SANGEETHA DEVI DUNDOO
The National Awards have tilted the scales in favour of regional films. While the other southern industries are celebrating, it’s déjÀ vu for the Telugu industry.
No producer wants to put his money in any telugu film perceived as `ART'. Krishnavamsi
In 2007, a day prior to the release of Guru, Mani Ratnam stated that he cannot wait to return to making Tamil and Telugu films. “Regional films are rooted and give me more freedom. You can push the boundaries and try something like Nayakan or Kannathil Muthamittal (Amrutha in Telugu),” he explained to us in an interview.
The statement seems to have its resonance in the recently-announced National Awards for 2007. Kanchivaram (Tamil), Naalu Pennungal (Malayalam) and Gulabi Talkies (Kannada) won the honours for best film, actor, director and actress leaving Chakde India and Taare Zameen Par to make do with awards for wholesome entertainment and family welfare.
“When you look beyond the wave of Communism, Kanchivaram is a story of a father who cannot afford to buy a silk sari for his daughter, despite being a silk weaver. The story is set in Kanchipuram and required to be told in a certain way,” says actor Prakash Raj.
Bridging the gap
Bollywood has been trying to bridge the gap between commercial flicks and those tailor-made for the festival circuit in recent years. Regional films have fared better on that note, if you overlook the box office debacle of Kanchivaram and Naalu Pennungal. Not long ago, Vikram won the best actor award for Pithamagan and Priyamani the best actress award for Paruthiveeran. Both films were hits, proving that ‘award-winning’ films can make money. “Unfortunately no producer wants to put his money in any Telugu film perceived as ‘art’,” says director Krishnavamsi.
The very talk of Telugu films drawing a blank at the National Awards reeks of déjÀ vu. “Each time the awards are announced, we are back to questioning why Telugu films have missed the mark,” says director Indraganti Mohanakrishna.
Krishnavamsi, who played to the gallery with Ninne Pelladutha and then made the offbeat Antahpuram with Prakash Raj and Soundarya, rues, “Antahpuram managed to recover the money invested, won awards and was lauded by critics. But I went through a harrowing time after the release. No producer, including the one who produced Antahpuram, wants me to make such a film again.” Films that don’t stick to a pattern are not welcome in Telugu. Satish Kasetty’s Hope, which won an award for best film on social issues, received lukewarm response. A few others who’ve dared to experiment have cut a sorry figure when their ‘experiments’ haven’t worked. “People don’t realise that there are just two kinds of films — good and bad cinema. Those who try to push the boundaries are defensive and state they are not making an ‘art’ film,” says Indraganti Mohanakrishna, whose first film Grahanam won him the Indira Gandhi Award for best debut director. Krishnavamsi points out that we don’t have directors like Girish Kasaravalli and Adoor Gopalakrishnan who make films on their terms and still find financiers. “Our good old Shankarabaranam was even better than Paruthiveeran and Pithamagan. Unfortunately, the method of working here has not been conducive to groom more directors like K. Vishwanath. I am optimistic and hope things will change. We have Sekhar Kammula, Chandrasekhar Yeleti and Chandra Siddhartha who have the potential,” he says.
Tamil film-maker Thankar Bachan attributes the narrowing gap between art and commerce to the fact that the audience has no qualms watching films that are not glossed over. His film, Pallikoodam, screened in the competition section of the Cannes Film Festival, was also a BO success. “When you want to make films that you believe in, you need to accept the fact that you cannot have them dubbed in other languages and mint money. I am happy my films reach out to the masses and make them think. Pallikoodam was about a school teacher (Sneha) trying to get alumni help the school from closing down. After the film released, many small schools have benefited by their alumni,” he says. After Bachan, Tamil films have benefited from directors like Bala and Ameer who’ve bettered the art of making good cinema commercially viable. Leading actors like Suriya, Vikram and Karthi have jumped into experimental mode now and then. “These actors have a reference point in Kamal Hassan. Our actors have no such precedence,” sums up Indraganti.