What character can guarantee the success of a film? Y. Sunita Chowdhary tries to unravel this eternal mystery

If only every filmmaker knew what could guarantee the success of a film. For ages filmmakers have introduced and toyed with various elements – genres of action, romance, socio-fantasy, reincarnation, et al. Every trick in the book has been tried and tested — foot-tapping music, eye-popping locales, amazing dance moves, item songs and much more.

But who among the cast of characters in a film is sure to attract audience attention and ensure that the film hits the bull’s eye at the box office?

Is it the comedian, the vamp, the hero or the villain? Insiders of the Telugu film industry have an interesting insight into a few character types that have always appealed and continue to make an impact on the box office collections.

Writer and director Janardhana Maharshi’s anguish seems valid when he says positive films don’t work in the Telugu film industry. He does cite an exception of Shankarabharanam which did well at the BO but even that won only regional acclaim and not a National Award. Films like his Devasthanam don’t draw an audience but a technically appalling Oka Romantic Crime Katha which projects sex and illegal abortions or Ee Rojullo that is replete with double entendre is getting instant attention. “I’m inclined to work on a film that revolves around a sex worker. Right from a Shyam Benegal movie to Chameli or the relatively recent Vedam, films that have a sex worker keep drawing people to the theatres. He cites how ANR-starrer Devadas was a huge hit, and Dasari’s Meghasandesam and Premabhishekam worked well, as did the Shoban Babu-starrer Malle Puvvu (a remake of Pyaasa); all of them had a sex worker as an important character. Director Satish Kasetty says such roles make the heroine immortal; they are able to do a Pakeezah or an Umrao Jaan to perfection even now after decades as the audience sympathise, they say “Aiyyo paapam” when they see the woman suffer and make sacrifices. Senior journalist P. Sarat Kumar thinks differently; he feels that films like Vedam click very rarely.

“Telugu audiences don’t take to films featuring sex workers kindly, unless the director or the writer handles the subject with finesse like Dasari Narayana Rao. Ramoji Rao made a film that had Tulasi as a sex worker but it didn’t work. Nalla Poosalu with Jayanti or K. Vishwanath’s Mangalyaniki Maro Mudi with Jayaprada caused a lot of heartburn to the directors. ”

Sarat Kumar adds another similar example. We have been watching movies on Lord Yama since ages and a Sairam Shankar’s film that has Srihari as the hero is getting ready but Telugu people are not tired of such stories.

On the other hand Tamil audiences don’t like movies that parody or ridicule Yama. “Lord Yama could be taking away the life of humans but indirectly he’s giving life to the heroes in Telugu films. Many films that have Yama have worked and are still working.”

Finally we must accept that while a film having a sex worker could be a tricky affair at the marquee even now, her role and dimension have gone through a change.

The sex worker is no longer a wilted flower but an emancipated person who breaks her shackles and flies like a bird in Vedam. Earlier the only acceptable end for a sex worker was death or eternal loneliness. Not any more!