It looks like the lines between real life and reel life in Telugu cinema are blurring, and hard-hitting stories are taking centre-stage. For many years, Telugu cinema was known for escapist movies, but new-gen directors are now serving realistic fare reflecting day-to-day problems and showcasing the achievements of ordinary people in mainstream cinema.
Recent blockbuster Uppena talked about caste discrimination destroying young lovers and Color Poto exposed the ill-treatment of dark-skinned people through the protagonist played by Suhas. Earlier, Dorasani depicted the arrogance of feudal lords, while George Reddy was about caste discrimination in college. And blockbuster Rangasthalam focussed on honour killing to score big at the box office, setting a trend for close-to-life themes. Now, young actor Sharwanand will be playing an ordinary, lungi-clad farmer in his upcoming movie Sreekaram while Akashavani realistically depicts the woes of tribal people.
“Escapist movies are slowly yielding space to topical themes in mainstream Telugu cinema, thanks to young directors. No more ‘four scenes and four songs movies’, as Telugu films have been riding on content for quite some time, matching Tamil and Malayalam cinema” says producer Ravi Shankar Yellamanchilli, who made Uppena. “We avoided killing and rounded of our rustic love saga on a happy note, showing the triumph of love over man-made upper and lower caste barriers,” he notes.
“It is a welcome sign that Telugu films are becoming more realistic and relatable these days. Social evils showcased in movies are triggering a debate among people, another good sign for sure,” says ace producer Suresh Babu, who is making a hard-hitting rural-based movie, Narappa, with seasoned actor Venkatesh.
“No doubt, the timing of our film is perfect since the audience is game for realism and even accepts top heroes in rustic avatars. Our movie talks less about caste-equations and more about education for the poor so that they can have better lives,” he explains. “Cinema can be one of the tools for societal change, but it cannot usher in complete change,” says Suresh.
“At the most, such films can trigger the conscience of viewers and make them ponder over the evil happenings around them,” he reasons.
Talking about his other big-ticket production Aranya starring Rana Daggubati, which focusses on encroachment of forests, particularly the habitat of elephants, he says, “Awareness of the environment and nature is rising rapidly across the world and our story is quite relevant at this juncture. It exposes the misdeeds of greedy human beings who eye forest wealth.”
Ravi Shankar says the Telugu audience was exposed to cinema in various languages during the lockdown, so he was confident that audiences would lap up his bold film Uppena. “Our confidence paid off,” he says. Young director Sandeep Raj had to overcome many apprehensions about Color Poto. “Everyone discouraged me from casting Suhas as the protagonist and also about the off-beat theme, but I stuck to my guns,” he says. “In the end, Suhas turned out to be ideal for the role, and won appreciation,” adds Sandeep, who based the story on real-life experiences of his friends who suffered ill-treatment on the basis of skin colour. “Villagers in remote areas are still fascinated with white skin and I think it will remain so for a few more decades,” he rues. “I know that my films can’t change the mindset of people, but they will surely make people feel guilty about their behaviour based on primitive ideas. I intend to dish out more such thought-provoking stuff,” he says.
Sharing an actor’s perspective on shades of realism in new-age Telugu cinema, national award-winning actress Priyamani says, “Out of 50-odd movies, 10 have realistic stories and believable characters.” She goes on to say, “I can vouch for the changing face of Telugu cinema over the last few years since I have worked in various language movies.” Her upcoming film Virata Parvam is based on incidents that really took place in Telangana in the 1990s, she reveals, adding, “portraying real-life characters is quite demanding, while fictional characters are bit easier in comparison.”