Half-year review Movies

Telugu cinema: Big, bigger, but it can get better

Shriya and Balakrishna in Gautamiputra Satakarni

Shriya and Balakrishna in Gautamiputra Satakarni  

Telugu cinema in the first half of 2017 has been characterised by a show of might, occasionally punctuated with smaller projects that made a mark

The first half of 2017 has been dominated by big budget productions. Looking at it broadly, this is a familiar situation. But it isn’t every year that a much-hyped film attracts repeat audience and goes on to make ₹1700 crore worldwide. But we’ll come to Baahubali - The Conclusion later because much has been discussed about S S Rajamouli’s ambitious spectacle.

History and nostalgia

The year began with Chiranjeevi returning to the screens after a decade, with his 150th film Khaidi No.150 clashing at the box office with Balakrishna’s 100th film, Gautamiputra Satakarni.

Khaidi worked purely for the nostalgia factor of seeing Chiranjeevi on screen and he trying his best to show that he still has the moves, can perform stunts and charm his way through the box office. The star took precedence over the story and Khaidi ended up as Kaththi (the Tamil original) served with a generous dose of masala.

Gautamiputra... sparked off debates on how much of the story was a retelling of history. Questions were raised if Satakarni’s story can be called Telugu pride and if he truly did take on Demetrius. Director Krish Jagarlamudi maintained that his was a dramatised version of history, with the story built on several facts he learnt from the writings of Gautami Balasri, acharya Nagarjuna and kavi samrat Viswanatha Satyanarayana.

As a film, to give credit where it’s due, Krish showed that he could channelise Balakrishna’s aggression to suit this period film. An aesthetic visual landscape made possible by cinematographer Gnana Shekar V S, Chirantan Bhatt’s music, well-written dialogues by Sai Madhav Burra and an endearing performance by Shriya added to the film’s appeal. In Gautamiputra...’s trailer, we see an irate Vashishti Devi (Shriya) venting her agony at the thought of her warrior-husband taking her little son to the battlefield in a high-pitched... ‘meeru manishena?’ In the film, she is teary-eyed, subdued and yet impactful while uttering this line. Krish revealed that Shriya had enacted this scene in two variations and he, taking a liking to both, used one version in the trailer and another in the film.

Shatamanam Bhavati which released in the same week was a silent winner, with the audience relating to the theme of homecoming.

The other biggies included Pawan Kalyan’s Katamarayudu and Allu Arjun starrer Duvvada Jagannadham and there were other box office winners like Kittu Unnadu Jagrattha, Nenu Local and Rarandoi Veduka Chudham. The last one saw Rakul Preet Singh putting forth her best in recent times as Bhramaramba.

Heart-warming drama

Rithika Singh and Venkatesh in Guru

Rithika Singh and Venkatesh in Guru  

One film that didn’t get its due was Venkatesh starrer Guru, ably directed by Sudha Kongara. Perhaps because it released after Dangal, though most parts of it were shot earlier, some of the audience felt the climax suffered a Dangal hangover. Sudha’s is an original story that followed in-depth research and was first made as Saala Khadoos in Hindi and Irudhi Suttru in Tamil.

Guru follows a predictable narrative style that’s typical of sports films. Nevertheless, Sudha’s characterisation of the young, rebellious boxer played pitch-perfectly by Rithika Singh and the older, unconventional boxing coach played by Venkatesh, was the work of a good writer-director. With a mix of maturity and nonchalance, Venkatesh reinvented himself to play the part.

Towards the film’s climax, when Rithika walks away asking ‘if this isn’t love, what else is it master’, it leaves you moved.

Rana Daggubati, Kay Kay Menon and Atul Kulkarni in Ghazi

Rana Daggubati, Kay Kay Menon and Atul Kulkarni in Ghazi  

Punctuating these big films were other surprises like Ghazi, Keshava and Ami Thumi. A fiction inspired by real incidents, the submarine thriller Ghazi by Sankalp Reddy had plenty going for it — from a well-knit story to commendable performances by Kay Kay Menon, Atul Kulkarni and Rana Daggubati. One too many torpedos missing their target may have been a dampener, but this film proved that Telugu films can benefit by breaking the formula.

Revenge served cold

Nikhil and Ritu Varma in Keshava

Nikhil and Ritu Varma in Keshava  

Sudheer Varma’s Keshava with Nikhil and Ritu Varma narrated revenge and murder in sleepy, unsuspecting regions of Amalapuram and Annavaram. Divakar Mani’s cinematography lent a new tonal quality to the thriller whose protagonist had to overcome a peculiar heart condition.

Mohanakrishna Indraganti’s home-grown screwball comedy Ami Thumi picked up steam by word of mouth. In tune with the genre’s demands, the film served up many laugh-aloud moments and brought to fore an ace performer in Eesha Rebba (a treat to watch and she nailed the Telangana diction) and Vennela Kishore.

Kishore had been slowly on the rise in the last couple of years (notably with films like Kshanam, Ekkadiki Pothavu Chinnavada, Keshava and even the short role in Gentleman) but Ami Thumi made him the central focus.

So far, in this Baahubalian year of biggies, we have been starved of truly small wonders like Kshanam and Pellichoopulu of 2016. Hopefully, the rest of the year will fill that gap.

Prabhas and Anushka Shetty in Baahubali - the Conclusion

Prabhas and Anushka Shetty in Baahubali - the Conclusion  

Talking of Baahubali, beyond its scale and visual effects, what rightfully caught attention is the characterisations of Amarendra Baahubali and Devasena and actors Prabhas and Anushka Shetty breathing life into their parts.

The yearning to be as big as, if not better than, Baahubali has led to announcements of a handful of large-scale productions. One just hopes these films will match scale with content.

Looking ahead

Some of the promising films lined up this year include:

* Director Teja’s Nene Raju Nene Mantri starring Rana Daggubati and Kajal Aggarwal.

* Director Sekhar Kammula’s Fidaa with Varun Tej and Sai Pallavi.

* Director Trivikram Srinivas and Pawan Kalyan’s next.

* Spyder starring Mahesh Babu and Rakul Preet, directed by A R Murugadoss.

* Jai Luva Kusa starring NTR, Nivetha Thomas and Rashi Khanna and directed by K S Ravindra.

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2020 2:47:36 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/telugu-cinema-in-the-first-half-of-2017-has-been-characterised-by-a-show-of-might-occasionally-punctuated-with-smaller-projects-that-made-a-mark/article19175358.ece

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