Beyond the might of star-driven projects, is there room for innovation? We take a look at a few refreshing Telugu films of the year

Each year begins with the hope of watching something smarter and better, sending out a note of optimism. But in the end, one is left with a sense of déjà vu, as you see the same old formula being rehashed. This piece is not written strictly from a trade point of view, listing winners, losers and those that managed to recover their investment. It’s a recap of a few innovative Telugu films we’ve seen in 2012.

We all know the big-ticket winners backed by stars and marketing muscle — Bodyguard, Businessman, Cameraman Gangatho Rambabu, Dhamarukam, Dhenikaina Ready, Gabbar Singh, Racha and Julayi. There were others that made money, without being backed by stars and their massive fan following. These were director-driven films that showed it’s possible to draw the crowds without being formulaic.

Our pick of the top three innovative films this year:

Eega

When was the last time you saw the audience, from children to the elderly, clapping and cheering all through a revenge drama? Eega could have become gimmicky, riding on a wafer-thin storyline. But S.S. Rajamouli proved yet again he is one of the finest storytellers of our times. He was in control of his team, his narrative and his vision. Eega raised the bar for animation and visual effects and introduced the Telugu audience to a crackling performance by Kannada actor Sudeep. In the roles assigned to them, Samantha and Nani too earned brownie points. The classic underdog story had a new mascot, the humble housefly.

Love Failure

Balaji Mohan joined the long list of engineers/engineering dropouts who made their way to the film industry. His 10-minute Tamil short film Kadhalil Sodhappuvadhu Yeppadi was a runaway hit on You Tube. For a 24-year-old, Balaji showed remarkable insights into the psyche of young men and women in love. In this bi-lingual, he turned the idea of filmy love on its head, giving the protagonists a taste of reality, and also doing an incredible character study of friends of the lead pair, who often land the lovers in trouble with their ‘advice’ that stems out of scant understanding of relationships. The laugh riot caught on by word of mouth and now figures among box office hits. For Siddharth’s maiden venture as a producer, in partnership with Y Not Studios, ‘failure’ wouldn’t have been an apt word in the headline. In the end, the Love Failure team had the last laugh.

Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum

If you go by the industry belief that an actor is as good as his last hit, Rana Daggubati drew a blank, in spite of having worked with big names in Telugu and Hindi cinema. Barring his debut film Leader directed by Sekhar Kammula, a noteworthy film eluded him. Krishnam Vande Jagadgurum worked as a re-launch for the six-footer. It was a huge gamble for the brain behind the project, director Krish Jagarlamudi. Introducing Surabhi theatre to a mainstream commercial audience wasn’t going to be easy. With hard hitting dialogues by Burra Sai Madhav, Krish pulled it off, blending an urban story with folk theatre. Easily one of the most original ideas in recent times and a commendable effort that made people notice the dying art of Surabhi theatre. The only sore point was the presence of item numbers.

Besides the three, there were other small films with oodles of freshness — Midhunam, Sudigaadu, Avunu, SMS, Ishq, Routine Love Story, Andhala Rakshasi, Ee Rojullo and Tuneega Tuneega to mention a few. Nagarjuna starrer Shirdi Sai wouldn’t fall into the innovative category but deserves a mention for staying true to the devotional genre.

This is an industry where camp wars, though denied by stars, exists; this is an industry where most producers and directors sign a star and then hunt for a suitable story; this is an industry where scripts are re-worked to suit the image of a star; this is also an industry where there’s a tug of war to monopolise cinema halls in a bid to get maximum footfalls in the opening weekend.

But then, which sizeable film industry in the country does not face these problems? Despite limitations, is it unrealistic to expect quirky, edgy entertainers that steer off the formulaic route? The myth that the audience doesn’t accept anything new was shattered by Eega.

Steering away from mass masala doesn’t mean boring art-house cinema. While we all lap up big-ticket releases, isn’t it high time we also saw films like English Vinglish, Kahaani and Vicky Donor, which went against the grain but entertained and succeeded at the box office, being made in Telugu? Is that asking for too much from one of the largest industries in the country?