Aravinda Sametha, Rangasthalam, Arjun Reddy: Tollywood is warming up to local dialects of Telugu-speaking states

Hemanth Kumar

October 20, 2018 13:51:14 IST

With more than 25 different dialects, the rich history of the Telugu language is well-documented. The language continues to thrive across Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. However, over the years, Telugu film industry’s track record, when it comes to embracing various regional dialects, has been unimpressive at best. For nearly three decades, it was a common practice to make supporting characters or villains speak in a distinct regional dialect, but the lead actors stuck to a neutral dialect. All this made you wonder about the politics of culture and language, and why films like Pellichoopulu, Arjun Reddy, Fidaa, Rangasthalam, C/O Kancherapalem and Aravinda Sametha are significant in breaking the barrier.

In the past few days, Jr NTR-starrer Aravinda Sametha has been in the spotlight for its focus on the Rayalaseema dialect. It truly was a cut above the other films set in a similar backdrop. At a recent event, writer and lyricist Penchal Das thanked Jr NTR for speaking in an authentic Rayalaseema dialect in Aravinda Sametha. “Although there were several films set in Rayalaseema in the past, none of the heroes in the past spoke our dialect. It was only restricted to the villains. I must thank Trivikram Srinivas and Jr NTR for making an effort to reflect the beauty of Rayalaseema dialect through this film,” he said. Penchal Das, who works as a teacher in Kadapa district in Rayalaseema region, was brought on board to write lyrics for a couple of songs and tweak the dialogues to bring a strong Rayalaseema flavour. Srinivas was so impressed with him that Das was also entrusted with a task to ensure authenticity of dialect spoken by the actors in Aravinda Sametha.

A still from Aravinda Sametha. Image via Twitter

A still from Aravinda Sametha. Image via Twitter

“Penchal Das’ contribution to the film is immense. Everyone lives in a village, but there’s a village in Penchal Das himself, and that’s what added so much flavour to the film. He introduced me (to) several new Telugu words like papodu (young boy) and sagiripoddhu (midnight), and I can’t explain how thrilled I was to learn something new from him,” Srinivas said. Ask him if he ever had second thoughts about the extensive use of the Rayalaseema dialect, since not everyone is well-versed with it, and he says, “We did think about it, but we wanted to take the risk to retain the authenticity. Sometimes, even if you don’t understand a word, you’ll understand its meaning. Telugu is our mother tongue and subconsciously, we are wired to understanding the language and its various dialects even if we don’t know everything about them.”

Then, there is 2018’s biggest blockbuster, Rangasthalam, where Ram Charan spoke in the Godavari dialect. It was imperative that he does so since the film, directed by Sukumar, was set in the ‘80s in a village on the banks of the Godavari. Venkatesh Maha’s C/O Kancharapalem, which was set in a suburb of Vizag, too was applauded for its authenticity. Apart from Aravindha Sametha, which delved into a dialect spoken commonly in the Kadapa and Anantapur districts, Merlapaka Gandhi’s Krishnarjuna Yuddham, starring Nani, delved into another dialect spoken primarily in the Chittoor district. The difference between the two might be subtle, but the accents and how a character stresses on particular words give the language a different nuance altogether.

Putting it in perspective, SV Srinivas, who teaches at the School of Liberal Arts, Azim Premji University, Bengaluru, says, “Dialects and accents are usually a geographical indicator of where a story is set in. One of the earliest films where the Godavari dialect became instantly popular was Muthyala Muggu, where Rao Gopal Rao’s dialogues became quite popular. For quite some time, the dialect from East and West Godavari districts became a mainstay in Telugu films, because we had quite a few filmmakers and actors emerging from that region. Although Telugu films always had accents in some form or another, it wasn’t quite consistent enough. In the past, only the minor characters or the villains spoke in a different dialect, whereas the hero would speak in a neutral accent. RGV’s Shiva, for instance, had quite a few supporting characters speaking in Telangana dialect. However, the antagonist, Bhavani (Raghuvaran), spoke a coastal Andhra dialect. That film, in particular, set the tone of how characters from different parts of Hyderabad would be depicted in Telugu films. Criminals, who are based in Old City, would speak in a Telangana dialect or Dakhni, but not the hero.”

Ram Charan in a promo for Rangasthalam. Image via Twitter

Ram Charan in a promo for Rangasthalam. Image via Twitter

Language is often used as a tool to underline a character’s socioeconomic status. Filmmaker Narayana Murthy, who made a series of films to highlight issues faced by people in Telangana, was among the few filmmakers in the ‘90s who tried to normalise the dialect. However, the reach of such films was quite limited. Dasari Narayana Rao’s Osey Ramulamma, starring Vijayashanthi, was another film, set in Telangana, which turned the spotlight on feudalism and atrocities committed by the upper castes. For far too long, the Telangana dialect was often used for comic relief with popular comedians and supporting actors like Srihari, Venu Madhav, Telangana Shakuntala, Thagubothu Ramesh, Fish Venkat and Raghu Karumanchi resorting to it.

A decade ago, however, there has been a tectonic shift, thanks the movement for a separate Telangana state, in terms of how Telangana dialect became more mainstream. Films like Fidaa, Pellichoopulu, and Arjun Reddy normalised the dialect so much that it’s become a mainstay in Telugu films in general. “During the Telangana statehood movement, there was a lot of debate about how the Telangana culture and dialect were being ridiculed in mainstream Telugu cinema, and it made a lot of difference in subsequent years. You know that you can’t get away with it anymore, and when you become sensitive to something, you begin to see a lot of change in various fields. Among all the films in recent times, Arjun Reddy was quite significant because it normalised the Telangana dialect without trying too hard. The film doesn’t try to reflect the region. A part of the film unfolds in Mangalore, and yet, the characters speak the Telangana dialect,” SV Srinivas says.

Talking about how the Telangana dialect became a rage among the audience, Rahul Ramakrishna, who shot to fame with his role in Arjun Reddy, adds, “More than conscious imbibing or being an USP, sub regional linguistic assertions are directly related to mainstream political developments. The Telangana dialect and its usage are gaining more legitimacy than ever post the formation of the state. Whatever happens on a political podium, its effects are visible in mainstream cinema and therefore, instantly taken up for consumption by the audience at large. Needless to say, it is a welcome development and perhaps, a long cherished one.”

Updated Date: Oct 20, 2018 13:51 PM