I've been meaning to do this for quite sometime now. Whenever I want to watch movies made in other languages, I Google for a list of films I, as a newbie, am supposed to begin with. And then it struck me that I could do the same with Telugu movies for all those who want to watch them but don't know where to begin, just as I started watching Tamil MA or Pithamagan because I found them to be the finest works in Tamil popularised by it's own people.
So, here's my list of two films for every year. There are a few disclaimer points though.
One, this is no extensive and exhaustive list. These are the movies I'd recommend to my non-Telugu friends and I'm only dealing with those movies made in the last decade because that is where my best knowledge is and also because they would fare better with the younger audience.
Two, I've avoided dubbing films and have searched for those films which have truly reflected our people and vice versa.
Three, I've analyzed the movies as to how an outsider would be able to best appreciate it. We make some fine comedies, but then I'm not sure they would really strike a chord with those who do not understand the language. So, the following films are basically those which I believe can be universally appreciated.
And yes, most importantly, the following list below contains only those films that have made me proud for being a Telugu speaker.
Let us begin.
1. Dollar Dreams- Kammula's debut and Tollywood's first real Indie film.
2. Manoharam- Great performances from the lead cast.
1. Kushi- The film that made Pawan Kalyan an overnight demigod and cultivated here a whole new idea of heroism.
2. Murari- Watch it for the sheer Telugu-ness of it.
1. Aadi- If you've ever seen a Telugu action film and wondered why Sumo's flew, watch this. A perfect example of a commercial hit.
2. Idiot- An unexpected bumper hit that catapulted the idea of rugged heroism.
1. Okkadu- What Kushi did to Power Star, Okkadu did it to the Prince. Heroism never looked more appealing than when it smoked clad in black and black.
2. Johnny- A flop, nevertheless a very aesthetic film from a mass darling.
Special Entry- Aithe- Nobody expected this to reach the cult status it did. A must watch for any non-Telugu audience.
1. Anand- A sleeper hit which again changed the idea of a hit movie.
2. Arya- A formula changer by an ex-Mathematics lecturer.
Special Entry- Grahanam- I am yet to watch the film but many say it is one of the finest Telugu film's ever made.
1. Anukokunda Oka Roju- After a stunner called Aithe, Yeleti came up something so technically rich and intellectually taut that people couldn't get enough of it.
2. Athadu- Considered the greatest dialogue writer in Telugu films, Trivikram and Mahesh Babu transformed the morose, quiet guy into a cult figure.
1. Godavari- A true romantic offing loosely based on the super hit Andala Ramudu.
2. Rakhi- Over the top at best and hypocritical at worst, watch it for NTR's ferociously honest performance.
1. Jagadam- Considered an equivalent to The Godfather and Nayagan, the idea of a 5'7", cute looking gangster seemed so plausible.
2. Operation Duryodhana- A mockery of the system, probably the first of its kind in Telugu.
1. Gamyam- Just when the going went bleak again, Tollywood got a taste of a world class effort from a supremely gifted storyteller.
2. Jalsa- The fact that Jalsa is here proves the kind of mediocre film's we've been producing. No other reason apart from the combination of Pawan Kalyan and Trivikram.
Special Entry- Ashta Chemma- You'll love it if you understand Telugu.
1. Magadheera- Enough of the Enthiran extravaganza. This came a year earlier and is in a lot of aspects, better than that.
2. Arya 2- To the sheer genius of Sukumar's craft.
Special Entry- 1940 lo oka gramam- Won the National award for best film in Telugu for the year.
1. Vedam- The Telugu equivalent of Babel. Anthology, ensemble cast, amazing acting and a magnificent screenplay. A true mirror to the kind of society we live in.
2. Prasthanam- A truly dramatic, intense film that took all the liberties it had to to make the film more appealing and succeeded doing it.
There goes the list. Before I leave you with it, I'd like to discuss a few things.
If you've noticed, I've used the word heroism a lot of times. Telugu film industry has a predominant fixation with the idea of Hero, the demigod, the all-encompassing one who can fight 50 people, sing and dance in the rain, save the life of his ailing father and turn Don to safeguard the society. We've been accustomed to that idea so much that anybody who doesn't do all that is not an hero for us. We cannot accept flawed people to be protagonists because they are far too real. Real, that has been this industry's biggest problem. It all happened when Megastar Chiranjeevi's succession started after Khaidi. Though a totally great, complete actor, he got stereotyped into an image of the perfect man and Indra sealed that fate for him. Sad because it had an adverse affect on the kind of people's expectations of their heroes. Pawan Kalyan was God in Kushi but two years later when he made a very fine film called Johnny, it flopped because we could not handle our heroes getting depressed or not being able to dictate their fates.
The other big probem is that for far too long, we've had only two genres in this industry; Love Stories or comedy-centered ones. True, we have outstanding comedians but then there is a limit, ain't there? We haven't been making films that people could identify with. True, Rajni has an image in Tamil Nadu as well but then surprisingly, Enthiran fared far better than Sivaji. That shows the kind of quality films Tamilians have been making. Directors like Bala, Selvaraghavan, Samutirakani, Ram and heroes like Dhanush, Jeeva, Karthee and Arya, to name the very few I know, have been creating a steady output of alternative cinema which surprisingly have been turning into hits like Tamil MA, Aadakulam, Ko and Paruthiveeran. Despite being mainstream actors competing with Ajith, Vijay and others, these actors have been making great cinema. All that apart, their two most popular stars Vikram and Surya have become superstars though they've been popularised by niche films.
I've been talking so much about Tamil films because I know more about them than other language films, because most of their films are dubbed into Telugu and because their directors and technicians are considered one of the finest in the country. PC Sreeram, Ravi K Chandran, Mani Ratnam, Anthony, Peter Heins, and Kamal Hassan for that matter.I'm not denying we aren't making good films, to hell we have writers and directors of equivalent prowess, if not better. Trivikram, Radhakrishna Jagarlamudi, Deva Katta, Sekhar Kammula, Puri Jagannath, SS Rajamouli and actors like Allu Arjun, Manoj and NTR Jr. not to mention Mahesh Babu and Pawan Kalyan. And then there is our very own inimitable RGV. With the advent of the NRI directors, there's been some change. But we need more real cinema, more real heroes. Gritty, to the ground, gut wrenching and exhilarating.
Telugu cinema for me now is a lot like what Hollywood was five years ago. Popular and money making but lacking reality. Tamil cinema is a lot like the Latin American wave of Alfonso Cauron, Alejandro Inarritu, Guillermo Del Toro, Walter Salles and my favourite, Fernando Meirelles. We need people like those now, people who've seen it all and have enough love to the craft of movie making. I hope we are moving towards that. But most importantly, I hope our audience deserves cinema of such high quality.