Andhra Pradesh

Market trumps sentiment

At the height of the acrimonious agitation for a separate State of Telangana, one of the subtexts was about how Telugu films, made almost exclusively by natives of coastal Andhra, often mocked the Telangana dialect and culture. So, when the new State was created, it was assumed that Tollywood would be the first institution to move out of Hyderabad.

A year and more, Tollywood has made peace with the new reality and the new dispensation of Telangana, and seems to have abandoned thoughts of moving to home locales. After his election as president of the Telugu Film Chamber of Commerce, producer D. Suresh Babu ruled out moving lock, stock and barrel. “For us, it’s one State. We make films for a Telugu audience.”

However, market considerations rather than cultural sentiments seem to have weighed with the industry bosses in deciding to stay put in Hyderabad. Of the three major market territories for Telugu films—Nizam, Andhra and Rayalaseema—Nizam, dominated by Hyderabad, accounts for 40 per cent of Tollywood’s revenues. This is almost equal to the share of the whole of Andhra, according to the former president of the Film Distributors Association Vegi Veeraraju.

By shifting base to coastal Andhra, the Telugu film industry risks losing its hold on the Nizam market, where a sizeable number of settlers from Seemandhra live.

Moreover, the new ruling clique of Telangana has softened its tough stance against Tollywood since coming to power in the new State, realising that a Rs 1,200 crore industry that employs thousands of people is worth keeping. The days of taking offence to bits of dialogue in the Telangana dialect and filing court petitions ahead of the release of a film seem to have ended. There is even some bonhomie developing, with IT minister K.T. Rama Rao an occasional guest at Tollywood weddings.

“In fact, the Telangana government is fully supporting the film industry now and the big players want to cash in on it,” says Prof. P. Bobby Vardhan, a film critic and analyst.

The decision to stay put is partly due to the fact that the biggest honchos of Tollywood are heavily invested in Hyderabad, controlling the biggest studios, almost three-quarters of the theatres and multiplex screens. So if the big guys are deeply entrenched in Hyderabad, why would the industry move?

Despite its status as the second biggest movie industry in the country, Tollywood is dominated by a handful of families or clans, metaphorically described as Aa Naluguru (Those Four). Together, they have wall-to-wall control of the industry, ranging from pre- and post-production to distribution and exhibition. Most of the lead stars come from these clans and the biggest directors kowtow to them. Ever since the Telugu film industry cleaved itself away from Madras in the 1980s, it has built up an impressive film infrastructure in Hyderabad consisting of production and processing facilities, and exercises vice-like grip on the distribution and exhibition aspects of the film trade.

To move on the whim of a sentiment would mean having to uproot the work of 30 years and replant it in a territory that falls short on two aspects that count for much in the film industry: infrastructure and creative talent.

In the months after the bifurcation of Andhra Pradesh there was talk of a shift to Vizag, a beautiful city that is seen as ideal for a film industry. There is already a nascent film production eco-system in Visakhapatnam created by the late movie mogul D. Rama Naidu who built a complete studio there.

“But a film industry is a lot more than a studio and some beautiful locations,” says Sunil Narang, managing director of Asian Cinemas, a major exhibitor in Hyderabad. “This is an industry of 24 crafts – acting, editing, sound, set, choreography and so on. It would be hard to find talent in all those disciplines in coastal Andhra.”

It’s not as if Hyderabad is flush with home-grown talent in any of these 24 disciplines. The fact is that almost all its directors and writers are first-generation imports from coastal Andhra, and despite the shift from Madras 30 years ago, choreographers, stuntmen, dancers and set designers continue to be sourced from that city. “That just undescores my point,” says Mr. Narang. “It takes that long for a talent pool to come together in a film industry.”

The verdict is that Vizag is not ready and Tollywood is not ready to move.

Critics of Tollywood’s decision not to shift say the Andhra Pradesh government has done precious little to attract it to the coast while the Telangana government has been proactive in wooing it. Many from the industry would be ready to set up base in Vizag, if only the government extends incentives to those setting up studios and other facilities.

“The biggest drawback for Vizag is that most of our people’s representatives have not acted fast. The government on its part has done nothing for the industry in the past one year. Proactive steps by the government would have at least encouraged smaller filmmakers here,” says Vizag-based filmmaker A.S. Geetha Krishna.

Music director R.P. Patnaik has an entirely different take on why Tollywood won’t move closer to homeland. “Film personalities necessarily have to live and behave like film personalities. Fans like them to live in a wonderland. Too much familiarity results in a loss of mystique. No one wants it, not even the fans.”

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Printable version | Dec 2, 2021 3:28:05 AM |

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