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Why Telugu Cinema has to Change?

December 9, 2009

Cinema is one of the few arts which transform you into a different world. The power of the moving images is sometimes so vivid and overwhelming that it’s almost impossible to erase the experience from the memory. There are two types of people who watch films. There are those for whom Cinema is weekend entertainment and for others it’s a part of their daily lives. There is a one fundamental difference between these two kinds of people which has to be closely observed. The definition of what Cinema is and how it should be is different for these two sections. If the first group believes that Cinema has to be entertaining, the other endorses the idea that Cinema is an art and every film has to narrate an honest story irrespective of its entertainment value. Having established this difference from my perspective, I confess that I am the one for whom Cinema is a part of life.

Few days ago, it struck me that maybe I have got it all wrong! Maybe the way I look at art isn’t necessarily the only correct perspective. My boss once told me that Commercial cinema is much more exciting because millions of people are going to watch that film and if you have made a good film then you become a God! That’s true. And why not? If a million people say that a film was fantastic, then probably it is fantastic, even if people like me thought it was trash. 2012…although I still can’t believe people liked it! In such cases, a film critic’s job becomes all the more difficult. To differentiate a film for what it is and how we perceive it is a tough thing and all the more tough when you have to express it in words. It is also important and in fact, necessary to know the history of a film industry and evolution of Cinema before you try to write about Cinema (as in film criticism). In some cases, it makes you understand the cultural significance of the film and why it has been generally considered a cult film.

Over the past few years, there has been multitude of changes in Indian Cinema particularly in Hindi and Tamil cinema. However, the film industry which churns out the largest number of films per year is way behind these series of changes. Telugu Cinema. FICCI report suggested that in 2007-08, over 230 Telugu films were released which was more than what Bollywood had churned out! While it’s a reason to celebrate at this enormous growth in the number of movies released and the amount of revenue it generates, Telugu Cinema hasn’t achieved the status which it deserves among movie aficionados. Why does Telugu Cinema has to change is something we need to ponder and also intensely debate upon if it has to progress and flourish.

The year 2009 will always be a memorable one for Telugu movie buffs. Two films, Arundhathi and Magadheera turned out to be blockbusters and made everyone to take notice about the kind of work the Telugu Film Industry is doing. However, except for these two films, only a handful of films in general have enjoyed critical or commercial success at box office. Yes, there were films which made profits but they will be hardly remembered few months from now. It’s the curse for creating “perishable cinema” as Kamal Hassan says. By rehashing the same age old stories, with new actors, movies have lost their individuality. Every movie seems and sounds like most other movies made in the past and hence they seem uninteresting and to an extent pointless! Who’s to blame for this? The film makers? The actors? The audience?

Every film industry has its influences and it is these influences which form the backbone and thus give an identity. We (Telugu Film Industry) cannot make films like what Iranian film makers or Polish film makers do because our history and influences are different. It’s probably the reason why Telugu film industry will never make a Good “War” film or even convey themes like alienation, loneliness in its films. Now, the question is what are our influences? In the past 75 years of our Telugu film history, we have experimented with genres like mythology, folklore, tragedy, love, action, romance, music, dance, comedy and so on. We also created demi-gods who inturn made sure their kids fill in their shoes after their retirement. What’s a result of this process? Fans and Fans Associations. The love and admiration which these fans have for their favourite actors is beyond belief. It has also created an unhealthy competition for supremacy and stardom. In fact, some people use Cinema as a medium to satisfy their egos and always try to prove that their CASTE is superior because a hero from their caste has done well. Much like vote bank politics, this issue of fighting for supremacy has divided a lot of people into different sections, as a result of which, the required change is eluding Telugu Cinema.

A new theme or even a new story cannot be experimented because of a general belief that “audience” might not like it. If the film industry is so sure that the kind of films it churns out is meant to entertain the audience, then why do films flop at all?! There’s a clear gap between what the audience like and what the film makers think audience would like! We, the audience have been subjugated to a great extent. A lot of us don’t even watch English, Hindi, Tamil or any other language cinema. It’s like our brains have rusted and rusted to such an extent that everything seems mediocre! When does it end? When does it all end before it becomes irrelevant? How do we usher in the possibility of Change? What does change mean? Change doesn’t mean shooting songs in Iceland instead of Switzerland or setting a story in Delhi instead of Hyderabad. In my view it is the debate over trivial things like why does a film have to be 150 minutes long? Why does it need to have 6 songs and 4 fights? Why does the heroine always get introduced into the film when it rains? Why does every window pane be smashed in the vicinity? Why do mothers and fathers have to be either extremely harsh or ridiculously cheeky and doting? Why does the girl’s father have to be the dude of the village in Konaseema? Why does every film have to have an item song? Why does every film conclude with a fight and a happy ending? Why does the villain look so shabby? Why does every love story have to be so cheesy and goddamn predictable?

One of the yardsticks to understand how well a certain film industry is flourishing is generally its revenue generated, number of hit films a year. Yes, we do generate more than Rs.600 crores of revenue but our success rate is less than 10% ! And what adds more to the injury is rarely do Telugu films make it into the “Top Films” lists. We probably don’t have a single film to our credit if the films made in the past 20 years are taken into account. Even now, the cult films from Telugu are the ones made in Black and White Era till the mid 80s. A state which has a high density of movie buffs certainly needs a better recognition than this! It is high time Telugu film industry understands the need to change the way films are made. A film has to excel in whatever it is trying to portray, if it’s a comedy let it be the best comedy ever! If it’s a tragedy, let it be the best tragedy ever! What’s the need to combine two different genres and make porridge of the end product?

We make films which are usually meant for Telugu speaking population. Quite rarely has the content appealed to other audience, even if it has you can be assured that it’s because of the dances, songs or a friend’s constant bugging that someone watches Telugu films. We certainly can’t be short of ideas! This is an age where probably everyone watches atleast 100 films a year from other languages! Is it that difficult to write a story, even if it means plagiarizing few ideas from here and there? We already plagiarize music, action choreography, jokes, dialogues, story lines and sometimes entire films altogether. Of course, the concept of making changes according to “nativity” shrouds the fact that we blatantly and quite happily rip off concepts!

A film industry which wouldn’t mind spending 20-30 crores for every other movie these days, certainly should consider how each film is affecting the overall progress. We probably will remain under the shadow of our glorious past and that is a dangerous thing. The idea that “Movies are just for entertainment!” is a harmful thing for Cinema. It means that you don’t recognise Cinema as an art like photography, painting, music! It also jeopardizes the possibility of voicing a strong opinion and almost kills the idea that Cinema is a Visual interpretation of your dreams! It’s far more important to sell an idea, a story, a theme rather than wrapping the same old rotten stories with new names.

We had a glorious past, the present seems gloomy and we continue to live in our past’s shadow. The future seems more vague than ever before! If we don’t look ahead and understand where we are heading, then everything we have achieved so far will eventually fade away. Steer away; embrace a different course before it is too late. Telugu Cinema has to change; otherwise it will never go beyond the borders! Remember, 2012 is just 3 years away and Roland Emmerich has already shown us how pathetic our end is going to be!

P.S: The post is a personal opinion about the state of Telugu cinema and I genuinely wish it grows even bigger than what it is today. And in the process, earn more respect for all quarters.

P.P.S: This is my 300th post.

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. Phani permalink
    December 9, 2009 7:08 am

    You are so right Hemanth. There is no question that we had a glorious past. That past had been the first 40 years of our cinema industry where the scripts were completely orginal and we had a great crew. Genres like mythology, folklore, family dramas reflected people beliefs, tradition. Later me moved on to more dramas, love, action, romance but this time the script was borrowed from western makers. Now the latest trend is “twist in the plot” where they murder the plot and confuse the character yet people watch it.

    Plagiarism is not something new and not really bad. Believe it or not watch TCM old classic movies and you will not be surprised to find a old telugu version(Even a Black and White) with addition of some songs and high intense fights. Since there were not many western movie watchers at that time it was not a bad idea to remake good stories. But time has changed.With the advent of internet there is nothing in the world that can stop us from watching movies with different themes and perfect plots yet our distinguished film makers do not understand this concept and make the same movie over and over with same elements.
    So what has to change? I agree to what you say “A film has to excel in whatever it is trying to portray”. We can still potray the genre all the way following the old tradition of songs and hey our movie is incomplete without a song. Hollywood is no different from us. They have their own tradition. Their movie is not complete without a bed scene. But atleast most of their movies stick to their character and plot and excel in whatever they try to potray unlike we where concept of police arriving at to the last scene, item songs and worst of all 60 kg aimless guy trashing ???? goons. I cannot stop laughing when I see a skinny actor fighting by doing all the circus tricks to save his girl or people around him. Kudos to the director for convincing the ignorant masses.

    Who has to change? The person who can make or break a movie is the Director . I have no confidence in our great established directors. It’s high time that new generation has to step in and instead of following the dogmatic rules of making a cinema think fresh. No matter who the audience is he is the ultimate boss who can convince them.

    Congratulations on your 300th post. Great article and keep up with your work.

    Phani

  2. December 9, 2009 11:25 am

    Why it wont change…

    1) Even with <10% success rate they are making crap, because they somehow reach break even, thanks to overpriced tickets and skyrocketing satellite rights
    2) Celebrating mediocrity has become a way of life, not just in movies but in every sphere of life.
    3) Movies are watched less for content and more for CASTE reasons, eye candies with skimpy clothes(publicly accepted porn), demigod actors.
    4) Prominent of all these, there is no necessity. Need is some thing what majority of the influential stakeholders want. People like you and I are a negligible minority here.
    Everybody in Telugu Industry talks about reforms and change as if they are a third person, not an insider. However I am afraid to know what their perception of Change is.

  3. December 9, 2009 11:46 am

    Putting my tradtional style of commenting aside, here’re a few points i’d like to make. firstly, I can still see that whenever the topic of caste-based-casting comes, it freaks you out. Yep,true. and I don’t think it will ever change. secondly, every commerically well made movie nowadays has so many common aspects of movie making (definitely not innovative) that give it money: [all the stuff you questioned].
    I’m happy atleast Bollywood has some space for creativity in the script. And tollywood hardly has any breathing space. say, makers from the ‘Just yellow’ agency, for example. Happy, sometimes an extremely low-budget, two people(d) movie like ‘Show’ becomes a hit with the thinking audience, which again is in dangerously low proportions here.
    more to say, which will only make me fume….
    Let’s just have more critics like you who weigh cinema not from a ‘typical telugu movie viewer’s’ eye but from a movie-art-lover’s point of view.
    After all, perspectives count.
    Great opinion. Bright Light, this article is. 😀

  4. Vasant Jurru permalink
    December 9, 2009 11:56 am

    hi hemant,

    I am extremely happy to read your post on telugu film industry. It did cover a lot of points. For your information I belong to the second category ,”cinema is more than a part of my life”.

    The other day one of my friends visited us and we were watching “vishaka express” on TV.Its basically a thriller.By the end of the movie he suddenly said,”why do people make such movies. for me a movie is something which should make people laugh”. I was really taken aback by his comment! I couldn’t bear his comment.I just said,”see there is something called ‘navarasalu’ and comedy is one of those nine emotions. Apart from making you laugh, a movie can thrill you,frighten you,amour you,anger you,wonder you and so on. If you are content with just one rasa then i pity you big time.”. he got my point and i was satisfied with his response but deep down i feel bad there are so many people out there who have similar feelings and the worst part is that all the prominent film makers and producers of telugu film industry are of the opine that people don’t accept different genres. To defend their version they quote some movies which were tried and failed miserably at the box office. I beg to differ saying that, if only those movies were made with a proper story and better script, they would have hit bull’s eye.why blame audience for their inefficiency?

    puri jagannath gave an open statement after his movie ‘nenithe’ failed at box office,”people don’t appreciate message oriented movies and i will never ever make movies like this!”. I pity him. Infact he doesnt deserve to be called as a “top” film director in tollywood for the comments he made.If only he handled the movie a little better, I am sure it would have had a great reception and he should understand that a movies greatness is not judged by mere box office collections.

  5. Vinay permalink
    December 9, 2009 8:44 pm

    Hemanth, I cannot agree more with you. Telugu cinema is no where in terms of the content of its stories when compared to the cinema of other languages. We hear many people say in their audio functions that, “This movie is different!” The difference what they mean is in the form of the story but NOT at all in its content. Shifting a story to some location, putting a few intelligent “ideas” does not change the content. They are still presenting the same content in the same rehash. I just don’t know what to say to the films made by Mr. Puri Jagan. Rehash of his own films with different actors and different comedy! Fuck! The content that needs to be “different”, not the form! We want change.

    Second and an important point.. I have to quote Hitchcock here..”One of the fundamental aspects of Cinema is the ability to show rather than to tell”. Cinema is VISUAL. I personally agree on this 200%. I really wonder how many so called top filmmakers of the current era follow this! There is a lot of nonsense that is termed as “great dialogue” and that does not add to the emotion that is being portrayed! Yes, we need change.

    Coming to the audience perspective, It is really scary to think what our audience like and do not! It really gives me jitters when I hear people saying, “Comedy is not good”. I really cannot understand this complex behaviour of the people. May be it is because I fall in the second category who thinks Cinema should embrace life and is a big part of me!

    I wonder, How many stories of Telugu Cinema touched you, how many showed life in a sensible way, how many made you think, “Life is like this!” ?

    Great post.

  6. December 11, 2009 1:56 am

    Does all ur comments..come this big these days ..!! Man i thought twice before writing this comment…!!

    anywayz awesome post .. couldnt agree more… Try publishing it some where else too… (In case you havent already done ) ..

  7. Chaitanya permalink
    December 15, 2009 8:56 pm

    How is Katha by the way? Want your opinion.

  8. siva permalink
    December 16, 2009 8:37 pm

    Congrats on your 300th post and an excellent one to focus on the future of Telugu cinema. Until every one or majority of the people involved in making Telugu films today, work with a Passion to deliver or create something new (the passion that most of our old technicians/actors used to have), rather than viewing cinema as a way to make money, I sincerely doubt the current situation of TFC changes !

    Liked your blog very much. Thanks.

  9. April 21, 2010 7:54 pm

    Awesome post.

    However, I think you are reading more into it then you really are. Not all films are meant to be criticize more than being entertain. Do you think the average person looks beyond that? I can tell you from my own personal experience that most of my friends just want to watch a film, just purely for entertainment. They don’t care if I could kick your ass with my magical palm. Or me come back from the dead to get revenge.

    I also see this come up with a lot of people who are more critical with their own film industry. It’s always the case of I want to be the best. I want to be noticed. I want to be recognized.

    For example, I absolutely looooooved this Korean drama called Iris. It was the best I’ve ever seen. However, when I go to the message forums, many Koreans were critical about it saying that it’s like a copy of the Hollywood tv show, 24. And how the Korean industry needed to step it up if it ever wanted to be as good as Hollywood. Why does everything have to be compared like that? Nothing is ever better than Hollywood?

    But as a film critic, I can see why you have your opinions of wanting the Telugu film industry to grow. I don’t mind, but please don’t lose your culture and who you are. That’s all I ask ;P

  10. April 22, 2010 5:54 am

    This is a great post and I agree with many parts of it.

    I will say at the outset that I am no expert and I make no claim cinema is my life though it seems to take up a lot of time in my life.. lol…so my humble opinion…I am one of those who believes cinema, by and large, is entertainment. I think we can call cinema as art and it can be very powerful in terms of leaving us with an impression, with a message etc…but ultimately imo it’s true form is entertainment.

    I think there exists plenty of space for big budget, star vehicles type films which entertain masses (and this should not be scoffed at) and for the more realistic,lower budget meaningful,unconventional cinema but …but… but…. these films should also entertain us.

    Tamil Cinema has been doing it for decades. Many small budget films find both critical and mass/commercial favor. Chennai 600028, Anjathey, Nadodigal, Subramaniapuram, Paruthiveeran, mozhi, pasanga, pattiyal, Tamizh Padam and many more. Can be meaningful, touching, funny, sad but with repeat value still. This exists perfectly alongside the Ayans and Vettaikarans. I don’t think we necessarily need to degrade one to bring up the other.

    I think writers/directors must be daring enough to make small budget films even with unknown actors. It would work if writers just get the entertainment part right. The more these are appreciated, the more others will be willing to give it a try. I am probably making this sound so simple, and I am sure it’s not.

    I think many unconventional wanna be directors forget audience is there to be entertained, (yes even the class/multiplex ones) or just plain don’t want to deal with it. They seem to work with a checklist 1. cut out songs 2. no comedy track 3. people must leave with a message. Setting limits already.

  11. Violet in Twilight permalink
    September 18, 2010 1:11 pm

    Your passion for Telugu Cinema is so well expressed. I am not a “Cinema is a way of life” person. But, I do want to watch movies that engage me. I don’t mean everything should have a message or other, but I should care about what happens to people on screen, even if it is as silly as a guy gets the girl or not. Often, it is so cliched that it doesn’t matter. Where is the nuance? Even if something is “in-your-face” craziness, why isn’t it spectacular? I think most of it would depend on story, screenplay, direction, cinematography, editing and cast. (Excellence in higher order items could even overcome an average lower order items.)

    I have almost stopped watching new Telugu movies for past 5 years. But parts of a few movies make it worthwhile ( flashback of magadheera, parts of Athadu, parts of Anukokunda oka roju, parts of anthanokkade,etc).
    Hopefully, this occasional brilliance would grow out to be full-fledged engaging films in future.

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