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maTTilOa maanikyaalu
best movies, yet box office failures

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by Srinivas Kanchibhotla

Here is the start of a series that throws light on some of the box-office failures that deserve to be ranked as some of the best movies of Telugu industry. With it, want to highlight the efforts that went into the making of the movie, so that our current generation would never ever forget these long and forgotten gems.


The period was late 60s. NTR was churning one mythological/folk-lore hit after another. New age actors, Krishna, Sobhan Babu, Ram Mohan, Harnath and the like were struggling to find a foothold on what was already occupied by the stalwarts. The golden age was to come to a sad end in a few more years to come.

Adurti, Aatreya and ANR were riding high on their social tidal waves. Branching out from the regular melodrama that was dominating the social movie scene, ANR and Adurti joined hands to start up a new production house and christened it "Babu movies", fittingly. The banner had a mother holding her child high up in the air. The goals of the banner are lofty, and the ideals, noble. Society was the setting, and its burning problems were the milieu.

The term "Sex" was frowned upon by the elders, giggled at by the youngsters and wolf-whistled by the pranksters. Courage is not the right word to describe a movie that tackled this subject and met with none of the reactions by the cross-section of the society; it is conviction. A movie that brought to fore the then degrading societal values and blamed it squarely on the proliferation of perverse variety of sex in different forms in different mediums, ought to have a build up that justifies the accusation and/or a way of tackling the issue as the solution. Sex, in whatever shape or form, was still a taboo topic in Telugu movies, the innuendos, double entendres, the visceral gyrations of the female folk, notwithstanding. Add adolescence to the mix, the potent and explosive combination of the tender age of innocence and barrage of smut that society was dishing out, was identified as the root of evil, in that final court scene, which can be hailed as the most powerful closing argument castigating the cause than blaming the messenger.

Powerful dialogues are often mistaken as ones that involve threat, chest-thumping, browbeating, elaborate exaggeration to the point of ridiculousness, as is common in our current movies.

Gone are the times, when powerful dialogues translated to thought provoking and soul-searching words. The then famous novelist N.R.Nandi, whose was enlisted to put into words, the anguish, desperation and helplessness of an age old judge, who is unable to come to terms with society going to worse and heading to doom and his inability to be but a mute spectator, had done a spectacular job in pointing out the root cause and coming up with the right words for the serious occasions.

There are some soliloquies that are etched in dramatic history for the way they move the audience, sympathize with the character's pain and go through them with the character. If Julius Ceasar, Hamlet, Macbeth etc blazed the western theaters, and the plight of Harischandra, the pathos of Chintamani, the sad sight of the protagonist in Rakta Kanneeru etc moved the Telugu theater audience, then the closing speech of ANR in "suDigunDaalu" deserves to find a place, next to these memorable characters. The way ANR donned the role of a mid 60 year old with utmost care and sensitivity, when he was still in his 40s, and the way he portrays the worldly wisdom born out of the rich experience that the character amassed over its course of life, helps us understand the deeply conflicting emotions of the character, when he takes on the job of defending the murderers of his only son. If Devadasu brought out the sadness for the character in ANR, suDigunDaalu brought out the sadness for society, which should rank on par with the former, performance-wise.

It can categorically be said that "suDigunDaalu" was the best work out of ANR and Adurti Subba Rao's efforts, that still remained fresh, contemporary and ever-lasting, not to mention, thought-provoking, poignant and disturbing. Movies as these that are straight from the heart, reflect the tastes of the makers in handling a material that is totally devoid of elements which are remotely commercial or ones that appeal to the basest of the senses. In a sad twist of irony, ANR vowed to never make such movies, after ANR and Adurti teamed again for another gem "marO prapancam" as an encore, which sadly met the same fate at the box-office as "suDigunDaalu".

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