Rangasthalam, Mahanati, C/O Kancharapalem: Telugu cinema embraced content-driven films in 2018
More than ever before, Telugu cinema and its audiences embraced content-driven films in 2018.
The slow winds of change that were blowing in Telugu cinema for the past couple of years turned into a storm in 2018.
Complacency had no place in the scheme of things anymore, and the response was swift and ruthless, so to speak. This couldn’t be more true in the case of Pawan Kalyan-Trivikram’s Agynaathavaasi, which bombed at the box-office in the beginning of 2018. Critics panned the film, but more than that, the backlash from the audience was a clear signal to the film industry that times had changed dramatically, and stardom alone can’t come to a film’s rescue.
The writing on the wall was clear - A mere cut-out of an A-list star isn’t good enough anymore. A film needs to have strong content too. And more than ever before, Telugu cinema and its audiences embraced content-driven films in 2018.
A Race To The Top
2018 saw the rise of Vijay Devarakonda as a force to reckon with, thanks to the staggering success of Geetha Govindam. The film became one of the most profitable films of all time, and Vijay, in particular, was hailed as the next big star in the industry. A month after Geetha Govindam’s release, Vijay returned with another long-awaited film Taxiwaala. Despite falling prey to piracy months before its release, Taxiwaala went on to become a big hit and the actor’s mojo was enough to bring the audiences to the theatres in big numbers.
Among the A-list stars, Ram Charan stunned everyone with his remarkable portrayal of Chitti Babu in Sukumar’s Rangasthalam. While his stardom was never in question over the years, with Rangasthalam, Ram Charan showed that his acting potential was yet to be tapped to its full extent.
After a long gap, Mahesh Babu too scored a blockbuster with Bharat Ane Nenu, in which he played the role of a young chief minister with aplomb. Directed by Koratala Siva, the film gave Telugu film industry its second consecutive hit post Rangasthalam in summer this year. NTR Jr too scored the biggest of his career with Trivikram Srinivas’ Aravinda Sametha, which explored the aftermath of violence in the Rayalaseema region.
While the aforementioned films went on to make big bucks at the box-office, another huge surprise came in the form of a biopic of Savitri - Mahanati. Directed by Nag Ashwin, the film had Keerthy Suresh playing the lead role, and with the likes of Dulquer Salmaan, Samantha, and Vijay Deverakonda playing other important roles, Mahanati went on to become a huge critical and commercial success. Not only did it open doors for a lot more biopics to be made in Telugu, Mahanati’s success gave a huge impetus to filmmakers to focus on stories and roles which are written for women, predominantly.
Samantha was also one of the biggest newsmakers of 2018 with critically acclaimed roles in films like Rangasthalam and Mahanati to her credit, and the actress continued to ride high on the success wave with bold choices like playing a journalist in U-Turn and singing the remake of a Korean remake of ‘Miss Granny’, where she plays an old woman who finds herself in the body of a 20-year-old woman.
Turning The Tables
Telugu cinema’s obsession with male-centric narratives isn’t going to change anytime soon, but the year saw an increasing number of filmmakers write better roles for female leads and supporting characters.
Case in point, Keerthy Suresh’s portrayal of Savitri, and how well Nag Ashwin focused on the upheavals in her life. One of the iconic scenes from the film, and also in 2018, saw Keerthy Suresh break into tears when she confronts Dulquer Salmaan after she finds him with another woman, and in another particularly well-shot sequence, she finds her life turn upside down, quite literally, when she spots a bottle of alcohol in the room. If these two sequences don’t move you, and convince you what a fine actress Keerthy is, then perhaps, nothing else will.
Prior to Mahanati, Anushka Shetty continued her stellar form with Bhaagamathie, a thriller directed by Ashok G, which became one of the highest grossing female-centric films in recent times. Raashi Khanna too made a solid impression with her performance in Tholiprema, and Prashanth Varma’s experimental film Awe! was filled with fine performances from Nithya Menen, Rohini, Eesha Rebba, and also Kajal Aggarwal.
Blockbuster films like Rangasthalam too had well-written roles for its women including Samantha and Anasuya, and Rashmika was the heart and soul of Geetha Govindam. Another memorable performance of the year was delivered by Aditi Rao Hydari in Indraganti Mohana Krishna’s heartwarming Sammohanam. In her role as an actress named Sameera, who falls in love with an illustrator, Aditi truly embodied the innocence and sadness that was inherent to the character. Her sparkling chemistry with Sudheer Babu was a joy to watch.
It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that no other film came close to what Rahul Ravindran conjured up in his heartfelt romantic drama, Chi La Sow, especially in terms of writing the female characters with sensitivity and a positive outlook on life, even in their darkest hour. Both Ruhani Sharma and Rohini left an indelible impression with their respective performances.
In sharp contrast to this was Sashi Kiran Tikka’s Goodachari in which Sobhita Dhulipala, Supriya Yarlagadda, and Madhu Shalini rub their shoulders with the men around them to show that they can land plenty of punches convincingly. On the other hand, Ajay Bhupathi’s RX100, which became a surprise hit, pushed the envelope even further. The film’s lead character Indu, played by Payal Rajput, is complex, and the climax was shocking, to say the least.
One of the year’s best films, and perhaps the most unlikely contender too given Telugu cinema’s obsession with commercial cinema, was helmed by newcomer Venkatesh Maha, whose indie-film C/O Kancharapalem was nothing short of a legitimate achievement. Shot in real locations, the film delved into the lives of four different characters, each struggling with the vagaries of life, loss of innocence, and religion. It’s storytelling at its best and that the whole team, comprising scores of newcomers, pulled it off so effectively that it deserves multiple viewings.
Venkatesh Maha was one of the best finds of 2018, apart from Venky Kudumula (Chalo), Venky Atluri (Tholiprema), Sashi Kiran Tikka (Goodachari), Ajay Bhupathi (RX100), and Rahul Ravindran (Chi La Sow), all of whom made some of the most talked about films of 2018. Prashanth Varma’s debut film Awe! too was quite ambitious in terms of what he wanted to convey and his effort didn’t go unnoticed.
2018 was also the year when the walls of stardom crumbled for several formidable names. Three of Ravi Teja’s films bombed miserably, two of Nithiin’s films got a thumbs down from the audiences, and several others including directors like Puri Jagannadh and Sreenu Vaitla were criticised for their shoddy work. The fact that RGV’s Officer opened to some of the worst possible numbers at the box-office, despite starring Nagarjuna, explains a lot about how much the audiences had changed.
Given the far-reaching impact of social media these days, nothing is sacrosanct anymore and Telugu film industry would do well to pay attention to the storm that is uprooting the old order to make way for the new. In 2018, it’s the new - be it in the form of fresh perspectives or storytelling - that was handsomely rewarded. And we can only hope that the trend continues over the span of next few months, if not more.
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