National Awards 2019: Mahanati, Rangasthalam winning big coincides with rise of Telugu cinema at a national level

Hemanth Kumar

Aug 13, 2019 15:43:46 IST

It’s been 29 years since an actress won the National Award in Best Actress category for a Telugu film.

To put things in perspective, when Vijayashanti won the award in this category back in 1990, Keerthy Suresh, who won the award this year for her performance in Mahanati, wasn’t even born. And the National Award for Best Original Screenplay was given to a Telugu film only twice since 1967 (Neelakanta’s Show in 2004 and Tharun Bhascker’s Pellichoopulu (Best Dialogues)), before Rahul Ravindran’s Chi La Sow was named as the winner this year.

It is the first time that a Telugu film won the award for Best Make-up (Ranjith for Awe!) and only the second time the Best Costume Design award went to a Telugu film since 1984. Sudharshan, the costume designer of Daasi, won the award in 1988 before the team of Mahanati, Indrakshi Pattanaik, Gaurang Shah and Archana Rao, won the award at the 66th National Film Awards.

On the whole, Telugu cinema won seven awards in various categories, easily it’s best haul since the National Film Awards were established by the Government of India.

 National Awards 2019: Mahanati, Rangasthalam winning big coincides with rise of Telugu cinema at a national level

Keerthy Suresh in a still from Mahanati. YouTube

For an industry which churns out more than 200 films in a year, Telugu cinema’s abysmal show at National Film Awards for more than two decades has been the recurring theme year after year. Take for instance, between 2000-2010, the jury panel didn’t find any Telugu film worthy enough of the award for Best Feature film in Telugu for as many as five years (no Telugu film won the award in 2002, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2011).

Over the last decade, the only category where Telugu films continued to make a mark was Best Special Effects category where SS Rajamouli’s Magadheera, Eega, Baahubali : The Beginning, and Baahubali : The Conclusion won the awards, and now Prasanth Varma’s Awe! joined the list after it was judged joint-winner along with Prashanth Neel’s KGF.

“There was a time when jury members wouldn’t even watch Telugu films, leave alone consider them for awards. And the lack of representation from Telugu film industry in the jury and the selection process dented the chances of Telugu films to win any major awards,” a filmmaker said, on the condition of anonymity. Traditionally, jury panels for various national awards have favoured Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, and Hindi cinema, and from the ‘90s, Telugu cinema didn’t quite make its mark.

The surge of larger-than-life action dramas throughout the ‘90s and ‘00s further divided the gap between Telugu cinema and national awards. On the other hand, in the past few years, the arbitrary selection of few films also cast a shadow of doubt over how fair the national awards were while rewarding excellence in cinema. It’s little wonder that Telugu filmmakers and producers kept reiterating that they make films to entertain the audience and not to win awards.

Samantha Akkineni and Ram Charan in a still from Rangasthalam. YouTube

Samantha Akkineni and Ram Charan in a still from Rangasthalam. YouTube

From an era where Telugu films were often brushed aside to a year where the industry bagged seven awards, the journey coincides with the steady rise of Telugu cinema on the national scene. A case in point being SS Rajamouli’s Baahubali : The Beginning, which won the Best Feature Film award, and later, Baahubali : The Conclusion won the Best Popular Film. Moreover, a spate of remakes and big-budget spectacle cinema has made Telugu cinema too hard to ignore, but more importantly, people privy to the selection process say that the biggest differentiating factor has been a change of attitude towards Telugu cinema among the jury members.

The films which won the awards too were critically acclaimed when they released in 2018 and Mahanati, in particular, has been the favourite to sweep the awards. Perhaps, it was also the aesthetics of filmmaking in all these films that caught everyone’s attention. For instance, in their citation for Best Audiography award to the Re-recordist of the final mixed track, Raja Krishnan M.R (Rangasthalam), the jury said, “Playing with beauty and essence of the tonal quality of the silence.” And for Ranjith, the Best Make-up Artist award winner for Awe!, the jury said his work was chosen “For bringing out the texture of each face and giving personality to every character.”

On Friday, as soon as the 66th National Film Awards were announced, some of the biggest names in Telugu cinema, including Chiranjeevi, SS Rajamouli, Mahesh Babu, NTR, Ram Charan, Nagarjuna, Kajal Aggarwal, and others congratulated the winners whole-heartedly.

Nithya Menen in a still from Awe!. YouTube

Nithya Menen in a still from Awe!. YouTube

Talking to Firstpost, Keerthy Suresh, who won the award for Best Actress (Mahanati), said, “I’m surprised and still in a state of awe on the recognition bestowed by the award committee. It’s a dream come true and I’m feeling on top of the world. I owe it to my director Nag Ashwin, and my producers Swapna Dutt, Priyanka Dutt and Ashwini Dutt, all others in the team who placed immense faith in me to play the legendary Savithri garu’s role.” The team of Mahanati dedicated the award to Savithri and Nag Ashwin, the director of the film, stated that it’s the most special film of his career.

Indrakshi Pattanaik, who won the award for Best costume design for Mahanati, confesses that the National Award is a mark of validation for her work. “ Initially, I thought people were congratulating me because Mahanati had won Best Telugu film and Best Actress awards, but when my husband messaged me that I won the national award, I broke down. It’s one of the few awards where the work of costume designers is recognised and feels like a miracle has happened in my life. Mahanati will always be a special film for me,” Indrakshi said.

For Rahul Ravindran too, winning the national award for Best Original Screenplay (Chi La Sow), he says, feels like validation for some of the key decisions he took before he made before entering the film industry. “Chi La Sow was a small film, but thanks to this award, it has reached a lot more people. After submitting the film a few months ago, we completely forgot about it. We were competing with some of the more popular films in Telugu, but to win an award in the competitive category feels all the more special. For an outsider like me, this is an incredible feeling,” Rahul Ravindran said.

Updated Date: Aug 13, 2019 15:43:46 IST