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Telugu Cinema - Past and Present
- Gudipoodi Srihari
(Exclusive for Idlebrain.com)
Gudipoodi Srihari

Telugu cinema witnessed dramatic transformation over its seven-decade's history. It is something like rise and fall of hopes and everytime it gets revived, like the fortunes of the artistes, technicians and other personnel associated with film making directly or indirectly. After some lean period, revival is round the corner again, moving with the ever-changing technological progress. At one time it is thought cinema has become threat to the theatre and other forms of stage entertainment. Today cinema is facing the challenge of small screen adorning the drawing rooms of houses. Some traditional and known producers are sitting on sidelines hoping for good old days to return. The active filmmakers and distribution and exhibition sectors await sops from government, in the form of changes in the structure of entertainment tax relief. There is threat for exhibition sector and some theatres are already closed and converted into marriage halls or given for real estate development, which appears to be better business than leasing out for film exhibition.

The problem lies not only in escalating production cost, but also in the drained creative minds to work behind the film. Besides, the cost of viewing a film is high. At one time, cinema was being described as cheap entertainment. But today cheapness lay in its quality not in spending for film viewing. The theatres enjoy freedom to enhance admission rates. Some raised almost three times of those existing a few years ago. The tariff for vehicle parking, snacks and beverages are hiked and unchecked. Television nullified inevitability of cinema. Producers often say that audience taste is unpredictable. These days a film is either hit or flop. No average run like in olden days. Producers concentrate on making films to attract youth, because they believe this section is the only floating audience who visit a theatre repeatedly, while other age groups enjoy small screen in their drawing rooms. With the advent of Television channels screening films and film-based programmes, producers began searching for themes to attract youth. Their choice is love story. The relationships are built strangely. The trend began with PREMADESAM screened three years ago. It is a Telugu dubbing of a Tamil hit, which also eventually ran for more than two hundred days. Two boys love the same girl and end up with all the three deciding to stay as friends. The film's musical impact and the treatment being refreshing, it drew repeat audience, mostly youth. Since then, love themes are practically flooding the screen. The new millennium opened with such films like YUVAKUDU directed by A.Karunakaran, of `THOLIPREMA' fame, Pawan Kalyan (Chiranjeevi's younger brother) starrer. Yuvakudu is given patriotic twist in the end. CHITRAM directed by Teja for producer Ramoji Rao is latest craze. It aims at projecting two points: one the need for sex education to teenagers and two: to draw line between infatuation and love. The infatuation sometimes leads to true love. That is what the film shows. The significant feature is that it is a low budget film, introducing new faces. Its impressive success at box office is an eye opener. Hence, this film is trendsetter too.

A look at success of films like `Chitram' reveals that audience these days are not bothering who the artistes are. If it is a love story, they prefer new faces of the same age group of the character created to play it. Gone are the days when NTR and ANR played lover boys in their Sixties.

Another feature is the emergence of family legacy with seniors introducing their juniors to the field. Sumanth, the lead artiste of YUVAKUDU is ANR's grandson and Nagarjuna's nephew. Pawan Kalyan is Chiranjeevi's younger brother and Maheshbabu; another star on the rise, is Krishna's youngest son. Kalyan continues his sway on the audience with his latest release `KUSHI'. Mahesh displayed skilful acting right as a child artiste in the film KODUKULU DIDDINA KAAPURAM. He reappeared as a teenager on the screen, after a decade, in the film RAJAKUMARUDU directed by veteran Raghavendra Rao. Mahesh proves a natural artiste among the present generation. However, it is fight for survival for all. This phenomenon is not new only to Telugu cinema. Hindi and other language films too have this trend. Only a few came up on their own, by sheer talent and a pinch of luck. But what surprises one is the way the new generation is edging out the immediately old. This practice of kin getting promoted by their elders began with Balakrishna, Nagarjuna and venkatesh. But they proved worthy to be able to stand on their own.

In the flow of changing times and fortunes, Krishna and Sobhanbabu followed NTR and ANR almost with the same image. And Krishnamraju, Chiranjeevi and Mohanbabu followed them. There is constant search for young and fresh talent. And nobody bothers about heroines, most of who come from Tamil, Kannada and Hindi fields. Unlike in olden days, it is difficult to count on native talent among heroines.

Another development, these days, is the emergence of young talent even among directors too. The old timers are yielding place to fresh talent, coming with new ideas and mental equipment. Some of them are Tamil directors who came along with films they made in their mother tongue. The Telugu cinema is importing them along with subjects. This phenomenon is particularly noticed during the last three years. At times the Telugu cinema is facing identity crisis, because films are made in two or more languages to meet mounting costs of film production, estimated to be between 1.5 to 10 crores. Dubbed films are surpassing the number of straight makes. The number of straight makes in the year 1999 stood at 66 films, while 70 dubbed films were released.

While the artistes like Krishnamraju, Chiranjeevi and Mohanbabu, represent third generation heroes, Balakrishna, Nagarjuna, Venkatesh, Suman, Rajasekhar, Srikanth, Jagapatibabu and Srihari represent the fouth generation. Mohanbabu, Srikanth and Srihari are all villains-turned-heroes. For that matter Chiranjeevi was also figuring in negative roles initially. Jagapathibabu, son of noted producer V.B. Rajendra Prasad, is also a hot choice for filmmakers with complex family love themes. Naveen Vadde, son of another producer is struggling presently to find his feet, though he is talented.

These changing times brought in a host of new directors, who include Arun Prasad who made hit film `Thammudu' with Pawan Kalyan, Chandra Mahesh (Preyasi Rave), Sasi (Seenu, a remake of `Sollamale'), Poori Jagannadh (Badri), Teja (Chitram). At one time producers banked on good story line. Today it is characterisation that is important. Prime objective is to engage audience with entertainment, refreshing humour and mellifluous music. Weird voices are making their way into playback system, drawn from Hindi Tamil and Malayalam fields. We rarely listen to S.P.Balasubrahmanyam these days. The Telugu language is the first victim of these non-Telugu voices, barring Chitra who sings like a typical Telugu girl. "But who bothers" asks a producer. "It is present trend and is an indication to the changing audience taste. The more a song sounds bizarre the more attractive it is." Says he. There is no difference between a dubbed film and an original. The dialogues are dubbed by dubbing groupes. Story and situations are in step with changing times. Some producers and directors are banking on computer graphics. Kodi Ramakrishna's AMMORU is trendsetter. This technical asset made it a resounding success. DEVI also by the same director and a 1999 release was a box office hit.

The industry is greatly worried over the general decline of quality and also quantity of Telugu cinema and its poor performance at box office. The Industry demands the government to waive entertainment tax. For films made in A.P. and charge five percent on films made outside A.P. Buyers hesitate to advance money. They have no confidence on filmmakers these days.

To be continued.........
(Next Monday, Sri Gudipoodi Srihari talks about Glorious past, Raghupati Venkayya, Prakash etc.)

Click here to read the interview of Sri gudipoodi Srihari

Tell Gudipoodi how you liked this article. Click here
More to come!
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