Why are Telugu heroines so rare when so many movies get released week after week? Is there a shortage of talent? Are the directors not interested? Will a school for actresses change things?

Acting is simply not the career that parents dream of for their daughters. Actresses who speak Telugu are becoming rarer even as the industrywallahs are willing to shell out Rs. 40 lakh for an Ileana or more for a Shriya, a Trisha or a Gopika.When was the last time a Telugu girl has made it big with her first few films and is still going strong? It is seldom that you find lissom ladies rush up to the stage, gorgeously clad in kanjeevarams, flush and flustered in their moment of triumph, thanking the director, parents and all the brave and gifted women who preceded them. It's been aeons since we heard an actress feeling good to be a woman in Telugu cinema.Movie mogul D. Ramanaidu says, "It doesn't matter if she is not a Telugu girl. Actresses come and go and we want new faces because the people want them. Vanisri has worked in nine films and Sridevi in over six with us. But that is solely because the role suited them and they were accepted." Nandi Awardee Rajendra Prasad blames it on the dearth of talented writers in the industry as he believes they are the ones who launch artistes. The strength is in the role. He misses Jandhyala and wonders why L. B. Sriram writer-turned-actor is not penning for films anymore. LB's first line in Appulla Appa Rao is Appu... day modhalayindhi translated it means the day has begun with a loan. He asks, "Where is such hilarity and brilliance in dialogues, roles and characters? Savitri is immortal because of the strength in her role. If she has worked in a film called Devatha, there is no questioning her credibility as an artiste. Ditto with her role in Mayabazaar. The film is evergreen and will remain so for the next few generations. Those days the heroines didn't need to market themselves or promote their film. Each of their films would become a milestone in their career. We can't blame anyone for the short screen life anymore." S.V. Krishna Reddy has directed Kannada girl Soundarya in nine films. The director says she was blessed with andam, akarshana and abhinaya. "All the roles I had in mind suited her and she too worked in moulding herself to it. She had given such a wonderful performance in Aaptamitra. I don't say it is difficult to get actresses of that calibre. The artistes are putting an equal amount of effort and are dedicated, probably because of the mounting insecurity in films. I won't restrict myself when it comes to picking heroines from other states. If they suit my budget and roles I will go ahead. All these girls need is a role that elevates them."

School for talent

Ramanaidu adds, "I have people telling me that their daughters are interested in acting and enquire where they need to go for training. I am starting a training school in Hyderabad for aspiring artistes and it won't be long when Telugu girls will take up acting as their career. The best part is the girls are aware that the success rate in the industry is only ten per cent and they still come in. It's all a matter of luck. Earlier, artistes had to wait for years to get a hike in remuneration but now all it takes is just one hit." The problem that plagues Telugu cinema now is that there is a dearth of intelligent roles for women. Rich, character-driven films have become a rarity. Gone are the days when a Bhanumati, Krishna Kumari, Jamuna, Anjali Devi, Varalakshmi and dozens of down-to-earth Telugu movie goddesses stood up to their men and used wit and wile on their way to the final fade-out. Oddly, though, as women improved their status in society, they found their roles diminished in films.