Wide Angle Comment

A makeover in progress

It’s been a summer of casualties in Telugu cinema. Both the Pawan Kalyan- starrer > Sardaar Gabbar Singh and the Mahesh Babu-starrer > Brahmotsavam have bitten the dust. The first tried to entertain the masses with a tale that’s been done to death and the second was a family drama with no cohesive story.

So has big finally become bad? Not quite. Summer 2016, as in the previous years, had a steady line-up of big budget films. Two of them raked in the moolah: > Sarrainodu , an unabashed masala helmed by Boyapati Sreenu, and > Supreme, which marked the rise of yet another star from Chiranjeevi’s family. The actor’s nephew Sai Dharam Tej is cementing his place as one of the bankable younger crop of heroes.

Earlier this year, Sankranti saw a clash of four biggies. Each of them found its audience, and the money. > Dictator by Sriwass starred Balakrishna in his typical sartorial style, Kalyan Krishna’s > Soggade Chinni Nayana had Nagarjuna in a double role, Sukumar’s > Nannaku Prematho > had NTR (N.T. Rama Rao Jr.) in one of his finest performances, and Merlapaka Gandhi’s > Express Raja had Sharwanand playing to the gallery. The cheer continued into February with Hanu Raghavapudi’s > Krishna Gaadi Veera Prema Gaadha starring a terrific Nani. These box office wins are ample proof that except for a couple of hiccups, the appetite for larger-than-life cinema remains huge in Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. But this year has also rung in a few small innovative films. This is not typical of Telugu cinema, which is known as the zone of the loud, flashy and flamboyant. The industry has the mighty > Baahubali to boast of, but whenever good filmmaking is spoken about, all conversation turns towards Malayalam, Tamil, Marathi and, at times, Kannada cinema. Telugu cinema is yet to come up with a > Kaaka Muttai , Lucia, > Bangalore Days, Fandry, or > Premam.

Road to reinvention

However, this year films driven by refreshing narratives and starring young talent brought in the hope that a reinvention might just be round the corner. A simple romance, > Nenu Sailaja , had pleasing visuals, music, and a point of conflict that many could relate to. Director Kishore Tirumala won with his non-fussy storytelling and the effective presence of actors Ram and Keerthy Suresh. The good tidings continued with > Kalyana Vaibhogame , whichpresented a no-nonsense take on two youngsters and their idea of marriage.

The best, however, came with the small wonder > Kshanam, made with a meagre budget of Rs.1.08 crore and marketed and promoted with another crore. Debut director Ravikanth Perepu and actor Adivi Sesh (also the co-writer) pulled off a neat crime thriller. The characters spoke Telugu laced with English, the film was urban in its focus, and didn’t pander to box office whims. Knowing the whims and vagaries of the Telugu film industry it could have proven suicidal, but the film turned out to be a success.

Ravikanth, 25, is a chemical engineer who turned to filmmaking. “A lot of aspiring directors with better stories don’t make the cut. I’ve been lucky that I found help from Adivi Sesh and producer PVP. Once you get a producer, it’s easier to pitch the ideas to actors and the film stands to get a better release,” he says. Adivi Sesh and Ravikanth wrote Kshanam, consciously keeping it unpredictable. It was shot with a 20-member crew. They were told that the modalities of promotions and release would be discussed only if they have a good project at hand. They had to deliver. Looking back, Ravikanth says: “ Kshanam was an underdog. We had nothing to lose. For long we’ve been having boy- meets-girl and good-versus-evil stories. The audience wants to see something new.” So he is now working on a “new-age relationship drama” starring Rana Daggubati.

What is also heartening is that the biggies are also getting better. The last two years have witnessed the failure of big films that have been flogging tired storylines. Instead we have had > Oopiri by Vamsi Paidipally that came as a breath of fresh air for the very fact that it was a courageous remake of the French comedy-drama The Intouchables. Films like Nag Ashwin’s > Yevade Subramanyam and Krish Jagarlamudi’s > Kanche (winner of National Award for Best Feature Film in Telugu) have been the talking points.

In Kanche, Krish discusses divisions of religion, race, and wealth in a small town, Devarakonda, drawing parallels with divisions between nations fighting World War II. Varun Tej, also a nephew of Chiranjeevi, starred as Dhupati Hari Babu, a soldier at the warfront. Krish’s was a fictional ode to 25 lakh Indian soldiers who fought the war. Krish is now working on Balakrishna’s 100th film, Gautamiputra Satakarni, a historical on the ruler of Satavahana empire.

Nag Ashwin’s Yevade Subramanyam was a risky proposition too. Subramanyam (Nani, in yet another meticulous performance) is caught in a corporate rat race and rediscovers himself during a reluctant trip to the mystical Dudh Kashi. “Nobody would have expected a film like Yevade… to work in any language, much less in Telugu. But a story needs to earn its right to be a cinema. We shouldn’t be insulting this medium with mediocre stories,” says Ashwin.

The team knew the film would appeal to an urban audience but it went beyond. “A distributor in a small village in Andhra told me that he was surprised the collections didn’t drop even after two weeks. The film changed everything for me. I became the guy who made a philosophical film a box office success,” he says. His next is a biopic on the late actress Savitri, titled Mahanati.

Coming up soon are Mohana Krishna Indraganti’s Gentleman starring Nani in a role that has shades of grey and the Sundeep Kishan and Nithya Menen- starrer Okka Ammayi Thappa, pitched as an intriguing love story on a traffic-snarled flyover. The much-neglected heroines aren’t taking it easy either. Samantha, after being seen in a spate of hero-driven films, is looking forward to the Telugu remake of Pawan Kumar’s Kannada thriller, > U-Turn . “Content is becoming king, we have seen big star films fail. It’s come to a point where small films are doing well and the big guys have to take notice,” she says. Are all these small markers of a major change? A little hope never hurts.


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Printable version | Oct 20, 2020 10:54:59 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/A-makeover-in-progress/article14384494.ece

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