In search of new narratives

Print edition : October 18, 2013

Akkineni Nageswara Rao in "Devadas".

From "Gruhalakshmi" (1938), the first Telugu "social".

N.T. Rama Rao as Krishna in "Maya Bazaar".

Nagaiah and N.T. Rama Rao in "Mana Desam" (1949), the film that introduced S.V. Ranga Rao, NTR and Ghantasala.

Vijaya Vauhini Studios, in Madras. A file picture. Photo: The Hindu Photo Archives

The "red" films: Prabhakara Reddy and Vallam Narasimha Rao in "Yuvataram Kadilindi" (1980).

Rallapalli, Charanraj and Kota Srinivasa Rao in "Pratighatana" (1986).

Chiranjeevi in "Indra".

Nagarjuna and Girija Shettar in "Geethanjali" (1989).

Archana in "Daasi" (1989).

As differentiation between genres began to get blurred in the early 1970s, the star and his relation to the fan became the sole aesthetic preoccupation, giving birth to the highly successful “mass film”in the Telugu industry. Today, with these films failing at the box office, it seems stuck in a narrative dead end.
100 years of Indian Cinema

WITH an annual output of roughly 180 films, Telugu cinema is the second largest film industry in India. Once known for its synergic inputs to other cinemas, as evidenced by a number of Telugu films remade in Tamil, Kannada and Hindi, today it lags behind the new wave cinema in Tamil and lacks the generic variety of Hindi cinema. Those who bemoan the content and quality of contemporary Telugu cinema describe its journey over the decades as a steady fall from grace from its golden era, associated with memorable talents like Gudavalli Ramabrahmam, Y.V. Rao, B.N. Reddy, K.V. Reddy, C. Pulliah and L.V. Prasad. These film-makers, with a clear reformist agenda, explored the trend set by H.M. Reddy in his Gruhalakshmi (1938), which highlighted the problems of alcoholism and prostitution. B.N. Reddy, his partner at that time, wrote crucial parts of the screenplay and created a minor role for Chittor V. Nagaiah, with whom he later made highly successful films like Swarga Seema (1945).

According to Randor Guy, it was during the shoot of Gruhalakshmi that B.N. Reddy met his team members, K. Ramnoth (cinematographer, writer and director) and A.K. Sekhar (art director), two technicians of “amazing talent and professional skill”. Considered the first Telugu “social”, Gruhalakshmi strengthened the careers of Kannamba and Kanchanamala, actors who had already made a name for themselves in the mythologicals Harischandra (1935) and Veeraabhimanyu (1936) respectively.

Principal initiator

However, it is Gudavalli Ramabrahmam who is celebrated as the principal initiator of new-age Telugu cinema. As an editor of Prajamitra, an influential Telugu weekly, and as the joint secretary of the Andhra Nataka Kala Parishad, he provided an inspirational space for writers like Tapi Dharma Rao, Chalam, Gopichand and Bellary Raghavacharya and young film-makers like B.N. Reddy. In a memorial note written in 1976, B.N. Reddy fondly recalls how he saw Gudavalli Ramabrahmam, his avowed guru, for the first time in 1936 during the fifth anniversary celebrations of the Parishad at Midland Theatre. Ramabrahmam’s initial experience in film-making came when he took over the production management of Draupadi Vastrapaharanam (1936) at the suggestion of its producer, Parapelli Seshaiah of Saraswati Talkies, Vijayawada. Soon, he established his Sarathi Films and with the making of his Malla Pilla (1938) and Raithu Bidda (1939), his reformist zeal found creative expression. If Malla Pilla highlighted the problems of untouchability, inviting the anger of the upper-caste communities, Rythu Bidda, with its critical take on the zamindari system, provoked the anger of the powerful within the British dispensation.

Rare craftsmanship

In the same year, B.N. Reddy’s Vande Mataram (1939) and C. Pulliah’s Vara Vikrayam (1939) highlighted the evils of the dowry system. Y.V. Rao’s Malli Pelli (1939) and B.N. Reddy’s Sumangali (1940) dealt with child-widow remarriage. Critics often point out the high degree of craftsmanship of the B.N. Reddy, K. Ramnoth (or his protégé, B.N. Konda Reddy, the brother of B.N. Reddy) and A.K. Sekhar combination in films like Vande Mataram (1939) , Devata (1939) , Swarga Seema (1945) , Malleswari (1951) and Bangaru Papa (1954). Or, for that matter, the K.V. Reddy, Marcus Bartley, A.K. Sekhar combination in the N.T. Rama Rao (NTR) feature Pathala Bhairavi (1951). Some hold K.V. Reddy’s Peddamanushulu (1954) as the best film of that entire era. It is significant that Singeetham Srinivasa Rao and Kamalakara Kameswara Rao, both of whom went on to carve their own niches later, spent their formative years with him.

In hindsight, L.V. Prasad seems to have been the most commercially successful director and producer of those times. With his experience that began in the silent era in Bombay (now Mumbai) and transited into the talkie period, L.V. Prasad initially made a mark with his Gruhapravesam (1946), Drohi (1948) and Mana Desam (1949), being bold enough to use the everyday, conversational vernacular Telugu in contrast to the high-flown literary form used by his predecessors. His Mana Desam introduced three highly significant newcomers: S.V. Ranga Rao and NTR as actors and the legendary singer and composer Ghantasala as the music director. His Samsaaram (1950) redefined the image of Akkineni Nageswara Rao by casting him in a new avatar in a social, as against the folklore and historical films with which he was associated previously. But it was Vijaya Pictures’ Shavukar (1950) that firmly established Prasad as an important director and earned the prefix “Shavukar” for Sowcar Janaki, who made her memorable debut. Adding highly popular films like Missamma (1955) to his oeuvre, Prasad was one of those few directors who could effortlessly straddle Tamil and Hindi cinemas while being firmly grounded in Telugu cinema. As a producer, it was he who introduced film-makers like T. Prakash Rao, Adurthi Subba Rao, Pratyagatma and K. Balachandar to the Hindi film industry.

Vedantam Raghavaiah was another important filmmaker of the 1950s. If not for anything else, he will be remembered for his legendary Devdas (1953) , a bilingual in Telugu and Tamil, featuring Nageswara Rao. It was during this era that other great actors like Relangi, Jaggayya, Banumathi, Savitri and Gummadi emerged.

Nevertheless, the history of any cinema cannot be reduced to such celebrated talents and their oeuvre alone. Without the creation of exhibition outlets, distribution networks and production infrastructure or, in other words, the necessary material base, no film industry can take off. First, it was extremely difficult to make a film locally during the silent era as films could be imported from elsewhere at very low cost. Secondly, at the beginning of the talkie era, Telugu cinema was as much a humble affair as Tamil cinema, with an annual output of eight or nine films. How do we then account for the current status of an industry which is well known, like its counterparts, for transiting from one crisis to another in fits and starts and yet managing to achieve the kind of growth it has in the bargain?

Valentina Vitali, in her study Hindi Action Cinema: Industries, Narratives, Bodies, points out that it was the expansion of the exhibition outlets made possible by the large-scale migration of labour from rural areas into Bombay in the post–First World War period that provided the necessary foundation for the Hindi film industry to strike roots in the 1920s. Similarly, it was only after Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu, who is considered the father of Telugu cinema, established in Madras (now Chennai) theatres like Gaiety (1913), Crown (1916) and Globe (1917) that he could start a production company with a glass studio. The first Telugu silent film, Bhisma Pratighna (1921) of R.S. Prakash, Venkaiah Naidu’s son, thus became eventually possible. At the same time, the growth of this industry could not be contained within the history of a city like Madras for more than the obvious reasons. The small number of studios that came up in the 1920s, including the glass structure built by Venkaiah Naidu, could not sustain themselves beyond a point as the growth of Madras paled in comparison to something like Bombay at that time. Therefore, it is only towards the end of the second decade of the talkie era that a local film industry begins to take a real shape.

Initially, as was the case with the Tamil talkie, Telugu films were made either in Bombay or in Calcutta (now Kolkata). H.M. Reddy’s Bhaktha Prahalada (1932), the first Telugu talkie, was shot in Bombay, as Reddy himself had worked under Ardeshir Irani during the production of Alam Ara (1931). By 1934, P.V. Das had established his studio, Vel Pictures Ltd, in Madras, where he started producing both Tamil and Telugu films. After the making of Seetha Kalyanam (1934), Krishna Leela (1935) and Maya Bazaar (1936), this studio closed down in 1938. Moreover, as studios in the talkie era needed electricity—if not for lighting, at least for recording sound—they could only be built where electricity was available or could be purchased from a private company, as the British government neither had the inclination nor the potential at that time to provide power to all such outfits in Madras.

The first studio in Andhra Pradesh

It was in such a context that the Nidamarthy brothers established Sri Durga Cinetone, the first studio in Andhra Pradesh, in Rajahmundry, their hometown, in 1935. It is here that C. Pullaiah made two shorts: Chal Mohana Ranga, a picture based on a romantic song featuring Pushpavalli as the heroine, and Kasala Peru, a comedy skit, in 1936. His better-known feature-length films such as Satyanarayana Vratam (1938) and Mohini Bhasmasura (1938) were also shot here. In 1937, Narasimha Raju, a reputed industrialist, established the second studio in the region at Visakhapatnam with his Andhra Cinetone, where Bhaktha Jayadevi (1938) and Pasupatastram (1939) were produced. Both these studios wound up quickly: the former could not sustain itself without a steady stream of films and the latter was closed down because of the untimely death of Narasimha Raju. Although Telugu films continued to be produced at places like the Newtone Studios in Madras or the Pakshiraja Studios of Sriramulu Naidu in Coimbatore, it was only with the establishment of the massive Vauhini Studios in 1948 by B.N. Reddy, in collaboration with his friend Moola Narayana Swamy and his other brother Nagi Reddy as an additional share holder, that Telugu cinema began to take on the look of an industry. The controls of this sprawling and well-endowed outfit, however, soon passed into the hands of Nagi Reddy as the sole proprietor. It was renamed in the process Vijaya-Vauhini Studios.

Massive growth

It was the linguistic division of the State of Andhra Pradesh in 1956 that made Telugu cinema’s massive growth since that foundational moment possible, according to S.V. Srinivas. With that move, the hitherto inaccessible territory of the Nizam opened up as a market for the first time. Though the consolidation of the exhibition and distribution outlets in this region and the rest of Andhra Pradesh took a couple of decades, it is the emergence of this region as the largest distribution territory for Telugu films that contributed to the exponential growth of the industry. For instance, in 1939, in all the 10 districts of the Nizam, including Hyderabad, there were only 12 theatres. Today, that number stands at 472. Immediately after the formation of the State, the first Chief Minister, Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy, gave a call to the industry stalwarts to shift the industry’s base to Hyderabad. It could not be acted upon immediately, for instance, by a massive outfit like the Vijaya-Vauhini Studios as it was beginning to peak both in production in terms of output and in business in terms of renting out its facilities to film production units of other languages as well. Moving such an outfit lock, stock and barrel to Hyderabad was, thus, out of the question. Even someone like L.V. Prasad, when he decided to build a studio, built it in Madras in 1967 (he added a colour laboratory to it in 1976 and a 70-mm recording facility in 1982) for two reasons. First, finding skilled labour and technicians in Andhra Pradesh was not an easy proposition, and second, as the demand for shooting in colour was going up among the four regional language industries located in Madras at that time, the lone colour laboratory at Gemini Studios was not able to handle the pressure.

What is of significance is that this happened despite the fact that by the 1960s, clearly polarised pro- and anti-Hyderabad lobbies had appeared in the industry, marking those who resisted the move to Hyderabad as betrayers of the Telugu cause. If NTR, the megastar, had done the same thing instead of L.V. Prasad, who was just a producer and a director, the consequences could have dented his image beyond repair. Moreover, Nageswara Rao played a key role in the pro-Hyderabad lobby and NTR was beginning to be perceived as a betrayer of the Telugu cause for not taking similar initiatives. When Sarathy Studios, set up in Hyderabad in 1959, faced closure in 1962, Nageswara Rao revived its fortunes by shifting the shoot of the bilingual film of Annapurna Pictures, Chaduvukunna Ammayalu, to its premises as there was a strike going on at Vauhini at that time. Soon, he was insisting that all his films be shot at Sarathy, though he could not remain consistent in such a rigid demand. Once the government began to play a proactive role from 1964 by announcing various loans for setting up facilities and extending subsidies to even non-Telugu films, the entire issue of Teluguness shifted significantly from “aesthetic aspects of authenticity and cultural aspects of language politics to that of the location of production of the film and investment in real estate related to film production or exhibition”. At that moment, NTR seized the initiative from Nageswara Rao to become “the first Madras-based film personality to invest in Hyderabad” when the foundation stone was laid for his twin-theatre complex, Ramakrishna, in 1965 at Abids. It was only later that Nageswara Rao established his Annapurna Studios in Hyderabad, in 1976. In the same year, NTR also established his Ramakrishna Studios at Nacharam, near Secunderabad. By the end of the 1970s, as theatres spread to every nook and corner of Andhra Pradesh, a perfect fit was created between the Telugu Nation (as envisioned in the Andhra Pradesh map) and its market, according to S.V. Srinivas. With that, NTR could float his party, the Telugu Desam, as an imagined (unified Telugu) community, in the form of an audience for Telugu films, across the different regions of the State despite internal cultural differences.

The shift to Hyderabad

Once NTR came to power, more companies started moving out of Madras, and by the mid-1990s the process was complete. In 1984, Prasad Productions established its post-production studio and colour lab at Banjara Hills. In the same year, the superstar of the ensuing generation, Krishna, established his Padmalaya Studios at Jubilee Hills. Daggubati Ramanaidu, who shot to fame as a producer with the unprecedented success of his NTR feature Ramudu Beemudu (1961; the film, incidentally, was remade as the M.G. Ramachandran feature Engaveetu Pillai and as the Dilip Kumar feature Ram Aur Shyam) and who, over the years, entered the Guinness Book of Records for the most number of films made by an individual producer, set up his Ramanaidu Studios and Colour Lab in 1992 in Hyderabad. Soon, the newspaper and media magnet Ramoji Rao, who had produced successful films like Pratighatana (1986), established his more ambitious and sprawling Ramoji Rao Film City in 1996. In 1998, Ramanaidu Studios established a cine village at Nankaramguda and a similar but more attractive outfit at Visakhapatnam in 2009. Vijaya-Vauhini, once known as Asia’s largest studio, however, could not survive this transition as it was burdened by debt and mismanagement. With the advent of the new millennium, it vanished into thin air, leaving only memories and records of its grand past.

Instead of envisioning the history of Telugu cinema as a steady fall from grace to explain its current stalemate, S.V. Srinivas articulates the theory that the Telugu film industry is finding it difficult to transit to a “new narrative regime”, as its most privileged genre, the “mass film”, is suffering from an inherent “blockage”. The making of the mass film, however, has to be located against the backdrop of the death, by the mid-1960s, of the big historical genres like Malleswari and Pathala Bhairavi, which demanded expensive costumes and massive sets. The rising star fees did not leave any room for other production values. Only Vittalacharya proved to be an exception because he could make such movies with lesser stars like Kantha Rao.

As Valentina Vitali notes, what differentiates Indian cinema from Hollywood films is its weak generic differentiation. It is not that such differences were totally absent, but when stunt films became popular in the 1930s, even the mythologicals and socials began to introduce similar sequences, blurring generic differentiation in the process. Thus, by the late 1960s, as Madhav Prasad states, the “social” emerges as the super-genre. From then onwards, the only differentiation between films becomes the star himself. In other words, as S.V. Srinivas observes, in the mass film, the link between the star and the fan became the sole aesthetic preoccupation. If, by the end of the 1960s, new stars like Krishna, Sobhan Babu and Krishnam Raju had emerged, in the 1970s, Dasari Narayana Rao and Raghavendra Rao surfaced as the leading and successful directors, complemented by figures like Kodandarami Reddi and Kodi Ramakrishna in the 1980s. In the economics of the industry, this aspect of centring everything on the star and his fan thus proved to be a big boon because more films could be made at a greater speed than ever before. Otherwise a star like Krishna could not have acted in more than 300 films. Even NTR, who was at the fag end of his career, found the going good as he could continue to act in successful films like Raghavendra Rao’s Adavi Ramudu (1977) and Dasari Narayana Rao’s Bobbili Puli (1982). With the rise of Chiranjeevi (he seemed the ideal star for the mass film with his dark, rugged looks) to stardom in Kodandarami Reddy’s Kaidhi (1983), the hero congealed into the persona of the “rowdy-citizen”. With his graduation to megastar status in succeeding years, with Nandamuri Balakrishna in the number two position since 1987, it became an unspoken rule in the industry that whether one was an actor like Nagarjuna or Venkatesh with an entirely different set of potentials, or an emerging director like Ram Gopal Varma, one still had to prove one’s worth in the mass film to be taken seriously by the industry.

No doubt, there were quite a few trends against such a rigid production logic. One of these is associated with what is known as the “class” film because of its ”authentic Telugu atmosphere”. According to S.V. Srinivas, such a trend begins with Adurti Subba Rao’s Tene Manasulu (1965), which introduced successful new faces like Krishna. Later on, this genre came to be associated more with Bapu, K. Vishwanath, Jandhyala and Vamsi. Made with modest budgets, Bapu’s Mutyala Muggu (1975) and K. Vishwanath’s Siri Siri Muvva (1976), Sankarabharanam (1979) and Sagara Sangamam (1983) proved that even this genre could generate great returns at the box office. The comedy films of the prolific writer Jandhyala, who wrote the dialogues for a vast number of films, including Siri Siri Muvva and Sankarabharanam, are another case in point. Particularly, his Aha Naa Pellanta (1987) is often remembered for introducing the comedy star Brahmanandam and for providing a much-needed boost to the character actor Kota Srinivasa Rao. Vamsi, who is also valued for his technical craftsmanship, is noted as a trendsetter with films like Ladies Tailor (1985) , Anveshana (1985) and Chettu Kinda Pleader (1989). Being the flipside of the mass film, however, this category of films, apart from reinforcing conservative middle-class values, failed to interrogate the “feudal hangover” of the former.

Alternative films

In contrast, a hard-hitting genre was developed by Madala Ranga Rao, T. Krishna and R. Narayana Murthy, all of whom had ties with the radical left-wing Jana Natya Mandali, an organisation for creative talent. This genre is either euphemistically called “red films” or more directly as “Naxalite films”. This trend, which was triggered by Dhavala Satyam’s Yuvatharam Kadilindi (1980), produced by Madala Ranga Rao, who also wrote the dialogues, was sustained by Vejella Satyanarayana’s Maro Malupu (1982), R. Narayana Murthy’s Ardharatri Swatantaram (1986) and T. Krishna’s Pratighatana (1986). Most of these films were more successful in the Telangana region than in the rest of Andhra Pradesh.

It was when Narayanamurthy’s Erra Sainyam (1994) proved to be a hit across the entire State that Dasari Narayana Rao, who is known for introducing Narayana Murthy as an actor, immediately seized the moment to make the Narayana Murthy feature Orey Rikshaw (1995) and the Vijayasanthi feature Osey Ramulamma (1997), both of which turned out to be big box-office grossers. With the turn of the new millennium, for more than one reason, the popularity of this trend fizzled out.

Another significant but rather sporadic trend of making serious alternative films in the region is closely associated with the name of B. Narasing Rao, a founder-member of the Art Lovers Association, which later came to be known as the Jana Natya Mandali. The credit goes to Mrinal Sen for providing the initial impetus when he decided to film “Kafan”, a story written by Munshi Premchand, in Telugu as Oka Oori Katha (1977) against the Telangana backdrop. This was followed by Maa Bhoomi (1979) by another Bengali film-maker, Gautam Ghose, which inspired the “red film” genre. Centring as it does on the Telangana rebellion of the 1940s, it is quite evident that such a film could not have been made without the able collaboration of Narasing Rao who, apart from writing the screenplay, also co-produced it. Ten years later, Narasing Rao made his debut as director with the film Daasi (1989), set once again against the Telangana backdrop. Although this film won five national awards, including the one for the best Telugu feature of the year, there were no further developments in that direction. Hailing from Secunderabad, Shyam Benegal based his early Hindi films like Ankur (1974) and Nishant (1975) on the Telangana backdrop. His bilingual Smita Patil feature, Kondura (1974) in Hindi and Anugraham (1978) in Telugu, is his lone contribution to Telugu cinema. Recently, if Mohan Krishna Indraganti’s directorial debut, Grahanam (2004), added another film to this minuscule oeuvre, then Shyam Benegal in his most recent (multiplex) film Well Done Abba (2010) returned once again to familiar region by locating the major part of the story against the backdrop of Hyderabad.

Within the mainstream, a new trend emerged in the late 1980s with the generic tendencies exemplified by Ram Gopal Varma’s prolific output from Shiva (1989) to Anaganaga Oka Roju (1997), and Mani Ratnam’s Geethanjali (1989). According to Srinivas, it was the inherent “blockage” of the mass film that could not tolerate the experiments of a Ram Gopal Varma or, for that matter, a Mani Ratnam. If Ram Gopal Varma was, in the bargain, more or less appropriated by Hindi cinema, returning once in a while to try his hand again at a Telugu film, Mani Ratnam has not made a Telugu film after his first venture in that direction. Moreover, though Mani Ratnam managed to make a film like Thalapathi (1991) with Rajinikanth, Ram Gopal Varma could never make a film again either with Chiranjeevi or with Balakrishna.

To cut a long story short, the inherent blockage of the mass film, in my opinion, could be termed as the Gentleman-trap. Incidentally, Chiranjeevi himself was so obsessed with Shankar’s Gentleman (1993), the dubbed version of which was a phenomenal hit in the region that he made sure that it was at least remade with him under the banner of Geetha Arts as The Gentleman (1994) in Hindi with Mahesh Bhatt wielding the megaphone. The blockage pertains to the narrative template of Gentleman within which the star’s image is negotiated.

In the mid-1990s, mass films started failing at the box office, necessitating a change even in the image of Chiranjeevi. This crisis was overcome at one level by recognising that some aesthetic space had to be given to production values as things could not rest totally on the star persona and at another level by redefining the star-fan equation with a new articulation so that the “rowdy citizen” of this genre exits, leaving behind a middle-class (vigilante) figure in the persona of the hero that surfaced first in a film like Gentleman. In the commercial formula of the dominant film as elaborated by Ravi Vasudevan, transgressive fantasies and their associated pleasures are initially unleashed by the hero’s criminal actions in the narrative. Later, a corrective balance in his character is effected either by way of a nourishing female character or a paternal figure so that those fantasies are contained and the hero is morally redeemed and the threatened order of the melodramatic universe is restored at the end.

Changes to the formula

With Gentleman, the function of such corrective figures was jettisoned. If they are present, they are there only to endorse the hero’s actions and not change his character. The narrative template itself undergoes a change as the motivation for the hero’s criminal actions are withheld. A series of highly enticing actions of the hero are linked to a secret which is revealed only at a turning point by way of flashback to a traumatic past which then retroactively provides all the justification necessary for his criminal actions, and in the end the hero gets away with very little punishment, if any. In contrast, in the Vijayakanth Tamil feature Ramana (2002), the vigilante hero finally surrenders his authority to the state, to accept the death sentence for his crimes. When the same film was remade by V.V. Vinayak as Tagore (2003) with Chiranjeevi in the lead, the blockage surfaced once again in terms of the industry belief that the star-hero should not die on the screen as the Telugu fan/spectator would never accept it. Therefore, the story was given a similar resolution as in Gentleman, where the hero gets away with little punishment. With the recent Mahesh Babu blockbuster Businessman (2012), made by Puri Jagannadh, where the traumatic past of the hero justifies even his wilful manipulations of the parliamentary electoral process to his advantage and getting away without any punishment, this form has reached its ultimate limit. Despite many such mass films failing, the Telugu industry still believes that it can continue to address the “credulous fan” by repeating such a form, though it knows that such a star-centric film with greater production values necessitates more investment and takes a longer time to complete, almost one year or more, in contrast to the rapidity with which they were churned out from the 1970s to the early 1990s. Even the firm entrenchment of satellite television, a highly fragmented fan base, the increasing fall in audience attendance, and the closure of many theatres are not forcing it to change its perceptions.

This does not imply though that new generic tendencies are absolutely absent in Telugu cinema. Raja Mouli, who started with typical mass films like Student No.1 (2001) and Simhadri (2003) featuring Jr NTR, experimented successfully with a sports film like Sye (2004), basing it on a thoroughly unfamiliar game in the region like rugby. He did it once again in the live action-animation combo Eega (2012). Chandra Sekhar Yelleti tried his hand successfully in the detective genre with a significant film like Anukokunda Oka Roju (2005). Mohan Krishna Indiraganti, after Grahanam, moved into the mainstream with middle-of-the-road films like Maya Bazar (2006), Asta Chamma (2008) and Golconda High School (2011) and still managed to retain a critical edge. If the success of Sekhar Suri’s A Film by Aravind (2005) has created more space for the horror genre, then Nandini Reddy’s Ala Modalaindi (2011) has proved that there is sufficient advantage in making romantic comedies within modest budgets.

With the advent of globalisation, new players like Walt Disney have entered Telugu cinema. Although Walt Disney’s first Telugu film Anaganaga Oka Roju (2011) bombed at the box office, sooner or later it is bound to make a mark, given its know-how and deep pockets. If the spread of digital technology has given rise to reasonably successful small films like Maruthi’s Ee Rojullo (2012) and Sunil Kumar Reddy’s Oka Romantic Crime Story (2012), it has also led to a deskilling of labour as the film laboratories are in the process of shutting down one by one. What the future of the Telugu film industry will be, now that Telangana will be made a separate State, remains a big question that cannot be clearly answered at present.

Venkatesh Chakravarthy is a film-maker and film scholar. He is the Dean of Ramanaidu Film School. Email:

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