2019 in review

Biopics, battles and beyond: A recap of 2019's highs and lows in Telugu cinema

Shruti Sharma and Naveen Polishetty in Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya

Shruti Sharma and Naveen Polishetty in Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

2019 was a rather middling year for the Telugu film industry with sleeper hits, some memorable performances and developments post #MeToo

Year of biopics

A flurry of political biopics preceded the elections. Director Krish Jagarlamudi, cinematographer V S Gnana Shekar and the production team of NTR: Kathanayakudu and Mahanayakudu paid attention to detail in recreating NTR’s journey as an actor. Yet, there was a deja vu feeling since Nag Ashwin had skilfully led us into the studios of yesteryear Telugu and Tamil films in Mahanati in 2018.

NTR’s story had potential to hold attention but not with a hagiographic approach. The same was the case with the YSR biopic Yatra where the leader was shown as someone who doesn’t err one bit.

Balakrishna in NTR: Kathanayakudu

Balakrishna in NTR: Kathanayakudu   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Lakshmi’s NTR evoked interest since it tried to show another phase of NTR’s life, but it ended up unabashedly glorifying its principal protagonist, Lakshmi Parvathy.

Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy was a biopic in a period setting, treated like a star-driven masala film. It was Chiranjeevi’s masterclass in acting, more than anything else.

Ananya and Priyadarshi in Mallesham

Ananya and Priyadarshi in Mallesham   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

The biopic that actually stood out, without making much noise, was Mallesham. Narrating the story of Padma Shri award winning Chintakindi Mallesham, it spoke about the plight of women ‘asu’ makers in the weaving hamlets around Pochampally. Priyadarshi portrayed Mallesham as the common man hero with no halo around him. Ananya, Jhansi and Anand Chakrapani’s on-screen ordeals seemed relatable and director Raj R also deserves a pat on the back for introducing a ‘no sexual harassment’ clause in the contracts for the cast and crew — a significant step in the post #MeToo scenario.

The last of the biopics in 2019 was George Reddy. If only it had been more effectively narrated, it would have resonated with the resurgence of student agitations across the country.

Pan-Indian dreams

The pan-Indian dreams fuelled by Baahubali led to Saaho and Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy. Sye Raa… had a story rooted in Uyyalawada and the timing of its release, clashing with Yash Raj’s War starring Hrithik Roshan and Tiger Shroff, made things tough for the Chiranjeevi starrer in the northern belt. Saaho was a different ordeal, with its lacklustre story and screenplay.

Chiranjeevi in Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy

Chiranjeevi in Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

I’m still trying to understand what made F2 a rage. Venky asana was fun and so was ‘anthega anthega’ summing up the plight of men who don’t speak up in the presence of their wives. A few good laughs and nothing more.

The modest brigade

The thriller 118 opened to mixed reviews but found its audience; the film was earnest in its storytelling and had good performances from Nivetha Thomas and Kalyan Ram. The other sleeper hit was Chitralahari, giving Sai Dharam Tej a much-needed box office win. Tej ended the year on a high note with the heart-warming Prati Roju Pandage, accompanied by the fabulous Rao Ramesh, Sathyaraj and the hilarious TikTok star (Raashi Khanna).

Pick of the year
  • Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya
  • Brochevarevarura
  • Evaru
  • F2
  • Jersey
  • Maharshi
  • Majili
  • Mallesham
  • Oh! Baby
  • Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy

Actor-director Vishwak Sen got noticed for Falaknuma Das, the Telugu remake of Angamaly Diaries (Malayalam), which marked the full-fledged acting debut of director Tharun Bhascker. Tharun and Abhinav Gomatam also put forth a fun act in debut director Shammeer Sultan’s Meeku Maathrame Cheptha, which marked Vijay Deverakonda’s debut as producer.

Post #MeToo

Rashmika Mandanna and Vijay Deverakonda in Dear Comrade

Rashmika Mandanna and Vijay Deverakonda in Dear Comrade   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Vijay Deverakonda aimed to appeal to all four southern languages through Dear Comrade, directed by Bharat Kamma. The Bharat Kamma directed film unfolded like a journey. The languid narration didn’t cut ice with some viewers, but the film had its heart at the right place. Rashmika Mandanna was the vulnerable Lilly, shifting from a carefree young cricketer to a victim of sexual harassment. One of the nicer things about this film is how it waits for the woman (Rashmika Mandanna), finally, to find her voice and fight her battle.

Return of Puri

2019 was also the year when Puri Jagannadh resurrected himself at the box office through iSmart Shankar. The ‘double sim card’ story isn’t one that a lot of critics would root for, but, well, it had its audience.

The memorable ones

Nani in Jersey

Nani in Jersey   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

A lot has been written about the following films in these pages before. We’ll stop with a quick run through. Director Gautam Tinnanuri, actors Nani, Shraddha Srinath and Sathyaraj won hearts with the sports and relationship drama Jersey. The other cricket and romantic drama Majili directed by Shiva Nirvana was a winner as well, and Samantha got the loudest cheers when she stepped out of the auto in pouring rain.

Samantha and Naga Chaitanya in Majili

Samantha and Naga Chaitanya in Majili   | Photo Credit: By arrangement

Director Vivek Athreya’s Brochevarevarura was a crafty dark comedy and director RSJ Swaroop’s Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya gave us a home-grown detective from Nellore. Actor and co-writer Naveen Polishetty is someone to watch out for.

Meanwhile, Adivi Sesh continued his good stride with Evaru. Director Venkat Ramji’s adaptation of the Spanish film The Invisible Guest kept viewers guessing till the end. No mean feat, considering many viewers had already seen the Hindi adaptation, Badla.

Vamshi Paidipally’s Maharshi felt repetitive with Mahesh Babu playing the saviour of masses, yet again, after Srimanthudu and Bharat Ane Nenu. The notable segment was the actor following the elderly farmer and getting his hands dirty in the fields. The film also had an effective performance by Allari Naresh.

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Printable version | Feb 24, 2020 11:04:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/biopics-battles-and-beyond-a-recap-of-2019s-highs-and-lows-in-telugu-cinema/article30401326.ece

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