By Vishnu Shankar:
Bahubali is reported to have netted over 500 crs and Srimanthudu’s collections have crossed Rs 100 crores in less than a week of its release. These films are the two biggest hits in Telugu film history. That they arrived back to back is a little surprising. But look closely, and you will know as to why these two films occupy the first two slots in the list of all time Telugu blockbusters.
Telugu cinema is moving into a different orbit as we speak. And this change of orbits is happening after a long gap of 16 years. I want to start this story from the date 13th Jan 1999, the day a movie called Samarasimha Reddy released. With Balakrishna in the lead, Samarasimha Reddy broke many box-office records. It also introduced a new concept to Telugu cinema, a cruel villain based in Rayalaseema. When you look back after 16 years, you will be amazed at the impact Samarasimha Reddy had both on the film goers and Telugu film directors. Telugu cinema became so obsessed with stories which centre around a cruel villain (and a macho hero to counter him) that everything else happening outside (in the state, in the country and in the world in general) was of no consequence. But very importantly, this was a period of significant parallel developments in the economy and the society. IT revolution broke out globally and Telugus were enthusiastic participants. Telugu / Indian diaspora around the world, and in USA in particular, grew by leaps and bounds. Young Telugu population also grew exponentially in non-Telugu cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Pune .
A similar experience of geographical dislocation shook Bollywood as well. But Bollywood took note of the change of times fairly quickly and adapted itself almost immediately. Films like DDLJ and KKHH which came in the late 90s were testimony to Bollywood’s speed of adaptability. But unfortunately, Telugu cinema became so inward looking after the success of Samarasimha Reddy that it hardly cared for this global transformation. Stalwarts of Telugu cinema too behaved like frogs in the well. This period between 1999 -2015 was a very agonizing period for true lovers of good Telugu cinema. Sure there were some good films in between, but a vast majority were so below par that anyone with a whiff of exposure outside mofussil Telugu towns could hardly relate to Telugu films. It was their sheer love for the language that kept Telugu cinema alive outside the state. Not surprisingly, when the markets for Hindi and Tamil cinema began expanding during this period, Telugu cinema stagnated as it meant nothing to anyone outside Telugu areas. And the elite among the Telugu film goers began transferring their affiliations to the ‘polish and sophistication’ of Bollywood offerings.
It is in this scenario that the stupendous success of Bahubali and Srimanthudu makes me think that a new chapter is about to unfold. Rajamouli was very certain from his Magadheera days that if he had to make a place for himself outside Telugu hearts, he had to attempt subjects that are universal in nature. Anything which would be as narrow as a cruel Rayalaseema villain/ or a comic Brahmanandam was certainly not going to be the way forward. Eega was supposed to be his launch pad nationally, but as admitted to in an interview with Rajeev Masand, the Hindi version of Eega was not properly promoted prior to its release. With Bahubali he got both the product and the promotion right. In case of Srimanthudu, the story and its treatment is an acknowledgement of the change of times. We don’t know if Koratala Siva is just a fluke or has set his sights on the global Telugu, but the movie had the perfect mix of global sophistication and local nativity. With its success, film makers will not just be encouraged to try out more polished themes but will also realize that the old ways of writing a Telugu film script will no more work.
Just look at Bahubali. Out of its 500 crore box office collections, almost 300 crores have poured in from non-Telugu speaking states. Its Hindi version grossed over 100 crs and non-Telugu southern states have roped in another 100 crs plus. It netted almost Rs 70-80 crs outside India. What does this mean to the future Telugu film maker ? It means that your Andhra and Telangana fans contribute just 40% of your revenues. If you can set your sights higher and address the global Telugu, you can go far. If you can tackle an universal theme acceptable to people of other languages, you can even beat the Bollywood badshahs.
Now tell me, who would still want to subject us to the cruelty of a Rayalaseema villain or bank solely on a Brahmanandam to make his film work??