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I Too Want To Boast About Movies In My Mother Tongue – Telugu. But Do They Deserve It?

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By PV Durga:

Switching on the TV, watching a Telugu music channel, and ending up watching an audio launch, has pretty much been typical of Sunday evenings. The event would be graced by the who’s who of Tollywood, and marked by loud cheering from an audience (who, I sometimes feel, don’t even know how much of their time they’re wasting on an actor they can’t even manage to get a glimpse of, in all that frenzy). The director and hero shower praises on each other, and in hindsight, realize that it is the music director’s day, and praise him too. The actress is sitting pretty clueless too. Neither can she understand the language (this is probably her debut in Telugu cinema), nor the patriarchal nature of the function, because apart from the compere, there is no other woman on stage; and nobody who talks about her acting skills. That gives me a prelude into how the film is going to be.

So, if you want to watch a movie that has raked in the moolah in the Telugu box office, learn to expect the following:

1) A larger than life actor harping endlessly about the glory of his father/ grandfather, and their achievements/ contribution to Telugu cinema, and, of course, the glory of his whole lineage.
2) An actress who has no idea about what she is doing in the movie, much like her condition in the audio launch. She exists only because the hero can save her and reiterate about the aforementioned glory.
3) Six mandatory songs in exotic locations.
4) A well- built villain who is extremely dumb, whose goons can only attack the hero one by one so that we can see his fighting prowess.
5) Few fight sequences that are every physics students’ nightmare.

tollywood

Ironically, it is these no- brainers that put me into a contemplative mood when I step out of the theatre. Is it because the makers underestimate the intellect of the audience? Until a few decades ago, directors like Bapu and K. Viswanath gave us some of the finest movies in Indian cinema. Actors appeared in the movies to act, and not harp about their glory or live up to a certain image. Telugu movies received national and even international recognition. Bapu’s movie “Seetha Kalyanam” (1976) was screened at the BFI London Film Festival, among others, and is also part of the course at the British Film Institute. K. Viswanath’s classics swept the National Awards many a times. Telugu cinema also boasts of some of the finest mythological films in cinema history, as well as family dramas. Why is it that now movies like “Jenda Pai Kapiraju”, “Chandamama Kadhalu”, “Aithe”, and others which receive critical acclaim, are unable to sell at the box office? Why is it that a good script still needs faces that sell, and an established production house? Is it true that these “big heroes” and their production houses are sabotaging small cinema and impeding their release?

Sadly, these commercial entertainers are promoted with gusto, and some genuinely good movies go unnoticed. So every time I am part of a conversation at college which is about movies, I am confronted with the question: “Telugu cinema is all about fighting and heroism, right?” I want to strongly oppose that statement, but if 90% of the movies are that way, can I? I too want to boast about movies in my mother tongue, like I can boast about the ones that were made in the past. Is anybody listening?

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  1. Sahithi Kompella

    Awesome article. Extremely good. Really gives a thought of interrospection to an audience which likes movies displaying heroism which has nothing to with the reality. And the role of heroine is well described. It’s true that she is used as a tool to display heroism or to attract more and more audience. It is really sad to see the standard of our movies declining.

  2. Pratyusha Dwivedi

    Thank you for this! Though Telugu is my mother tongue, I have watched only a handful of movies in the language, most of them only in the last 10 years or so. I have always been afraid to make my view public as it is limited. However, your well-articulated article covers exactly what I have seen in all the movies of late, which always leaves me frustrated and disappointed. I would like to add a few more observations here. There are often either two heroines, or two avatars of the heorine – the skimpily dressed modern, voluptuous one and the traditionally clad conservative meek one. And needless to say, the latter preferred is the preferred one. Further, the hero invariably has a sister-in-law who does nothing but tolerate the idiosyncrasies of the men in the house and perform her household duties. Isn’t it time women find a more substantive character? While there’s more in this context that I would like to add, I’ll stop here.
    Also, there is an inclusion of a random set of Hindi and/or English words in the song that I find unnecessary.

    When this industry once doled out classics like Mayabazar and Patala Bhairavi, among others, and a number of good films in recent times too,why this degradation of quality over the years? We have great talent that can be harnessed if people stepped out of their comfort zones. As you have rightly pointed out, is the intellect of the audience thought of as inferior? Or is it being left unchallenged with a purpose – to bring in money the easy way?

    Once while discussing this with a friend, she pointed out a similar trend in Bengali cinema. An industry that was home to Satyajit Ray and Rituparno Ghosh, the overall standard seems to have only gone downhill. While Bollywood cinema has undergone drastic changes and is more diverse now, there is no doubt that it still has a long way to go . Which brings me to wonder if films across the country need to seriously take a look at what they are offering us . The audience too needs to demand and open itself up more to receiving films of a less brain-dead and/or patriarchal nature.

    1. Durga

      I totally agree with you, but there is another side to this whole debate: there are people who watch movies only for entertainment value.
      But I think the problem is movies need to be promoted honestly. Actors, directors and producers say that they are making movies for fans. But if it’s going to be a no-brainer, they must learn to claim that it is purely entertainment. There should be honesty on the part of film makers too, who shouldn’t use fans as the excuse for making horrible films.

  3. Amlan

    Well, being a boy from Assam, shifting to Bengaluru, for education and job, I have managed to see Assamese, Hindi as well as a good number of South Indian Movies, mainly Kannada and Telegu movies.So from my experience, I think I completely agree with this article. Telegu and Kannada movies are filled with Aggression and Fights. Moreover, they are surely of sexist, patriarcal nature, basically directly or indirectly showing the importance and gloryies of having a son, always talking about fathers, grandfathers and forefathers, and not focusing to the same degree on mothers, grandmothers, and foremothers as if their life is only to serve a man, identities always adjunct to men and the work they do to maintain their families or not of enough value to deserve focus, power and recognition. But, the good thing is that unlike Hindi movies, obsceneity in South Indian films are less. The good thing about Hindi movies is that their is now some winds of change.Talking about Assamese films, they monotonous basically romanced centered and are also of quite patriarchal nature, where girls are mainly to be married and hence only to graduate and find a rich man, where exactly the romance tend to be centered but violence is lesser and focus on mothers and grandmothers is slight higher but otherwise traditional and properly accomodated to the modern social changes. Because of this monotony Assamese film industry is suffering but like Hindi films there are now a few winds of change. Films surely need to, be it directly or indirectly stop showcasing violence, patriarchy and obscenity. Instead they should try to bring a positive social change away from all these. They also need to diversify and get out of the traditionalism and monotony. Kanchana ( Tamil), Bahubali (Telegu), Mary Kom ( Hindi), Tare Zameen Par (Hindi), Ajeyo ( Assamese), Shionr (Assamese) are surely a move in this direction.

  4. Amlan

    Well, being a boy from Assam, shifting to Bengaluru, for education and job, I have managed to see Assamese, Hindi as well as a good number of South Indian Movies, mainly Kannada and Telegu movies.So from my experience, I think I completely agree with this article. Telegu and Kannada movies are filled with Aggression and Fights. Moreover, they are surely of sexist, patriarcal nature, basically directly or indirectly showing the importance and gloryies of having a son, always talking about fathers, grandfathers and forefathers, and not focusing to the same degree on mothers, grandmothers, and foremothers as if their life is only to serve a man, identities always adjunct to men and the work they do to maintain their families or not of enough value to deserve focus, power and recognition. But, the good thing is that unlike Hindi movies, obsceneity in South Indian films are less. The good thing about Hindi movies is that their is now some winds of change.Talking about Assamese films, they monotonous basically romanced centered and are also of quite patriarchal nature, where girls are mainly to be married and hence only to graduate and find a rich man, where exactly the romance tend to be centered but violence is lesser and focus on mothers and grandmothers is slight higher but otherwise traditional and not properly accomodated to the modern social changes. Because of this monotony Assamese film industry is suffering but like Hindi films there are now a few winds of change. Films surely need to, be it directly or indirectly stop showcasing and gloryfying violence, patriarchy and obscenity. Instead they should try to bring a positive social change away from all these. They also need to diversify and get out of the traditionalism and monotony. Kanchana ( Tamil), Bahubali (Telegu), Mary Kom ( Hindi), Tare Zameen Par (Hindi), Ajeyo ( Assamese), Shionr (Assamese) are surely a move in this direction.

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