How has Telugu cinema fared in the first half of 2019?

With the first half of 2019 behind us, here’s a recap of memorable Telugu films and moments so far

Updated - July 01, 2019 04:05 pm IST

Published - July 01, 2019 03:51 pm IST

Nani and Shraddha Srinath in ‘Jersey’

Nani and Shraddha Srinath in ‘Jersey’

The much-hyped political biopics turned out to be eulogising hagiographies. And this summer, quite a few Fridays went without a significant Telugu film release. There weren’t too many films to root for, across the board, irrespective of budget, scale and star cast. But here’s what stood out, in terms of narratives and performances.

Small is beautiful

A few big films had their memorable moments, like the elderly farmer who shows Mahesh Babu the way to farming in Maharshi , and Venky asana in the hilarious F2 . Away from these star-driven vehicles, there were a few smaller films that broke free of formulaic templates and presented refreshing narratives. Cases in point — three of June releases — Mallesham, Agent Sai Srinvasa Athreya and Brochevarevarura .

Mallesham turned out to be the biopic that actually mattered, narrating the tale of a common man who used his ingenuity to help his mother and thereby other women weavers in Pochampally. Director-producer Raj deserves a pat on the back for putting together this project with a compact team and resources, giving Telugu cinema a memorable indie film. The project was a befitting tribute to weaver-inventor Chintakindi Mallesham, helped hugely by Priyadarshi’s sincere portrayal of the man.

Shruti Sharma and Naveen Polishetty in ‘Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya’

Shruti Sharma and Naveen Polishetty in ‘Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya’

A comic detective that movie lovers continue to recall is Chiranjeevi in Chantabbayi (1986). Director Swaroop and actor Naveen Polishetty tried something along those lines with Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya . Imagine a Sherlock Holmes-style sleuth character in Nellore. Agent Sai... is a crime drama that’s both intelligent and witty.

Rahul Ramakrishna, Sree Vishnu and Priyadarshi in ‘Brochevarevarura’

Rahul Ramakrishna, Sree Vishnu and Priyadarshi in ‘Brochevarevarura’

Brochevarevarura , written and directed by Vivek Athreya, explodes with characters that fit into the larger scheme of the script. The hilarity of the R3 gang (Sree Vishnu, Rahul Ramakrishna and Priyadarshi) is tempered with the dark threat that looms around Mithra (Nivetha Thomas) in the later portions. The meeting point of the two stories — that of the aspiring filmmaker (Satyadev) and a leading actress (Nivetha Pethuraj), and that of R3 gang and Mithra — is one that will be discussed among film buffs. In between the comic ride, Vivek Athreya broaches the issue of sexual harassment with sensitivity.

Tharun Bhascker in a still from ‘Falaknuma Das’

Tharun Bhascker in a still from ‘Falaknuma Das’

These three films had plenty of solid performances to root for. A surprise factor in the first half of 2019 was director Tharun Bhascker who made an impressive acting debut in Falaknuma Das . Watch out for him. Next, he’s acting in a Vijay Deverakonda production.

Rise of subcultures

Priyadarshi in ‘Mallesham’

Priyadarshi in ‘Mallesham’

A handful of films highlighted subcultures from different belts of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. If Mallesham unfolded in the ikat-weaving Pochampally region of rural Telangana of the 80s and 90s, the fictional investigative drama Kalki was set in Telangana’s Kollapur of the 1980s.

Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya was set in Nellore and the dialect made its presence sporadically. Falaknuma Das mirrored the Hyderabadi-Telangana ethos of Old City. Majili , with its story beginning in the 90s, was an ode to Vizag neighbourhoods and the fascination for women hailing from the Navy families.

The coming weeks will see more representations of subcultures — Oh! Baby has Samantha speaking with an East Godavari dialect while Dorasani is set in rural Telangana of the 80s.

Cricket season

The sport was a part of two summer releases — Majili and Jersey . Both were stories of relationships and not just the sport, but it was team Jersey that took a professional approach to its depiction of cricket. Director Gautam Tinnanuri’s fictitious sports drama was treated like a biopic. Set in the 90s (there’s been a lot of romance with the 80s and 90s in this year’s Telugu films), Jersey was the story of a 36-year-old cricketer who revives his interest in the sport for the sake of his son. Nani’s moving andwinsome performance, along with that of the stoic Shraddha Srinath, Sathyaraj and child actor Ronit Kamra, left the audience moist eyed.

Women of substance

Samantha in Majili

Samantha in Majili

Jersey might have been the story of a male cricketer, but it wouldn’t have been what it was without the strong woman who shoulders all the responsibilities. Shraddha Srinath’s portrayal is one to remember. In the other story of a failed cricketer, Majili , the woman is the backbone of his life and that of the film. Samantha rightfully got a hero’s entry, accompanied by whistles and claps in the theatres, when she stepped out of an auto and looked up from beneath her umbrella.

A discussion on female actors who’ve carved a niche for themselves would be incomplete without a mention of Taapsee Pannu. This year, she can be proud of both the multilingual thriller Game Over and the Hindi film Badla .

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