Srihari is a noted cinema journalist and the most credible movie
reviewer. He is the official movie reviewer for the prestigious
publications like The Hindu and The Eenadu Group. Idlebrain.com
has caught up with him on 25th of December 2000 and spent some
time listening to his views and experiences about Telugu cinema.
Here are the excerpts of his interview.
did my MA in Mathematics from Delhi University. At that time,
I used to teach mathematics and physics for PUC students out there.
Later on I shifted into Journalism.
started writing reviews in 1969 for Hindu. Since then, I have
not missed a single Telugu film. I gave all my Hindu reviews to
Sundarayya Vignana Kala Mandapam for preservation. But due to
last year floods, they were washed away. People call me cynic
as I watch all the Telugu films. Every time a Telugu film is released,
I have to undergo two punishments. The first one is watching it
and the second one is writing a review on it.
would not be interested in films in AP? I was talking about 1940's
when I was a kid. I used to participate in lots of dramas. Cinema
in India was just evolving at that time. Theater atmosphere used
to be pretty enlivening. We had to walk miles and miles to watch
a film in cinema hall. Hence, naturally, we are all fascinated
the time, I was fully involved myself as an audience, Nagayya's
prime time was over. I watched his films like Tyagayya and
Bhakta Potana, when I was a kid.
that period, Ch. Narayana Rao was the big hero. He prevailed as
the prime hero even after ANR and NTR entered into Telugu film
Industry. People were in awe of Ch Narayana Rao. If you watch
his films now, they may look strange. Kanchana Mala used to be
called as Greta Garbo of Telugu cinema.
me tell you the various periods. When I started understanding
what a Telugu cinema is, ANR was the popular hero who was growing
up. After five years, NTR entered the industry with 'Mana Desam'.
Then ANR and NTR started vying for the top slot as hero. But,
cleverly, they have chosen two different platforms. NTR was branded
as Mythological hero with a film in which he played Lord Sri Krishna.
With Mayabazaar, he became the supreme of mythological
films. ANR has chosen love subjects and remained as the class
of Telugu cinema
any language, theater paved the way to cinema. Likewise, all the
Telugu actors and actresses for cinema were drawn from the stage
theater. Initially, acting and dialogue telling/singing used to
be done at the time of shooting. An array of musicians used to
sit at the shooting spot. The actors/actresses used to tell dialogues
while musicians played music. This entire process is recorded
as the camera is rolling. Slowly the technology has advanced and
play back singing has come into the place.
must tell you an interesting fact about the playback singing.
The fall of standard of Telugu cinema has started at this point
of time, when playback singing was introduced. The first singer
used to MS Rama Rao. Later on Ghantasala entered playback singing
and he became the supreme and ruled it till his last breath. Then
Madhavapeddi Satyam joined. Later on, lots of singers came into
the scene. Introduction of playback singing has taken away the
crooning aspect of the actors. In between a song, there used to
the a few dialogues. The playback singers too perform those dialogues.
that time people used to concentrate more on story. In those days,
lots of social films used to come and all the writers who used
to write for social stage did migrate to Telugu cinema. There
used to be 'Praja Natya Mandali' (Left oriented) during
the days of freedom struggle. They adapted all the types of folk
arts like hari katha, burra katha, dappu to propagate leftist
movement. Lots of people have come from theater at that time.
were talented outsiders too like Samudrala Raghavacharya. Slowly,
they improved the quality of cinema. They used to sit on a story
for 6 to 7 months to develop it. Then they used to prepare script
and screenplay, Later, they narrate each and every dialogue to
the artist before starting the shooting. They used to have the
entire cast doing rehearsals. After the shooting is over, lot
of time was spent on editing.
Reddy used to estimate the length of shot in the planning stage
and write it in the script itself. Then he used to order raw film
in accordance with the estimation done during the script stage.
KV Reddy was one of the most economical directors. At that time,
raw film used to be a scarce commodity due to the Second World
War. That is one of the reasons why the time duration of the cinema
was brought down. In those days, film used to be of 3:30 hour
to 4-hour duration, which means that footage is of 20,000 feet
to 24,000. Due to the raw film shortage problem, the film's length
was brought down to 16,000 feet. It was like blessing in disguise.
Otherwise watching a 4-hour film would have been painful today.
making the perfect script, they used to brainstorm about casting.
Plenty of artists were available. They were hired on unit basis
and paid salaries for their work, which is considerably higher
than what they could have earned otherwise. Though they were paid
very less considered what the stars are paid today, once the movie
becomes a big hit, those artists were hailed as gods.
used to be no vulgarity in the films. The period between 1950
and 1970 is hailed as the golden era of Telugu cinema. ANR and
NTR used to have consciousness effort that vulgarity should not
be there in their films. They used to make the script change,
if that film demands any vulgar scenes. There used to be plenty
of stories at that time. Even if you watch old films on TV today,
they hold your interest.
am talking about he times of BN Reddy and KV Reddy. Later on,
a new crop of directors has come in. Aadurthy Subba Rao was one
of them. K Vishwanath was a technician at that time. During the
golden era of Telugu cinema, there used to be lot of influence
of Bollywod and Hollywood on our films. Telugu cinema used to
follow Bengali novels for idealistic themes. There used to be
a few Telugu lady novelists, whose novels used to be adapted for
on the Krishna and Sobhan Babu era started and cowboy films have
come in. Sobhan Babu and Krishna joined the industry when the
good era is fading off. Initially, they have done good standard
films. But slowly the western influence started on Telugu cinema
in the form of James Bond films by Krishna. The James Bond image
has brought him into the limelight. Without James bond films,
he would not have survived long in the industry. Audiences too
wanted some change in the films and James Bond genre clicked.
That is the stage where the economics of filmmaking have changed.
1980's, the cost of filmmaking has gone up. Before that ANR used
to charge 4 and half lakhs per film. NTR, being a mass hero, used
to get 5 to 6 lakhs a film as remuneration. With Dasari - NTR
combination films like 'Sardar Papa Rayudu', NTR's remuneration
was made 10 lakhs. With K Raghavendra Rao - NTR combination films
like 'Adavi Ramudu', NTR charged 14 lakhs a film.
one point of time, ANR wanted to retire from the film industry
due to health problems. But, his doctor wanted him to work more
in the films to overcome the health problems. He continued acting.
Even today, in his 70's, he is still a hot property.
of Economics in Telugu cinema
economics of films have changes with the advent of Krishna, Sobhan
Babu, Krishnam Raju and Chiranjeevi. The hero started becoming
the most important aspect of the film. Image building of a hero
started. And the rat race has begun. It was a helplessly unhealthy
trend. People started dictating the number one, two and three
positions by the artist's remuneration. If this is the consideration,
Nagayya used to be paid one lakh in 1940's per film (only hero
with stardom at that time). If you take the inflation and interest
rate, he would have been receiving more than Rs 8.192 crores per
film in the present year. He spent all the money in charity and
had no money during the fag end of his life. ANR used to tell
me that he learnt two lessons from Nagayya. The first one is how
to stay on top by doing excellent roles. The second one is not
to donate money for the unworthy people (apathra daanam).
the heroes started asking for more money, other actors too jacked
up their remunerations. Among the technicians, dance masters and
fight master have become more important and they too started demanding
more money. Music directors were always at the receiving end till
Ilayaraja entered the film industry. In Telugu film industry,
there was never a music director who matched Ilayaraja in demand.
If you take today's scenario, Mani Sharma is on top, as his films
are becoming hits. Chakravarthy entered the field to become an
actor. Then he became a dubbing artist and then a music director.
He is one of the most successful Telugu music directors of Telugu
cinema. He confessed to me that most of his producers did not
pay him money. That was the pathetic situation the Telugu music
cinema shifting to Hyderabad
this period, the industry started shifting towards Hyderabad as
the AP Government announced subsidies for those films that are
made in AP. This process was booted during the period of Sanjeeva
Reddy. Then Brahmananda Reddy gave the momentum. Chenna Reddy
tried to do his best. But, it was Jalagam Vengala Rao who gave
the biggest boost. Jalagam Vengal Rao has taken the film industry
20 years ahead in his tenure. I can vouch the state was developed
and taken us 20 years ahead with his rule as CM.
Banjara Hills and other cinema related places were allotted during
his tenure. Vengal Rao started FDC (Film Development Corporation).
APFCC (Andhra Pradesh Film Chamber of Commerce) was initiated
by Chenna Reddy. But Vengal Rao increased the entertainment tax
from 2% to 7%. Nobody should forget history. I am sorry to say
that the people who have done great things are easily forgotten,
as they did not use media to publicize themselves. But the people
who create media hype without really doing any development for
the state gets more publicity. They can't cheat people for long.
They will perish. That's why I regard Jalagam Vengal Rao as the
person who did develop Telugu film industry in AP phenomenally.
NTR has told me that it's Jalagam Vengal Rao who was responsible
for Telugu film industry for developing in Hyderabad. Jalagam
Vengal Rao granted the land for NTR over the discussion table,
immediately after NTR requested for it. During Brahmananda Reddy
period, 'Brahmananda Chitrapuri' was developed on the Bejawada
road. There used to be two huge structures over there. One is
by NTR and other one is by LV Prasad. There used to be undercurrent
enmity and jealousy among the top people in Telugu film industry.
NTR and ANR were the biggest rivals at their peak time. ANR shifted
to Hyderabad for his own reasons. Hence, all the producers of
ANR started making films in Saradhi Studios in Hyderabad. Then
some kind of rupture took place between ANR and Saradhi management.
Then ANR started constructing his own 'Annapurna Studio'. And
he constructed it extremely well. He, himself, was the engineer.
Since, ANR acted in so many studios, he found lots of faults in
them and based on his experience he designed 'Annapurna Studios'.
And it proved to be one of the best studios in Asia.
on NTR shifted to Hyderabad and constructed his studio on his
own land. He did not use the land donated by the government. At
that time (Vengal Rao period), it costs 4 anas per square
yard in Banjara Hills. MLAs used to question Vengal Rao in assembly
for giving ANR the land in Banjara hills for a cheap rate. Then
Vengal offered all the interested MLAs the same rate on a condition
that they too should develop cinema industry. Nobody had the courage
to buy that land in that place, as it was a wasteland. ANR has
the courage to construct a studio in Banjara Hills. Because of
the glamour of films, that area slowly developed and now you know
what Banjara Hills mean today.
rivalry between NTR and ANR was extended to starting of studios
in Hyderabad. But NTR listened to wrongly advising people at Madras.
The Madras studios owners realized that if Telugu film industry
moves to Hyderabad, their studios would not have proper feeding.
They tried to stop NTR from migrating to Hyderabad. It took almost
30 years to shift from Madras to Hyderabad.
of Telugu cinema
today, people opine that the quality of Telugu cinema has gone
down because it is shifted to Hyderabad. There used to be competitive
feeling at Madras as Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam and Kannada films
are made at the same place. Since, Telugu Industry is moved away,
it worked in isolation without any competitive comparison among
the films from various languages. Cost of production was escalated
and movies were made with a high budget of two to three crores.
Producers incurred heavy losses if a film flopped. Lots of distributors
disappeared over night.
way films are made also changed. In the earlier days, the distributors
(Navodaya, Annapurna etc) used to finance films. So, the profits
of the film are given to the distributors first and then the producer
used to get his share. Later on the financing aspect is shifted
to film financiers who charged hefty interests. Later on buyers
system started. If a Chiranjeevi - Raghavendra Rao combination
film is announced in 1980's, all the buyers from AP used to gather
to give money. Nobody bothered what the story of the film is all
about. Initially, the producer has taken enough care to deliver
hit films. Later on, it has become a formula machine with six
songs and six fights. Then the slump came in. There are at least
4 times the slump has effected due to this mechanical process,
which lacked creativity. And the distributors are the big losers
and they disappeared overnight. This system has frightened the
regular traditional producers and they stayed away from making
films. The businessmen and contractors started entering the production
business. They used to make flop films.
Vishwanath's Shankara Bharanam was released at a time when
the industry was in a slump. I saw the film's preview. Vishwanath
was tensed that his film is releasing in an atmosphere where action
and romantic films were making most of the hay. The film Shankarabharanam
moved me. May be, our culture and my own experiences has caused
a tilt towards that healthy cinema. Shankara Bharanam was
released in a remote theater on a contract for 7 days. The film
started with empty hall on the day one and become the biggest
hit as the audiences gave a good feedback.
Vishwanth became a trendsetter. T Krishna, who made Prathighatana,
too is a trendsetter. Panuganti Lakskhmi Narasimha Rao has written
in his 'Saakshi' about Goddess Saraswati. He has written
about the standard of education going down from year to year in
his works referring to Goddess Saraswati stepping down day by
day. Likewise, Telugu cinema too is coming down day by day.
need to talk about Government's policies towards films. A film
that is released with more than 24 prints is called a big budget
film and a film released with 24 or less number of prints is called
a small budget film. Then they fixed 8% for small-budget films
and 16% for big-budget films. Later on that policy was changed.
The first one is subsidy system for making films in AP. The second
system is slab system. Slab system means there would be different
tax rates on the type/location/facilities of the theater.
used to be a malayali film producer in AP, who was the son of
IG of Police, AP during the tenure of Vengal Rao. At that time,
a film used to cost 3 - 4 lakhs for producing in AP. Government
used to give a subsidy of 1 lakh. That gentleman used to shoot
the entire film in a hall with unknown actors and used to claim
Rs 1 lakh from the government. Then the government restricted
the subsidy to only Telugu films and Telugu producers.
for Telugu films
solution is to make small budget films with new and young talent.
Avoid stars and the highly paid character artists. They have to
make comedy films like Jandhyala. The middle age people who are
sticking to TV all the time will come to theaters only to watch
for as the exhibition is concerned, we must have multiplexes (a
groups of small theaters in the same complex). In the future,
there would be one day, where the entire theaters exhibiting a
film all over the state will have a centralized station at a place
and the film would be broadcasted from there.
of censor members
censor committee is not committed to do a fair job. They have
accepted money and given good censor certificate for the vulgar
films. Hence, the audiences should reject the bad films that propagate
vulgarity. Recently, a vulgar film titled 'Bad Boys' was
released. I am happy that people have rejected it. If you put
vulgarity, double entendre etc in a film and release it, it may
become success for the first time because of its shock value.
The first vulgar film of that genre was 'Bachelors'. It
was hit and the all the films that followed 'Bachelors'
were flopped. They even had a reference to masturbation in that
film. I fail to understand why the censor passed that scene.
other factor is thats the government is unable to pay the money
for the subsidies it has announced. Government has no money to
conduct Nandi awards function. It has never happened when Congress
was ruling AP. There were lots of controversies about Nandi awards
have to think from another aspect too. It is been 35 years since
Telugu cinema moved from Madras to Hyderabad. Its unfair to expect
subsidies from the government as Telugu cinema should have become
self-dependent by now. Lots of studios have come up and most of
them are not running to their full capacity. Ramoji Film City
has come up too. Ramoji Rao knows that shooting Indian films alone
would not be sufficient to get the investment back. He is concentrating
on getting Hollywood films shot at RFC.
producers are capable of getting good scripts written for their
films. But they are going to Tamil hits and remaking those films,
as they are safe bets. They are also importing the Tamil director
to direct the Telugu version. This remaking system is running
for a long time and most of the big producers are involved in
was a member in Nandi awards committee for six times. It used
to be a big problem for us to make the films qualify for the selection.
We avoided remakes. Then there are copied films. The directors
shamelessly copy the films without paying royalty or giving credits.
Somebody told me that Mahesh Bhat used to carry a handheld video
player that plays the 'Fugitive' film and directed 'Criminal'
(Nag & KS Rama Rao). He used to show the videotape to the
artists and ask them to act the way actors have performed in 'Fugitive'.
order of the day is to make small films and bring down the cost
of production. Chitram was made with a budget of 30 lakhs.
Nuvve Kavali was made with a budget of 1 crore.
would like to say that Tamil market is far better than Telugu
movie market. Tamil movie creativity is far superior than Telugu.
Checkout 'Kshemamga velli
' that has become a big
hit this year. This movie is all about 'wife beating'. Even if
you take 'Nuvve Kavali', there is no such potential material
in this film to become such a big blockbuster. This proves the
old adage: 'Edaarilo Aamudapu Chette Maha Vruksham'. Incidentally
both these films are remakes.
and Casual Action
other day, I asked ANR a question about the differences between
acting (dramatization in old film) and behaving (casual acting
in the present films). ANR feels that the element of dramatization
is a must. Otherwise, one cannot be called as an actor. In most
of the films that are releasing today have more of behaving than
acting in them. Dasari used to have a popular technique for the
heroines in Telugu films who cannot speak Telugu. He used to make
them say 'one, two, three
.' whenever they have a
dialogue to tell. You can take a bunch of college guys and make
a film with them. It may become a hit. But this trend would be
there for a couple of years. Any cinema cannot survive if it does
not have dramatization. Behaving in the films is a fad now. It
will fade away, eventually!
of Castual Action
Babu says he is the casual actor and he introduced casual acting
in Telugu films. Krishna can never be a casual artist. Even if
he speaks normally, you can feel lot of dramatization in it. If
you look at NTR's social films, there is a casual action by him.
But at the same time there is a very calculated subtle dramatization
in his expressions. He was very dramatic in mythological roles.
ANR has a lot of dramatization in his action. The new generation
calls his acting as artificiality. Even CSR was a casual artist.
Ch Narayana Rao has little bit of dramatization in his action.
Govindarajula Subba Rao was highly dramatic in his action.
first casual artist in Telugu movies
Ranga Rao. Even in mythological films, he used to say his dialogues
casually. He is such a great actor that he used to take very lengthy
dialogues and utter them casually and get more impact than what
a dramatized dialogue could give. In actresses, Suryakantham is
a great casual actress. But over a period of time the mannerisms
of SV Ranga Rao and Surya Kantham got branded. Kaikala Satyanarayana
is the only actor who can match up to SV Ranga Rao's personality
and diction today. There used to be combinations in the old times.
ANR and Gummadi is one combination. NTR and SVR is another combination.
the films, the reaction is as important as action. Reaction is
to show expressions, while the other artist is uttering dialogues.
of escalation in the costs, the making of films is become a multilingual
process. Most of the big-budget films are made in three languages
(Telugu - Tamil - Kannada) to absorb the production costs. Films
like Roja, Bombay, Bharateeyudu and Oke Okkadu are made with that
hero is forgotten if three films of his are failed. What happened
to Nagarjuna today? At one point of time, Nagarjuna was far ahead
than Venkatesh though both these actors are comparable. An intelligent
father who is good filmmaker supports Venkatesh.
the singers today! Udit Narayan charged 50,000/- for 'Ramma
Chilakamma' song from 'Choodalani Vundi'. At that time
Balu was charging 10,000/- to 12,000/- a song. Today, even a small
budget filmmaker wants Udit Narayana, who can't pronounce the
Telugu properly. Half of the downfall of Telugu cinema can be
contributed towards the foolishness of Telugu filmmakers. Songs
by Udit Narayan and other language singers and the shooting songs
in abroad is costing around two crores a film. The maximum amount
charged by any Telugu singer so far is Rs 30,000/-. Why are they
inviting Udit Narayan who can't even pronounce Telugu properly
and giving him Rs 60,000/-?
will tell you something strange that has happened for a song in
Sultan. There is one song written by Veturi, which has 'Jabilli'
word in the lyric. That singer Sukhwinder Singh got a doubt about
lyric. He asked Veturi why should we have the word cat (billi)
in a romantic song? And he charges Rs 40,000/- per song.
2000 Nandi awards
is a unanimous talk in the entire industry that all the Nandi
awards are given to wrong choices. Even the function held to present
the awards was lackluster. In fact, the small organizations that
presented awards this year have better choices for the awards.
is the textbook of filmmaking. Who is the hero of that film? ANR,
NTR or SVR? The story is the hero. Then comes Shankarabharanam.
It's a trendsetter. After watching Shankarabharanam, lots
of youngsters join music schools to learn classical music. K Vishwanath
could not repeat the magic later. If he had changed the climax
of 'Swati Kiranam', this film too would have become a big
like the name a lot. It sounds to me like idiot box (TV). Why
a TV is called an idiot box? Do you think only idiot watch the
TV? It's for everybody's entertainment. Likewise, idlebrain is
not just for the people who do not have any work. Idlebrain makes
other brains active. For example, you made my brain active by
making me go into my flashback and tell you so many things. I
do visit idlebrain.com regularly and enjoy reading the content