2020 in review: The year that was

Telugu cinema 2020: The year of digital streaming

A poster from the movie Sarileru Neekevvaru .  

2020 was a strange year and the pandemic spared no industry. In mid-January, watching the Sankranthi crowd-pullers Sarileru Neekevvaru and Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, one wouldn’t have fathomed that the larger-than-life experience of watching films in theatres would soon change.

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Among the theatrical releases from January to mid-March, these two films gained big. The former, directed by Anil Ravipudi, was an unabashedly loud mass entertainer in which Mahesh Babu seemed to be having fun and Vijayashanti returned to cinema after a hiatus.

The essence of Trivikram Srinivas’ Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo can be summed up as ‘it’s all in your genes’. The escapist family entertainer had a galaxy of stars led by Allu Arjun, Pooja Hegde and Murali Sharma, and hummable tunes (one of Thaman’s best albums in recent times).

Telugu cinema 2020: The year of digital streaming

Debut director Sailesh Kolanu’s HIT (Homicide Intervention Team), produced by Prashanti Tipirneni and Nani, was a taut thriller about an officer investigating the case of a missing girl. The crime stoked memories of a gruesome incident that took place on the outskirts of Hyderabad and the film addressed it with sensitivity. HIT is poised to be a franchise.

A smaller film that made for a compelling watch was director Karuna Kumar’s Palasa 1978, discussing caste politics.

Once the theatres were closed and lockdown was imposed in March, viewers lapped up web series, shorts, documentaries and films across languages and genres on digital streaming platforms.

New films awaiting release courted the digital platforms. Smaller screens at home were no match for the theatrical experience, but home-viewing turned out to be a great leveller – everyone could get a taste of the first day, first show experience.

Among the first direct OTT Telugu releases to make an impression was director Ravikanth Perepu’s romance-comedy-drama Krishna and his Leela. The urban romance-comedy-drama had three notable women performers in Shraddha Srinath, Shalini Vadnikatti and Seerat Kapoor. But the one who made viewers take a new look at him was actor-writer Siddhu Jonnalagadda. Siddhu later wrote and starred in director Aditya Madala’s Maa Vintha Gaadha Vinuma.

Telugu cinema 2020: The year of digital streaming

Debut director Srikanth Nagoti’s romantic drama Bhanumathi & Ramakrishna starring Naveen Chandra and Salony Luthra talked about finding love in your 30s, with a no-frills narration.

After Care of Kancharapalem, director Venkatesh Maha ushered viewers into another hyper-local setting, the Araku Valley, in Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya. Actor Satyadev was the backbone of this everyday hero story.

Debut director Vinod Anantoju reminded viewers of simpler times of Telugu cinema of the 1980s, by focusing on the everyday family tussles in Middle Class Melodies, set in Guntur and Tenali. The Bombay Chutney stoked the appetite and actors Anand Deverakonda, Varsha Bollamma and Goparaju Ramana made an impression. Both Uma Maheshwara... and Middle Class… benefited by casting local theatre actors in supporting roles.

The warm reception to Colour Photo showed that outsiders can shine in this nepotism-driven industry. Director Sandeep Raj, actors Suhas, Chandini Chowdary, Srividya, Divya Sripada, Harsha and many others in the film made their mark from YouTube videos to cinema and teamed up to present a moving story of romance.

Gatham was the surprise of the year. Made with a shoestring budget by US-based Indian-origin folks passionate about films, and directed by Kiran Reddy, this thriller cleverly pulled the rug from under the audience’s feet to unravel a crime mystery.

More variables...

Film units tread cautiously until October to resume film shootings, barring a few exceptions. The only director to have had a bunch of film releases this year was Ram Gopal Varma.

With the small screen becoming the go-to means of information and entertainment in 2020, the time was right to experiment. Actor-producer Rana Daggubati launched the SouthBay.Live platform to introduce talk shows, news capsules for the under-25 age group and the quirky series ‘Why are you?’

In December, coinciding with the release of Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, theatres in Telangana resumed operations with 50% seating capacity. One of the notable Christmas releases in Telugu is the Sai Dharam Tej starrer Solo Brathuke So Better.

One of the biggest losses for Telugu cinema and music was the passing away of legendary singer, actor and multi-talented S P Balasubrahmanyam. The industry also lost veteran actor Jayaprakash Reddy.

For everyone trying to make sense of 2020, the Rewind 2020 video by actor Naveen Polishetty (on YouTube) sums it all up. The frustration and exasperation is relatable. Let’s hope 2021 ushers in better tidings.

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Printable version | Mar 7, 2021 7:03:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/2020-the-year-of-digital-streaming/article33413797.ece

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