Arriving at a list of the defining films of a decade is a daunting task. It’s one thing to look back at the films at the end of each year and another ballgame to encapsulate 10 years. Also, what’s the yardstick? It can be just box office numbers. A blockbuster today may not linger in our minds after a couple of years. A few films that aren’t blockbusters at the time of release, gradually grow on us.
Here’s looking at 20 stand out films from the 2010s, and your favourites might be different from these. There lies the beauty of art, of cinema.
Ye Maya Chesave (2010)
2010 gave us an interesting bunch of films — Leader, Prasthanam, Khaleja and Vedam . Among them, Ye Maya Chesave is my favourite. Jessie is a complex character that’s unapologetic about her indecisiveness. She falls in and out of love, wants to be the good daughter who can’t antagonise her parents, but still keeps Karthik hanging by a thin string of hope. Newcomers Samantha and Naga Chaitanya were raw, innocent and vulnerable enough to pull off those parts, guided by director Gautham Vasudev Menon. The bilingual’s Tamil version ( Vinnaithaandi Varuvaaya starring Silambarasan and Trisha) had a truer ending to the love story, but hey, there’s no harm with the happy ending in the Telugu version too. The soundtrack is still fresh and among A R Rahman’s best in the decade.
Director Krish Jagarlamudi’s second film is among his best, where he defied stereotypes and presented a powerful story using the hyperlink format. He brought together stars such as Anushka Shetty, Manchu Manoj and Allu Arjun along with Manoj Bajpayee and Nagayya among others, for a non-formulaic narrative that shows the different facets of urban life, culminating in a moving ending. Krish’s collaboration with cinematographer V S Gnana Shekar began with Vedam .
Each time there’s a film about a young political leader who wants to be an agent of change, many of us welcome it because in real life too, we hope for better times. Rana Daggubati got an unconventional launch, unlike many other star kids of film families, in a director-driven film. Sekhar Kammula’s film talked about the need for a leader who would bat for avineeti nirmoolana (eradication of corruption). When the protagonist returns from abroad to take over his father’s mantle, he too uses the twisted ways of the system to rise to power but eventually chart a new course. Leader had its niggles, but it remains a powerful film.
Ala Modalaindi (2011)
Word of mouth publicity made debut director Nandini Reddy’s film sort of a rage. Walk in not knowing what to expect, and before we knew it, we were cheering and laughing along with the characters. Nani was already a known name after Ashta Chamma and this film established him further. Walking away with a lot of attention was Nithya Menen. This seems like a good time to thank Nandini for introducing the powerhouse of talent to Telugu cinema.
When the father-son duo of K V Vijayendra Prasad and SS Rajamouli begin a film in a ‘let us tell you a story’ kind of a format, we pay attention. Even if the story is about a housefly! Had the ‘ eega’ (the fly) been a living male actor (male because he’s the hero’s reincarnation), he would have been a contender for the superstar throne. He did it all — danced like Chiranjeevi, hunted down the wicked Sudeep and stood by the love of his life, Bindu (Samantha). Eega was brilliant. Sudeep put in a bravura performance, especially when you consider that the eega was added through special effects later. Nani got a memorable extended cameo and Samantha as the micro artist gave wings to the incredulous Rajamouli dream.
Directed by Tanikella Bharani, this S P Balasubrahmanyam and Lakshmi starrer brought many elderly couples to the theatres. Adapted from the novel of the same name by Sri Ramana, it beautifully portrayed the day-to-day life of an elderly couple in a village. Food is a prime character and watching this film can make you hungry for traditional, home-cooked food. The elderly couple doesn’t brood over their loneliness after their children have moved away; they cherish their time together and show what it takes to grow old with love.
Swamy Ra Ra (2013)
When an idol of Ganesha goes missing from Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple in Thiruvananthapuram and it’s mayhem. Debut director Sudheer Varma paid homage to his global inspirations, including torrent, and quotes Quentin Tarantino who said ‘I steal from every single movie ever made’. Nikhil, Pooja Ramachandran and Satya as the pickpocketing trio and Swathi are caught in a criss-cross of happenings in the crime-comedy. There’s a charm when a team of relative newcomers go against the grain and make a good film. From the ensemble cast to cinematography, editing to the soundtrack, Swamy Ra Ra had a lot to love.
1 - Nenokkadine (2014)
I remember watching the early morning show on the day of release. The usual cheering that happens for a star film was there for the first half hour or so, and then silence descended on the hall. That’s when I had begun to marvel at what director Sukumar was doing. Mahesh Babu as the rockstar fights an imaginary opponent, owing to the psychological condition called Interpretation Disorder that blurs his capability of differentiating reality and imagination. Sukumar gave a cue that we, the audience, will be watching a thriller where we will have to pro-actively distinguish between events unfolding in real and imaginary spaces.
Manam will be special because, think of it, how feasible would it be to recreate that kind of a story again involving three generations of a popular film family. Had any other clutch of actors taken up those characters and tried to play with their names (and roles) criss-crossing generations, it wouldn’t generate a similar interest. Vikram Kumar’s story with convenient coincidences may sound far-fetched on paper, but the sheer joy of watching Akkineni Nageswara Rao, Nagarjuna, Naga Chaitanya and Samantha (who later became the daughter-in-law of the family), with guest appearance of Amala and Akhil thrown in, made it all work. The flashback portion featuring the Nagarjuna-Shriya romance is all heart.
Oohalu Gusagusalade (2014)
Screenwriter and actor Srinivas Avasarala made his directorial debut with this romantic comedy, himself enacting a character of a boss that one would love to hate. Avasarala tips his hat generously to Woody Allen by way of props (the Annie Hall poster and Allen’s books) and characters that break the fourth wall and speak to the audience. The flavour, however, is native. There’s so much to appreciate in this film — Kalyani Mallik’s music, the humour, the attention to small details — the heroine’s name is Sri Sai Sirisha Prabhavathi — as Telugu as it can get with multiple names. Naga Shourya had already debuted and this film ushered in Rashi Khanna.
Baahubali 1 and 2 (2015 and 2017)
The two Baahubali films were the result of years of work by S S Rajamouli and his large team. In that fictional kingdom of Mahishmati, everything was unabashedly large, but with a keen sense of reasoning and ingenuity. Amarendra Baahubali wasn’t adored by people for nothing. He was portrayed as a true leader full of compassion. A joke on Twitter had it that he’s the perfect man since he stood by his wife even if it meant inviting his mother’s wrath. From the moment Prabhas picks up the large shiva lingam on his beefed up shoulders, it’s evident that this lavish dream is built on a strong emotional core. The war strategies and formations, and the Baahubali idol dwarfing that of Bhallaladeva’s in part one, and the pre-intermission coronation sequence in part two, were all made for a large screen experience. Prabhas, Rana Daggubati and Anushka Shetty will be remembered as Baahubali, Bhallaladeva and Devasena for decades. Rajamouli broke the regional-national cinema barriers and how!
Pelli Choopulu (2016)
The film’s beauty was in telling us a simple story filled with characters that felt like they’ve been plucked from real life, with a dash of easy humour. Inspired by the life of a couple in Bengaluru who launched a food truck, debut writer-director Tharun Bhascker introduces us to a lazy dreamer (Vijay Deverakonda) and a girl driven with purpose (the brilliant Ritu Varma) and gave us a heart-warming story of love and identity (Ritu’s entrepreneurial dreams). Priyadarshi as Kaushik, spouting fun lines with a poker face in Telangana dialect, was a riot. By the way, what happened to his book ‘ naa saavu nenu sastha neekenduku: a youthful boy’s love story?’ Even the smaller characters mattered. Remember the little boy who refuses to hand over the remote and ends up closing the door that paves the way for the rest of the story, in the beginning? A big strength to the film came from Vivek Sagar’s music. This was his first film and he’s among the best new talents of the decade.
After the Telangana state formation in 2014, when Telangana characters and dialect became mainstream, Sekhar Kammula upped the momentum with the breezy Fidaa . He took us to Bhanswada where the setting felt very lived-in. The romance had lovely music by Shakti Kanth, hybrid pilla Sai Pallavi with her infectious charm, and a restrained and mature Varun Tej. The girl doesn’t want to uproot herself from her native home and surroundings; haven’t we all gone through those emotions at some point? Sekhar Kammula is among those who consistently writes substantial parts for his women and doesn’t hesitate to show them with all their misgivings. Bhanumati (Sai Pallavi) can be unreasonable at times but it’s tough to not like her.
- Awe, Chandamama Kathalu, Khaleja, Krishnagaadi Veera Prema Gadha, Kshanam, Mallesham, Prasthanam, PSV Garuda Vega, Race Gurram, Sammohanam, Yeto Vellipoyindi Manasu, Yevade Subramanyam, and 100% Love
Arjun Reddy (2017)
We can debate endlessly if the film directed by Sandeep Reddy Vanga endorses toxic masculinity and misogyny or was it a portrayal of a skewed, flawed character starring a glamorous male lead. Vijay Deverakonda’s uninhibited performance catapulted him to a star. He might have done the boy next door part in Pelli Choopulu , but nothing was the same after the release of Arjun Reddy . Like it or hate it, there’s no denying that the film kept viewers engaged for three hours, deviating from Telugu cinema’s formulaic narratives woven around flawless heroes.
It was mainstream, star-driven and had a familiar story: the president of the village usurps land and the underdog hero will be his nemesis. Yet, Rangasthalam turned out to be remarkable for both director Sukumar and Ram Charan. The many predictable mainstream tropes were presented refreshingly in the 80s rural setting, with Charan as ‘sound engineer’ Chittibabu (a special mention also to the sound and music of the film), Samantha and Aadhi Pinisetty. The ‘killing fields’ managed to add eeriness to the narrative.
A birth-to-death biopic is lot tougher to pull off rather than, say, a biopic of a sports person that ends on a high note, with him or her lifting a trophy. When the story is about a legendary actor like Savitri, there’s a huge volume of data and the film shouldn’t end up like a Wikipedia page. Director Nag Ashwin highlighted many milestones in the ‘ mahanati’s career, giving us a glimpse of the studios of yore populated with talented actors and technicians. The film made us take a new look at Keerthy Suresh who sometimes mimicked and most often imbibed the persona of Savitri meticulously. Dulquer’s interpretation of Gemini Ganesan was suave and Vijay Deverakonda and Samantha featured as journalists in the 80s, piecing together Savitri’s story. A shout out is also due to cinematographer Dani Sanchez-Lopez, the production design and costume departments.
From Kshanam (2016) to Evaru (2019), Adivi Sesh has been raising the bar one film at a time, making it a habit to write (he co-wrote both Kshanam and Goodachari ) or be a part of (like in case of Evaru ) edge-of-the-seat thrillers. Goodachari was the beginning of an engrossing home-grown spy thriller series (part two is in the works), paying homage to international spy films as well as the yesteryear Telugu films such as Gudachari 116 (1967) and Agent Gopi (1978). What worked amply for the film, apart from the writing and technical finesse, was also the casting. We’d like to see Supriya Yarlagadda and Sobhita Dhulipala in more Telugu films.
Care of Kancharapalem (2018)
Telugu cinema is often larger than life; even in films that are supposedly set in the middle class or lower middle class, there’s a kind of cinematic, air-brushed quality to the presentation, unlike Malayalam or Tamil cinema where you get to understand subcultures. Newcomer Venkatesh Maha went to Kancharapalem and wrote a story by observing its natives, cast many of them in his film and showed what it takes to tell stories that come off feeling real. The film mirrors the divides between social strata, and ticks the boxes of being gender sensitive and progressive.
With a big ensemble cast, writer-director Vivek Athreya presented a story that moves between two sets of people: the R3 gang and a girl, and a budding director and an actress. When the real and supposedly imaginary cross paths, we know how well thought out and smart the film’s screenplay is. There’s a lot of room for laughter, but danger lurks around the corner and eventually there’s introspection. Satyadev and Nivetha Pethuraj’s restrained performances are in contrast to the colourful and fun-filled R3 tribe (Sree Vishnu, Rahul Ramakrishna and Priyadarshi) accompanied by Nivetha Thomas (she’s always had that bright spark and is evolving into a fine actor). In the final moments, Sree Vishnu advises Nivetha to call her father from the police station and go back home, to safety, arguing that the world outside is dark and predatory. This hero is more real than any of those saviours we are habituated to watching.
I don’t usually cry at the movies, not since I began reviewing and had to watch movies week after week. But Gautam Tinnanuri’s Jersey made me cry. At a pragmatic level, I kept thinking if Arjun (Nani) could have been forthcoming about his condition to his wife (Shraddha Srinath) and his son (Ronit Kamra), because, wouldn’t they have preferred to have him hale and hearty than succumb after moments of glory? But then, it’s understandable why this father wants to be a hero for his son. The bonds between father and son, the couple, the guru (Sathyaraj) and the faded cricketer, all had the power to evoke empathy. Nani’s was a stellar performance and Shraddha was an equal talent to match. The cricket portions were professionally shot and presented too.
(Note: Remakes and dubbed films have not been considered for this list)