Telugu filmmakers on a heroine hunt

Deccan Chronicle.  | BVS Prakash

Entertainment, Tollywood

Tollywood biggies have hit a roadblock — there’s a dearth of heroines — for their big ticket movies!

Kajal Aggarwal

Despite having dates from actors, director and technicians, producers are apparently unable to kick-start shootings as they are yet to rope in appropriate female leads.

Though Telugu cinema boasts of many beautiful senior actresses as well as young heroines, filmmakers are still on the lookout for divas from Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Mumbai, New Delhi and other states, sometimes spending days and weeks in these places to audition potential actresses.

Producer Anil Sunkara, who roped in B-town diva Aditi Rao Hydari for his upcoming movie Maha Samudram, admits to the quandary while stating that the situation is born more of a necessity than choice.

“Finding an appropriate heroine has become a big challenge for us in the last three to four years. Despite getting dates from big stars and technicians, at times we have to wait for the dates from the female lead, which forces us to scout for talented pretty girls from various states,” he explains.

Anil’s colleague and producer Achanta Gopinath recently roped in National-Award winning actress Keerthy Suresh to be paired opposite Mahesh Babu in their much-hyped movie Sarkaru Vaari Paata. Achanta offers several reasons for his decision, from language constraints to overexposure of actor pairs.

“Casting has become a key factor for big budget commercial movies, so we can’t take chances with newcomers. As for pairing up Mahesh Babu and Keerthy Suresh, I think it will be refreshing for the audiences. Additionally, the character in our story demands an actress who is pretty and talented, and Keerthy Suresh checks all those boxes,” says Achanta. “Besides, a few existing actresses have been overexposed, and there is a dearth of Telugu-speaking girls in the industry.”

Director Teja, who introduced numerous actors in the Telugu film industry, points out how filmmakers have to run from pillar to post to find talented actresses. “Although I want to introduce more Telugu girls into this industry, a casting call gets me only 5 to 6 applications from Telugu girls among 1000-odd aspirants, which doesn’t augur well for the Telugu industry,” he adds.

Concerns and considerations

Filmmakers face more sleepless nights with some of the established heroines, such as Samantha Akkineni and Shriya Saran, choosing to get married — so their choice of films will differ now. Soon to join the list is actress Kajal Aggarwal. Producer Abhishek Nama says, “After marriage, actresses tend to look for different kind of roles —  we have to see how Kajal will plan her career now. Nonetheless, we are going to run short of heroines further.”

If so, can B-town beauties Deepika Padukone, who’s working on a Prabhas-Nag Ashwin movie, and Alia Bhatt, who is doing RRR, fill the gap in Tollywood, we wonder.
“No way,” says Abhishek matter-of-factly. “Deepika and Alia are doing Telugu movies because those films are designed to be multilingual and pan-India movies. Earlier, even Aishwarya Rai and Janhvi Kapoor gave Telugu movies the thumbs down because they were fascinated with Hindi movies, which have worldwide recognition.”

However, even though there are glam divas in the reckoning, such as Pooja Hegde, Kiara Advani, Rakul Preet Singh, Raashi Khanna, Rashmika Mandanna, Sai Pallavi, Lavanya Tripathi, Ritu Varma, Nidhhi Agerwal and Nabha Natesh, filmmakers are still reluctant to cast them for various reasons.

Producer Bogavalli Prasad shares his thoughts. “Actually, Pooja Hegde and Kiara Advani have no dates to spare because they are busy in both Hindi and Telugu movies, while a few other actresses delivered flops and dented their ratings. We’ve been refraining from repeating even a ‘hit pair’ in back-to-back movies, hoping to give them a gap. In such a scenario, relying on borrowed talent is a safe bet,” he reveals.

Payal Rajput — who became a sensation of sorts after the 2018-blockbuster RX 100 and went on to work with actors such as Venkatesh and Ravi Teja — hails from New Delhi and is understandably unapologetic about her roots.

“Of course, I am a Delhi kudi and I love my city. But I think movies are meant to break man-made barriers of region, place and colour. The only difference I find being in Delhi and Hyderabad is that I will have paratthas for breakfast in Delhi and idli or dosas in Hyderabad. It is as simple as that,” reasons Payal, offering a smile.

Payal, who claims she’s received some offers during the lockdown but is waiting for the right script, admits that in a high-stakes industry such as this, flops can have an impact on actors’ careers. “I have realised that one has to be mentally strong to survive in the highly competitive Tinsel Town. I also believe that one solid hit will turn the tide,” she concludes.