Telugu Cinema, Society and Bahubali impact
by Krishnarjun on 29 Jul 2015 4 Comments

The grand success of the Telugu movie, Bahubali, at the box-office has brought the spot-light on to the Telugu film industry. In the past, many popular Telugu movies were remade, dubbed in Hindi and Tamil, particularly in last few decades; but the success of Bahubali is altogether at a different level.


The movie has set new benchmarks with all time records for a dubbed Hindi version; in two weeks it has already occupied a position in the top five movies of Indian cinema. The makers plan to release an international version in English and Chinese, the final run could take it to number one position, which would be remarkable for a movie from the Telugu film industry, given the limited audience range it catered to so far.


The Telugu language version of Bahubali has already earned more than twice the money of previous biggest blockbuster from the Telugu film industry; all versions put together grossed Rs 402 crore in 15 days and the movie is still going strong. It opened to record breaking collections in India and overseas, particularly in the US, where the Telugu immigrant population is high. Before going into the reasons behind Bahubali’s success and the larger discussion about Telugu cinema, some facts related to the movie.


The movie was produced in two parts at a whopping expenditure of Rs 250 crore, a big number for Indian cinema; the second part is scheduled to release in 2016. Ace director SS Rajamouli conceived the project eight years ago and work began three years ago. Lead actors Prabhas and Rana were totally dedicated to the project since it began and their time and efforts have paid off with this grand success. Rajamouli has a track record of unbroken success in the Telugu film industry; all his movies are either blockbusters or perform very well at the box-office.


The producers Shobu Yarlagadda and Prasad Devineni deserve the biggest applause for taking such humongous risk as the Telugu film industry has so far never produced a film with a budget above Rs 50 crore. Much of the movie is produced in Hyderabad studios, particularly Ramoji Film City; it’s a locally made and locally executed project. A few thousand craftsmen and technicians worked for the movie over three years and planned it at a scale only seen in the best of global movie industries.


The main reason for the success of Bahubali is its richness in scale, execution and emphasis on strong characters rather than just hero-centrism. Indian audiences were looking for something that could match the quality, scale and richness of best of global cinema from Indian native cinema instead of the regular soap operas; Bahubali provided that and they lapped it up. The magnitude of Bahubali’s success outside the Telugu box-office has come as a bit of a surprise to the Telugu audience and even to the movie crew; they were expecting success but not on this grand scale.


The Bahubali theme is not new for the Telugu movie audience. The Telugu film industry journey started with fantasy, epic, puranic, folklore movies and experienced a golden classical era of movie making for many decades. Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu pioneered movie making among Telugus. The first talkie film from south India, Bhaktha Prahlada, was made by HM Reddy in 1932 and from there on the industry never looked back.


LV Prasad, BN Reddy, Gudavalli Rambrahmam, Nagi Reddy, Chakrapani, Vithalacharya, Kamalakara Kameswara Rao, Ramakrisha Rao pioneered the golden era of Telugu cinema that continued for nearly five decades. This era produced legendary actors, actresses, comedians, directors, producers, writers, playback singers, music composers, technicians of Telugu cinema. The industry made classic movies in every genre from epic, fantasy, social to history; nothing was left out.  


The Telugu film industry made movies on each and every part of Hindu epics from Ramayana, Mahabharata to Bhagavatham; showed the life stories of great saints, poets, bhaktas and scholars from all over India; presented the grandness of  Vijayanagara and the epic battles of Telugus on the silver screen. This was an era of immense creative energy on the silver screen.


The era produced legendary actors like NT Rama Rao, Nageswara Rao, SV Ranga Rao, Kantha Rao, Rajanala; actresses like Bhanumati, Savitri, Jamuna, Krishna Kumari, Surekantham; playback singers like Ghantasala, Pendyala, Susheela, Jikki, Janaki; writers like C Narayana Reddy, Samudrala, Kosaraju. It was a golden era in every sense. The era was a product of an economy that was predominantly agricultural and Telugus very much rooted, took pride in their language and culture. Most surplus earnings from agriculture and allied sectors went into the film industry.


The last two decades of the classical era from the late 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s introduced actors like Krishna, Shobhan Babu and actresses like Sridevi, Jayapradha, Jayasudha, Kanchana and the industry switched to colour films. Most movies in this era were about heroes with a rural background fighting feudal interests or urban heroes fighting sophisticated villains manipulating the system in an urban setup or social, family dramas. The industry was just following the larger socio-economic trends of that era as urbanisation increased. This era introduced another generation of literary and singing talent with playback singers like SP Balasubrahmanyam, Ramakrishna and lyricists like Veturi, Sirivennela.


At the end of that golden era, the Telugu film industry again produced some memorable classics led by directors Bapu and K Vishwanath. Vishwanath’s movies on classical music and dance in the 1980s created a sensation in south India. His movies like Saptapadi, Sankarabharanam, Sagarasangamam, Sirivennala, without any leading actors of the era, created a sensation at the box-office purely with their inherent merit and mesmerising depiction of classical Indian music and dance. Vishwanath’s movies generated great interest in classical music and dance among common folks. The classical era in Telugu film industry ended with his movies.


From the late 1980s, urban commercial elements took over the industry and the era of superstars, supreme heroes, megastars, box-office bonanzas, victory stars began. Chiranjeevi, Balakrishna, Venkatesh, Nagarjuna were the super-heroes of this era and stardom reached dizzying heights. Mostly hero-centric movies were made, stories elevating heroes were preferred and all other characters, including lead female roles, added no real value to the cinema.


Post-economic reforms, the Telugu film industry emerged as an urban phenomenon with little space for real rural-centric life or emotions. Ironically, even then, the biggest blockbusters for the stars came when movies were made on feudal rivalries from Rayalaseema region. The Telugu film industry has lost its soul; movie making has become a cut and paste job of different entertainment elements rather than a holistic story-centric approach that created different characters with their own strength.


Adulterated language, songs with no soul, lyrics dominated by loud music became the norm. Hero-centric fan-ism bordering on casteism has vitiated the social atmosphere and poisoned the minds of the young. More than their careers and education, the young fans of super heroes focus more on their favourite stars’ movie revenues.


Amidst this degraded scenario, Bahubali comes as a refreshing change. In one stroke it has elevated the Telugu film industry to a level no Telugu star could have ever imagined so far. All the glamour of super stars and the boastings of their fans look very small before its gigantic success.


Bahubali has restored the art of film making to the Telugu film industry. It can lead to a more professional approach to film making than the stagnant hero-centric approach. The story-centric approach with professionalism can elevate all departments in film making and attract good talent in language, music and art. The extended scope in the movie market for Telugu films, now realized through Bahubali, would encourage big investment for quality output.


Bahubali is a curtain raiser for an emerging, confidant India that is experimenting and digging deep into its culture, not just for itself but for the global audience. The cultural confusion of post-economic reforms is being replaced by clarity, confidence and self-respect of real India. Also multiple centers of culture and talent would be the norm in a resurgent India than just Bollywood or Lutyens Delhi. What 16 May 2014 is for Indian politics, Bahubali’s success is for Indian cinema.  

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