie. For all the raving about ‘progressive’, it’s terribly stereotypical of the trope of heroines used in the industry: they add no value to the script, have little to no agency, are shy, and need to be taken care of. The movie is almost narcissistically Arjun and his destructive habits post his girlfriend getting forcibly married to someone else. He becomes an alcoholic and a drug addict, a sex-maniac who sleeps around…he’s the stereotypical ‘angry young man’ and his character reminded me of Ranbir Kapoor in Rockstar (only superficially, though. Kapoor’s character had depth that AR does not achieve).

Arjun Reddy: “I will translate your request to do as you want to as an equal partner in this relationship as you hitting me in my nuts and attacking me at my weakest point…Why won’t you listen to me?”

This movie ends with the reunion of the lovers when she’s about to pop her baby. She proudly reveals that the baby is theirs and that she didn’t let her husband ‘touch her even with his little finger’.

If you think about it...it’s the same wireframe as GG. It’s about the idea of an eternal love story that brings the heterosexual cis-couple together, where the woman’s lack of agency is heralded as a win in the traditional Indian relationship. The woman stays true to the man no matter what and waits for his return after his loitering around, trying to find the way.

Let’s break these movies down into some key topics that are clear patterns of regressive plots and ideas.

Toxic Masculinity’s Versions of ‘Respecting’ Women, Marking Territories, and Portraying them as Property

The story and screenplay of both movies tries to reiterate that Devarakonda is a man who respects women, and yet, he constantly…doesn’t, in both characters. This is where I’d like to bring in something that has been bothering me while researching how people perceived these movies. In AR, Devarakonda is considered an aggressive alpha male while in GG, he is considered ‘submissive’ and ‘victimised by a woman for a silly mistake’.

In ‘Arjun Reddy’, you’d find Devarakonda going around swearing ‘madharchod’ (motherfucker) in a booming voice now and then. He’s a bold person to the point of extreme arrongance. When he falls for Preeti, he clearly marks her as his territory through threats to other students (literally enters a classroom in progress to warn the boys) and goes ahead with his love interest without her consent at almost every point in the movie. I barely heard Preeti speak, even. There was maybe 10% character depth for her role. He leads her like she’s a child, infantalises her, and oh, is also abusive. It’s a movie that explores the dark side of a volatile character and the movie has been heralded at a cult status…which is worrisome.

Arjun Reddy: “Let me walk into this 19-year-old’s class and tell her where to sit, and whom to be friends with…a fat girl should do, because they’re warm and loyal.”

In a scene in this movie that hails the character progressive, Deverakonda advises his best friend (Shiva) to not get his sister married to the man she was going to be engaged to as the prospective groom calls some Indian women on his flight coming into India as “hairy, ugly, fat, yuck!” in the process of making small talk. The ‘hero’ disagrees strongly with the objectification of women. I would have thought this the growth of the character over time…as the very same Arjun strongly directs a shy Preeti to be friends with a ‘fat girl’ in the past, because “…trust me, a good-looking chick and a fat chick is a deadly combination.” I say I would have only thought of it as character development because in reality, it isn’t. He adds after his initial advice to his friend that they were crass too, but not like this man was being in an effort to say what sets him apart from the potential groom. Had he said, “We clearly did the same thing in the past and it was wrong”, I’d have agreed to character growth. This man is a clear representation of toxic masculinity and male privilege. He wants to dictate everything for his partner starting from where she sits in the classroom and who she can be friends with.

Later in the movie, he also casually remarks that his maid is unafraid of him and chases her to hit her, “she’ll only understand if she is smacked some” because she keeps breaking his drinking glasses. This throws light on how aside from Preeti (who is an object to him, if you think about it), he doesn’t really care about respecting ‘women’.

Geetha Govindam: “Let me get myself shoved into her personal space. Oh wait, she’s married? Lord, how can I touch another man’s property?”

Let’s shift gears for a moment. Devarakonda’s role in Geetha Govindam is interestingly considered an antithesis to his role in AR. He’s characterised as an innocent virgin man merely looking for his girl, and to the director of the movie, a representation of the ‘submissive man’. This is where I am heavily concerned because

Deverakonda’s character in GG is only overtly submissive as viewed through the lens of toxic masculinity but in reality, it is as aggressive, dangerous, and disturbing as the character of Arjun Reddy.

In an early scene in GG, Devarakonda is seen alone with a woman he fancies at an empty bus stop (Anu, a cameo role) and she is waiting for her bus. He has clearly stalked her enough (six months if my Telugu is alright) to know her commute patterns. He sets up six of his own men to come there as if on their own to threaten him to accept another woman’s proposal which is when he theatrically expresses his interest in Anu (in front of the men, in pretend duress). They drag him to her to ask if she likes him, too. The music in the background is pretty upbeat and is meant to stir you up funny but I can tell you firsthand, as a woman who has seen this happen before in real life, it’s not funny. A group of seven men you don’t know walking into your personal space is not funny. This is very much still an aggressive way to express interest as you’ve already breached the woman’s space, she is already intimidated at this point. In fact, Devarakonda signals his man to rough him up closer to the woman in his act before she reveals that she’s already married and suddenly, all the men retreat.

At this point, he’s looking for signs of marital jewellery (tangible signs of being marked as taken, as per ‘tradition’) and hyperventilating about his ‘mistake’. His error in this instance is not having stalked her for 6 months or setting up an intimidating act to express his interest and gauge hers, or that he breached her personal space. It’s that he did all this to a married woman… a married woman who belongs to another man.

Anu herself wishes him luck in the pursuit (way to go with constructing female characters!) and offers him a handshake which he refuses initially because he can’t touch another man’s wife. This is a classic representation of viewing a woman as another man’s property, that her ‘purity’ is in her body and needs to remain untouched. This is close to the same mindset the character in Arjun Reddy where he feels entitled to go around college threatening that Preeti is his and no one dare even look at her.

In essence, both these portrayals reveal men’s attitude in understanding another man’s dibs on a woman but don’t deem it necessary to gain the woman’s consent or treat her with respect as an individual. That’s frighteningly problematic.

Arjun Reddy: “I have already decided that the girl in the white dress is mine. I don’t know her name yet but none of you may approach her. Wait your turn when fresh(wo)men arrive and don’t be greedy.”

taking off from there, we have…

Women’s Bodies as the Lampbearers of the Man’s Honor and Status

a.k.a reinforcing patriarchal gestures of property that have been gaslighted as love, for ages.

This is a pretty common trope in our movies, it needs no introduction. Following the idea, or the illusion (if I may) that these two characters respect women, I have a few instances to reinforce how ridiculous that argument is. Almost all movies that follow this storyline has a scene where a man clearly expresses how much the woman means to him. It’s usually shown as a man being restrained by many other men as he moves towards redeeming justice for the the hurting of his loved one, or him engaging in violence to show how upset he is that she has been hurt. That, my friends, is the man bursting through shackles to prove anger about his personal and family honor being violated, and subsequently violence then, becomes an act of love.

In GG, you’d find a very angry older brother of Geetha getting into a fight with his relative after being emasculated about his manhood for not having seen the blood of the man who dared misbehave with Geetha. The literal words are, “Go kill him and come back, and I’ll agree you’re a man”. Dare I say more?

Geetha Govindam: “How dare you question my masculinity! I will find the man who harassed my sister, kill him, and prove my manhood to you.”

In AR, Arjun is shown barging into his rival college and attacking another man he’s had a feud with over the years because that guy physically molested Preeti to take revenge on Arjun. At this point in the movie, Preeti and Arjun aren’t in a relationship (minus Arjun really forcing himself into her life). She was attacked and harassed simply because she is the object of Arjun’s desire. There is a long monologue which is the pivotal point in the movie that helps Preeti understand Arjun’s ‘love’ for her (don’t get me started!)…or one in which she begins to reciprocate his feelings for her.

Arjun Reddy: “I mean, maybe I won’t be hurt if it was someone else. But you attacked a woman I am obsessed with and I am now in pain. I don’t like being in pain.”

Devarakonda’s character here mentions two things that are deeply unsettling:

  1. You’d find the age-old line of Arjun addressing a sea of testosterone, “What would you all do if something like this happened to your mother, or your sister, (ironically) Madharchod?” This line has been SO wrong for so many years now because it immediately implies that this level of rage will not be exhibited if it wasn’t someone the man doesn’t deeply care about and personally love.
  2. Piggy-backing off of the previous point, the hero talks about how everyone will be affected by this one person in their life, that they can’t bear the pain should something happen to that one person. To me, it was particularly interesting how that dialogue was framed. He doesn’t primarily stress on Preeti herself being attacked but how if something were to happen to Preeti, he would be the most affected. Still. Not. About. The. Woman. The rivaling boys later come to a truce after the monologue because…men understand dibs and each other’s territory, again, just not consent…

…which brings us to…

Examining these Characters’ Idea of Consent, or the Lack Thereof

a.k.a. the hero is held zero percent accountable for his actions, or makes great excuses for it, or the script is written to emphathize with him.

I have been struck by how people have written reviews for these movies. Geetha Govindam has been called a ‘breezy entertainment’, ‘a movie where a silly mistake leads to the victimization of the hero by the dominating heroine’. Arjun Reddy on the other hand has been garnering reviews for a cult status, and has a stamp of ‘love and passion’ on it, according to large public perception. Personally, I don’t mind movies that explore the dark side of human nature, I think they make for great case studies and character explorations that are of extreme interest to me as a consumer of the arts and stories through multiple art forms. My concern is when you spin self-destruction, male ego, bullying, and total disregard for another soul into a heroic stance…which is what Arjun Reddy has done. It may not necessarily be the intention, but it’s what a sizable amount of the population is quite possibly taking away from it.

On matters of women and consent, Arjun Reddy overtly yells to the world that the movie is misogynistic, that the character is dangerous, and that he is abusive. Geetha Govindam, on the other hand, silently reinforces that even if you make a mistake, you’ll be let go scot-free…and will also end up with the woman you harassed (just like old movies where the rapist was married off to the woman?)

The opening scene in AR is a horny Arjun getting ready to have sex with his lover. She revokes her consent saying, ‘I don’t want to do this now’, when her fiancé arrives at the door. Devarakonda, then goes on to threaten the woman at knifepoint to remove her clothes…that is literally an attempt to rape. Hear me? It’s not a sliding mistake, it’s not a man disassociating from the present…for those are justification. The situation itself is what it is: the hero of the movie attempting to rape a woman at knifepoint after she revokes consent.

Arjun Reddy: “Take off your dress now because I am horny and I want to have sex.”

The movie is built on his giving zero fucks about asking people for consent or even forgiveness, for that matter. He does what he wants to and when he wants to.

It’s not like his girlfriend leaving him broke something in him to make him act in this manner, it only escalated it.

It would have been an some ways of exploration of the dark side of a character had there been this chance of a consequence, or a complete reaction to the situation. Arjun already had his actions in place and merely pushed himself over the edge for a situation he was responsible for. This is a guy who kissed the woman he was attracted to without asking her if he may. The look on Preeti’s face has been maintained to be such a blank slate that it scares me. I am scared about the scores of the people in the theatre who walked out saying ‘what a movie, what a man, this is love’ and the like…because this isn’t love. This is maniacal and destructive obsession, atleast in the beginning.

Arjun Reddy: I’m meeting you for the third time in my life and finally know your name, I should kiss you even if you didn’t say yes.

If we pan to GG, Devarakonda accidentally gets to travel with Geetha, the woman he fancies. Upon advisement by his drunk friend, he engages in some truly horrifying behavior: he slowly feels the situation out by touching her bare feet with his little finger and progresses all the way to almost kissing her on her lips…all this while she is soundly asleep! He has a moment of realization where he comes to senses and chides himself for such an inappropriate behavior and retreats, but then decides to take a selfie with the sleeping woman instead. The bus faces a speed breaker, and bam, he accidentally kisses her anyway and now has a photo to prove it.

If Arjun is cast as unapologetic, Govind is cast as apologetic. Potato-Po-taa-to. He is shown as meek and drowns about in saying ‘sorry’ to Geetha throughout the movie in an attempt to convince her of his mistake being just that, a mistake. But we also see that he doesn’t take responsibility for his actions. He blames his friend for bad advice (that he followed), and if you notice, he says that it was a ‘small mistake’ or that ‘it happened by mistake’ and that he needs to be excused by now. That is deeply troublesome because the woman’s trauma in the process isn’t registered. The script builds empathy for this pervert on the bus, not the woman who was kissed while she was sleeping.

My rage with both these movies is really that these characters got to decide what was okay and not okay when it comes to consent. It was fine if Govind touched Geetha’s feet without her permission, it was fine for him to take a selfie as she sleeps, but hey, kissing her is wrong. Similarly, Arjun Reddy thinks it is perfectly alright to kiss Preeti on her cheek, taking her on a cramped bike to several places in the middle of her seminars (kidnapping, really) to ‘teach her anatomy’ by drawing out the muscles and bones on her skin when it comes to her arm and the forearm but the upper thorax is a no-no.

These men got to decide their limits with the women.

Both these characters mould the idea of consent and only see soft boundaries they can push based on their situations. That is exploitation. These men shouldn’t be able to do what they did, justify their actions, get away with it, and then win the ‘prize’ anyway. People should never be able to decide what consent means to another human being…but hey, our heroes call the shots here.

The Lack of Agency in Women Characters

a.k.a it’s a man’s world where ain’t no woman got no presence or say.

By now, I guess this is already established but I’m going to call this out all the same. Women don’t have a strong role in these movie at all. Let’s begin with AR. While I feel bad for Arjun’s male friends for having to put up with an asshole like him, I feel even badly for the women in his life. Let’s think about it.

Arjun’s most important conversations are with his brother, his father, his male friends, and Preeti’s father. He doesn’t really have any noteworthy conversation with his mother and blatantly disregards his grandmother at an instance (who was only used to build up the stage for the plot where she mentions how little Arjun grieved through days in when he lost his doll/plaything when he was a little boy). Preeti, his girlfriend and plaything doesn’t say a complete sentence until almost an hour into a movie where she only asks him post-sex why he loves her.

Anything that Preeti wants to do (like stay an extra day with him, wanting him to convince her father for her marriage, etc.) is a request for negotiation peppered with ‘Baby, please don’t get angry but…”. His female friends don’t play any role in the storyline and you can see him dismissing his doctor-classmate-female-friend about her attending to a cut on Preeti’s feet when she is about to stitch her up with sutures. While his medical reasons might not indicate bias, him turning to his male friends (when another one of his female friends was also present) and chiding them with, “Why didn’t you guys advise her?” is very telling.

His interactions with his team of nurses is platonic for the most part, mostly prescriptive of what they need to do. His relationship with the actress he wants to bone is also just that (though he was honest about it), a distraction from (the absense of)his chief prize. You’d even find her ironing his shirt one fine morning, and the domestication of an independent character and a leading actress reflects how these women lack any agency in the movie. I could remove almost all of the women in the script and still wonder what will change (even Preeti herself).

Geetha Govindam: “I mean…your parents didn’t have another child after you? You’re an only girl? Wow. What are they going to do with just a girl child?”

Govind, sometimes, gives off a sense of surprise/mild chagrin by women’s agency. As previously noted, he heralds his sister as the best because she literally agreed to marry someone she had never met. If that isn’t a classic tale of lack of agency, I don’t know what is. There is a scene where one of his students who is infatuated with him sends him a nude video to try to seduce him. He storms into her house, angry, disregards the mother of the girl and slaps the girls and launches into a long monologue teaching her what’s right and wrong. He actually says, “Your parents could have had another child after you but they didn’t, despite you being a girl. That shows the trust they have in you.” Geetha getting to know about this incident is interestingly what pushes her to fall in love with him, ironically (kill me).

Indian (particularly South Indian) movies reflect lack of women’s agency by the choices they don’t get to make because they can’t break their family’s trust. Even the ‘dominating’ Geetha isn’t any different. She agrees to marry quickly because her grandfather is worried about his mortality. While she makes choices, her agency is still limited though refreshingly just an ounce more than most others.

The Supporting Context of Class and Societal Norms

Both these movies clearly establish male privilege of the characters. They’re both from upper class backgrounds, are portrayed by a man who looks pretty darn handsome, and have good autonomy in their spaces.

Arjun Reddy: “You father has insulted me because I am not your caste and what should it matter, we’re in love. How dare you try to calm me down, you deserve to be slapped in the middle of the road. You have six hours to make your decision.”

Arjun has elite parents, a grandmother who speaks in fluent English, and has everything offered to him on a golden platter. The movie flaunting pre-marital sex in current day society as signs of a progressive man when it deeply fails as far as misogyny is concerned is my chief issue with this movie. I don’t think pre-marital sex is a big deal, personally, and we have seen how OK Kanmani brings this conversation around in a mature manner. What I am worried about is the proud display of “Look how progressive I am! Pre-marital sex isn’t wrong, caste should not be a matter when it comes to marriage but I will slap my partner, I will breach the borders of consent, and I will talk to my (much older) house-help in complete haughtiness…but again, look how progressive I am.” My concern is that ‘progressive’ movies have started utilizing sex as a means to show women’s liberation and the society’s progression. But these movies, don’t show men at fault for their wrongdoings without providing the man with a sympathetic voice to explain himself, and redeem himself without ever having to do any real work in the process. They don’t realize that a woman’s liberty is not just about sex, it’s about choice.

The movie overlooks his drug abuse, his alcoholism, and his thirst to quench his sexual needs because he’s a ‘briliant’ surgeon. I was actually wondering if a slice of this Devarakonda’s character was inspired by Dr. House M.D. House is a brilliant doctor and diagnostician who has a drug problem. He openly flouts hospital rules and is extremely crude with his team much like Arjun Reddy is shown to be. Here’s the thing, I understand that one is a three-hour movie with limited time to build and portray a character vs. a series which takes the liberty of establishing history over time. However, House is never viewed upon as a ‘hero’. His flaws are shown as flaws without building over-the-top empathy for him. His misdeeds are clearly put in place and he even apologises in a few places which Arjun almost never does in this movie. The entitlement is clearly laid out for everyone to see, and in a way, I’m happy about that because it seems like an intentional directorial decision…that I worry that people will not always latch on to. One only finds what they look for, right?

In Geetha Govindam, Govind exhibits his social class through his vocalisation of the dowry/gold his sister was being given in the marriage and through family name. He deeply reveres his father and is willing to go to any extent to keep his family name intact. The slightest disdain thrown on his family angers him as seen when he throws Geetha out of his car in the middle of the night because she dare question the sanctity of his family. What was pretty interesting to me in this movie with regards to society is not about Govind’s character itself but how a moderately progressive character was depicted. The comedian in the movie, Kishore, who plays Geetha’s groom as having arrived from abroad has been made a complete ridicule of. His lack of holding on to ideas of class, his stance against dowry, etc., are downright laughed at and that shows what the director really thought was important. For instance, you can see the horrified and condescending look on his relatives’ faces when he seeks the blessings of the house’s much older gardener. This is a clear call for me, of the movie’s priorities and the silent implementation of social and class status quo.

“He fell at the gardener’s feet? Holy shit.”

Wrapping up…

Look, these movies are deeply problematic to me. I am not against good cinema and I’m not against showcasing misogyny in films as a setting or an aesthetic.

My worry is that misogyny is being packaged differently and is being delivered to us with a new rainbow bow-tie that folks are lapping up as new ideologies when it’s just a reinforcement of what already is.

I’ve been honestly shocked at how women are swooning over Arjun Reddy’s character, or how they think Govind is innocent and cute. I can see how men might gravitate towards toxic masculinity in a patriarchal society but to see women not recognize it is dangerous in its own way. With the kind of fandom that these movies and actor have, it’s a dangerously thin line that the actor treads on: cinematic freedom and artistic exploration (or) reinventing the same characters in different ways to keep the usual audience occupied. Say, would actors be okay with putting out an open statement (much like the dangers of smoking/drinking) before movies begin…something that says, “This is only a character that you should aspire, maybe, not to be, that it’s fictional, don’t be this way”? Are we willing to put disclaimers up and tell the majority of male-going cinema audience where they really stand on issues of misogyny and women’s rights?

Oh, I wish women-centric movies were also equally received and remade in multiple languages like some of these movies are. I wish actors would sift through movies and see what kind of impact it would have on the public before they agree to do it and not overlook it because of how well it will do commercially catering to the dominant crowd (men). I have so many questions and so much angst about how a lot of these movies roll because movies will seep into real-life as real-life transitions into films.

Beyond all this though, if I could cut one of these two Devarakonda’s movies a little slack over the other, I’d probably let Arjun Reddy go…just a little bit. It’s a deeply disturbing film with way too many flaws and misogynistic direction but there is some kind of character growth in there, a minuscule development of the woman’s agency even. It’s not as deeply insidious and pervasive as the type of men Geetha Govindam promotes. That movie shouldn’t have been made and I hope to God that we don’t see more Govinds than we already do in our lives.

Peace out,

Hemu

Artist, design researcher, architect, poet and writer, and everything at those intersections | Social innovation | Community building | Cash me outside w/ chai.

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