A decade in a movie industry is an epoch encompassing a lot with trends appearing and disappearing. This decade engenders a watershed moment in Telugu cinema, where 20-25 movies turned the tables in a major way. Here we discuss a few trends.
Cinematography and special effects
As technologies evolve — CGI/cameras/lenses/editing software — the quality of output rises too. Films have become slicker, to cater to urban audiences with sophisticated multiplex exposure to world cinema. Baahubali made waves internationally, but Prabhas trekking right through a waterfall with a magnificent backdrop isn’t the only memorable frame this decade.
Think of the neo-noir shades of a wacky tale in Bhale Manchi Roju , the hyper stylisation a la Bond movies in 1-Nenokkadine , the dreamy soothing colour palette of Sammohanam or the National Award-winning Chi La Sow , the surrealness of The Ghazi Attack and Antariksham , the special effects of Awe (with a National Award), or the ambitiousness of Eega and Kanche . Movie makers have unleashed the power of the camera and used special effects boldly with loosening budget constraints. What was once delivered by the magical wands of Santosh Sivan and P C Sreeram, is now conjured by a coterie of directors inspired not only by Indian auteurs like Mani Ratnam but also by the likes of Emmanuel Lubezki and Roger Deakins.
All movies have a screenplay, but some movies have ‘The Screenplay’. These movies tell old stories in a novel way. Eega keeps you on tenterhooks with a housefly as a protagonist. Rangasthalam probably has a two-line story, but Sukumar generates great intrigue with a hard-on-hearing hero and the terrors of the dark village fields. C/o Kancharapalem takes a bunch of love stories across age-groups and blends them to give you the sum total of one man’s life. Vedam’s medley dissects society, while Leader and Prasthanam are socio-political gems. 1-Nenokkadine was a masterpiece in storytelling proving that filmmakers are finally coming out of the template moulds of story narration.
We have had movies which survived and thrived through word of mouth. Brochevarevarura was a concoction of thrill, comedy, and social message. Awe’s conflation of ideas like mental health and feminism was impressive, despite the complexity of the theme. Oh Baby’s magical realism made us laugh and cry. Mallesham , made on a shoestring budget, was about a real-life unsung hero-innovator who revolutionised weaving.
Chi La Sow recounts the happenings of one night as a confused commitment-phobic individual turns believer. Dear Comrade sidelines the hero to tell us the story of the sexual harassment of a female cricketer. Prema Katha Chitram — even though it sparked a series of bad fakes — turned horror into comedy. Stories of the ilk of Pelli Choopulu and Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi have been explored.
This decade has seen a resurgence of thrillers too. PSV Garuda Vega, Kshanam, Goodachari, Evaru and Drushyam (the last two being remakes), Swamy Ra Ra (underrated despite being a rare Telugu gem in the heist-thriller sub-genre), Karthikeya, 1-Nenokkadine, The Ghazi Attack, Gentleman are amongst a sparkling mélange of such attempts this decade.
Stories like Mallesham, Mithunam , and C/o Kancharapalem don’t revolve around an alpha male protagonist but around an intriguing or substantially thought-out plot.
This is a welcome change as OTT platforms are competing to find the next binge-worthy Telugu web-series.
The female protagonist
This decade has seen the renaissance of the ‘female protagonist’, a term I have borrowed from actor-writer-director Rahul Ravindran, whose Chi La Sow centring around a strong female character won a National Award. Nandini Reddy’s Oh Baby was both critically and commercially successful. Mahanati brought the Best Actress National Award back for a Telugu movie after a 28-year hiatus. Apart from well-received movies with a female protagonist like Awe, Pelli Choopulu, and U-turn , there have been movies like Dear Comrade, Fidaa, Baahubali, Tholi Prema , and Goodachari , where the men, despite being important, don’t run away with the complete show, and where the women aren’t mere caricatures.
Antagonists like Jagapathi Babu and Sonu Sood, have definitely turned on the style quotient. Beards, costumes, accessories, rockstar themes in the background — villains have been hyper-stylised this decade, after ages of being stereotyped as lacking in sophistication. After Dhruva , it is not difficult to see why sophisticated individuals cannot be menacing. Kabir Duhan in Jil , Jagapathi Babu in Nannaku Prematho , Sonu Sood in Dookudu , Sampath Raj in Srimanthudu , Kartikeya in Gang Leader — the bad men aren’t uncouth any more, although they still lack layers, given that the stylisation has left character sketching far behind.
Heroes turning supermen
Prabhas in Mirchi , Mahesh Babu in Srimanthudu , Bharat Ane Nenu and Khaleja , NTR in Aravinda Sametha Veera Raghava , Allu Arjun in Race Gurram are all classic examples of how the lines have been blurred between mortal men and Captain Americas, a rare negative trend this decade. While it keeps the fans happy and whistling, it hurts story-writing in the long run. Making the hero impossibly invincible is probably the oldest trope in cinema to cover plot-holes. The realms of implausibility spills into their can-do-no-wrong personas too, creating demi-gods hard to relate to.
The subtitle is an oxymoron. Built on jokes which are sexist, and at times misogynist, routinely racist, and many a time outright vulgar, ‘offensive’ doesn’t begin to explain the nature of some of the comedy sub-plots forcibly entrenched into movies. Sadly, this ‘sub-genre’ of crassness masquerading as comedy is the new ‘item song’.