Majili, Oh! Baby, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy, Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya: Top ten Telugu films of 2019
On the whole, the Telugu film industry saw 190 straight releases, out of which only 10 percent were profitable.
This year was a mixed bag for Telugu cinema, but the writing on the wall was clear - the stakes are higher than ever for filmmakers and actors.
With the likes of Saaho, Maharshi, Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy among several other big budget films in its arsenal, it seemed like a promising for Telugu cinema right from the outset. On the whole, the Telugu film industry saw 190 straight releases, out of which only 10 percent were profitable.
While there were plenty of money-spinners this year, starting from F2 – Fun and Frustration to the recent Venky Mama and Prathi Roju Pandage, what stood out the most this year was the proliferation of small films with a unique voice. Be it Ashwin Saravanan’s genre-bending Game Over or Samantha-starrer Oh! Baby, which was a celebration of life itself, 2019 had quite a lot to offer to the audience beyond action and epic dramas.
Here is a list of some of the best films of 2019 and how they tackled the themes they were trying to showcase.
Naga Chaitanya, Samantha and Divyansha Kaushik's Majili, directed by Shiva Nirvana, dealt with marriage, acceptance, and memories in a contemporary manner. It’s about love and how people often struggle with relationships, whether it’s accepting someone new in their life or letting go off the old ones. In one of the most memorable scenes in the film, Chaitanya, who plays Poorna, finds himself sitting in a hotel room, which is more like a portal to his past.
He reminisces about his past, when he fell in love with Anshu (Divyansha), despite knowing that he’s married to Sravani (Samantha), who keeps yearning for his love and attention while never saying it as many words. This complex relationship between a couple, where the husband refuses to live in the present and the wife never gives up hope, adds a different layer to the story, which is more like Shiva Nirvana’s love letter to the city, Vizag, where he grew up. All in all, Majili is a beautiful love story with a strong ensemble cast.
In Gowtham Tinnanuri’s Jersey, Nani stars as Arjun, a middle-aged cricketer who decides to get back to the field when everyone else around him reminds him that he’s past his prime. Everything around him seems bleak, but the only silver lining in Arjun’s life is his son, who worships his father as a hero. When his son asks Arjun to buy the official jersey of Indian cricket team, it forces him to do the unthinkable.
Jersey is a tribute to the undying spirit of a sportsperson and it proves that it is never too late to dream big in life. It also has a beautiful relationship, between a father and his son, which lends this cricket drama its human element. Nani is exceptional as the cricketer who beats all odds and inspires others in the process. Sathyaraj and Shraddha Srinath too leave a strong impression, and Anirudh Ravichander’s rousing background score is another highlight in the film.
Ashwin Saravanan’s Tamil-Telugu bilingual film, Game Over, is part-horror, part-survival drama, and part-thriller, but it’s hard to classify it under any one category. The film, starring Taapsee Pannu tells the story of a wheelchair-bound game developer Swapna, already fighting the ghosts of her past, and what happens to her when three masked-men break into her home.
It’s unlike any other film made in recent years, and the credit goes to Ashwin and his co-writer Kavya for dealing the narrative in a sensitive manner. The film isn’t only about how one woman manages to escape from imminent danger to her life, but also about how she draws strength from the life of an unlikely source to fight back. Taapsee delivers yet another memorable performance and it’s evident in the way she portrays fear and strength while being wheelchair-bound for most part of the film.
Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya
Naveen Polishetty’s Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya is packed with surprises. It’s not just the milieu that lends it a new flavour, after all there aren’t as many films that are set in Nellore, but also the film’s lead character, and his quirks, who springs a big surprise. Naveen is a revelation in the lead character as a small-town detective struggling to find a big case. The film takes its time to find its groove, but the moment it hits top gear, Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya turns into a rewarding experience.
Directed by Swaroop, the film was co-written by Naveen and Swaroop, and it tackles the price one pays for believing in superstitions, and how a detective goes on a wild goose chase to crack a case involving lot of unidentified dead bodies found near railway tracks. The film has been in the news so much, ever since its release, that it’s become a shining example of the new wave of Telugu cinema.
Raj Rachakonda’s Mallesham, a biopic of Padma Shri Chintakindi Mallesham, is a moving drama about the struggle that the weavers community go through to make a decent living, and how women bore the brunt of the laborious tasks involved in the weaving of a sari. Set in the ‘90s, Raj Rachakonda’s eye for detail and an earnest attempt to be true to the story and its setting is visible in every scene of the film. Among the actors, Priyadarshi and Jhansi poured life into their respective characters, and by the end of the film, you realise that Mallesham is about
a man and his love for his mother.
It’s an ode to the thousands of bright young people in rural areas who find inventive ways to solve their problems, when no one even wants to listen to them. Mallesham is the indie film of Telugu film of the year, and you’ll never see the sari the same way again after watching the film.
Written and directed by Vivek Athreya, Brochevarevarura seems like it has a story within a story, until you realise that Vivek has pulled the rug under your feet. It narrates the story of three friends (played by Sree Vishnu, Rahul Ramakrishna, and Priyadarshi) and a girl (Nivetha Thomas) they befriend in college. When she confesses to them that she was molested by a family friend, it triggers a series of events which forces her father to confront his own prejudices and how he has treated his daughter over the years.
It’s one of the few films to have addressed the issue of sexual harassment (the other being Dear Comrade) and how important it is to have a strong support system for victims, and for that alone, this Vivek Athreya’s film deserves to be seen. That the humour and drama is beautifully woven into the script is just the icing on the cake.
Samantha is a sight to behold in Nandini Reddy’s Oh! Baby, the Telugu remake of Korean hit drama Miss Granny. The actress has had an impressive list of films in recent years, but with Oh! Baby, she has hit another level of her acting prowess. The film itself is no less than a therapeutic experience, and its portrayal of relationships, old age, and what it means to have a family, and what we miss when our parents and grandparents pass away is exemplary.
It’s a celebration of life and a hugely relevant film for modern times where we don’t seem to have time for the near and dear. There’s also a subtle commentary about a woman’s desire, the sacrifices she makes for her family, and what she wants to achieve in the last phase of her life. In short, Oh! Baby is most heartwarming film of the year and it leaves a big smile on your face long after watching the film.
Ramesh Varma’s Rakshasudu, starring Bellamkonda Sai Sreenivas and Anupama Parameshwaran, is the Telugu remake of Vishnu Vishal-starrer Ratchasan, which was a huge hit in Tamil. The film follows the journey of a young police officer, who himself was an aspiring filmmaker, and how he cracks the mystery behind a series of murders in the city.
The nail-biting drama and edge of the seat action, aided by terrific cinematography and thrilling background score, caught everyone’s attention, and gave the film’s lead actor and director their first bonafide hit in a long time. This was a remake that was done the right way.
Evaru, the Telugu adaptation of the Spanish film The Invisible Guest, is yet another feather in Adivi Sesh’s cap after Goodachari and Kshanam established him as one of the most exciting actors in contemporary Telugu cinema. Directed by newcomer Ramji Venkat, the film had Adivi Sesh playing a corrupt cop, Vikram Vasudev, who meets Sameera (Regina) to investigate a murder case.
The film goes back and forth as both Vikram and Sameera try to string together the exact sequence of events, which led to the murder of DSP Ashok Krishna (Naveen Chandra), and how the duo’s conversations reveal their deepest secrets and fears. Ramji Venkat’s deft handling of the narrative and strong performances from the lead cast filled Evaru with plenty of intrigue and tension until it sprang a big surprise in its
Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy
Among the big ticket films which released in 2019, Chiranjeevi, Nayanthara, and Tamannaah starrer Sye Raa Narasimha Reddy stood out for reviving the life and times of Uyyalawada Narasimha Reddy, who led an uprising against the British East India Company in mid-19th century. The rousing patriotic drama focused more on the turbulent times of its era where people across East India Company-ruled regions were forced to pay taxes, which were almost always draconian in nature.
Chiranjeevi’s fiery performance in the titular role was well complemented by a strong supporting cast which had the likes of Amitabh Bachchan, Sudeep, Vijay Sethupathi, and Jagapathi Babu. Tamannaah, in particular, stole the show in the latter half of the film as a dancer who aides Narasimha Reddy in his uprising. Directed by Surender Reddy, the film might have lacked the consistency that one expects from a period drama, but when it hits the emotional chords, the film dazzles with a patriotic fervour that’s rarely seen in Telugu cinema.
Honorable mentions :
Directed by Ritesh Rana, Mathu Vadalara sprang a big surprise with its superb blend of suspense and comedy. The film is about three friends and what happens when one of them gets accidentally involved in a crime. Strong performances from the lead actors aside, the film also marks the debut of a promising
Raja Varu Rani Garu
In Ravi Kiran Kola’s Raja Varu Rani Garu, the lead character struggles to confess his love because he tells his friends that he doesn’t have the courage to hear a ‘no’ from his love interest. And this plays a spoilsport in his life and breaks him apart when the girl’s father finds another suitor for her. A simple romantic drama, the film brought alive the sights and sounds of a village in a beautiful manner.
Vijay Deverakonda, Rashmika starrer Dear Comrade is like watching two different films packed into one and it’s only in the end that you realise what the characters have been struggling to come to terms with. Vijay brings his charisma and irresistible appeal to big screen once again, but the film truly belongs to Rashmika who delivers the best performance of her career, so far.
Set in the ‘80s, Dorasaani is the love story between an upper caste girl and a lower caste boy. When they don’t find enough words to express their love for each other, rain fills a void in their lives and then, a raging storm, fueled by casteism and class divide, breaks everything apart. Directed by KVR Mahendra, the film is like poetry in motion.
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