Known for its grand scales and male-centric movies, Telugu Film Industry showed a drift towards content-driven cinema. While the box office continued to be ruled by mass entertainers such as Aravinda Sametha and Bharat Ane Nenu, smaller movies also managed to draw attention. One of Tollywood’s favorite genre in recent times has been Indie Rom-Coms and 2018 was no different, with movies like Chi La Sow and Sammohanam winning praise. But the most promising trend that started in 2018 was meatier roles for women. While U-Turn and Bhaagmathie were labelled as women-centric, movies like Rangasthalam and Awe brought women to the forefront. Irrespective of the box-office numbers, I decided to pick my favorites from 2018 solely based on content and appeal.
Movies (in no particular order)
Awe: What started off as an anthology, soon turned into a thrilling tale of intertwined lives. It cohesively combined various stories, including an imaginary one where a fish and a tree speak, is no ordinary feat. Prashanth Varma achieved this through a well written screenplay, which was amply supported by the performances. Oh yes, it also had Telugu Cinema’s first Lesbian lead couple!
Mahanati: The life and times of Mahanati Savitri were not only captured beautifully, but the scale and attention to detail ensured the audiences were transported back to the same era. Keerthy Suresh’s fascinating transformation into Savitri, catapulted her to instant fame and praise. Also, the wonderful cameos by dozen-odd actors reprising stalwarts from the yesteryears added to the nostalgia.
Goodachari: Just when you lament the dearth of slick espionage thrillers down south, trust Adivi Sesh to bring something novel to the table. Made on a shoestring budget, Goodachari was a perfectly baked thriller that created waves upon its release. Some parts of it may seem contrived, but the racy pace does not let you complain.
Rangasthalam: The first movie that made me believe that Ram Charan can act deserves a mention on this list. Director Sukumar has helmed various projects previously, but the rustic treatment, authentic dialect of the Godavari districts and a much believable world made Rangasthalam an instant hit. Not to forget the better-written role of Ramalakshmi (Samantha), which is a rarity in hero-centric films.
Special Mention: Bhaagmathie, Ee Nagariniki Emaindi and U-Turn
Performances (in no particular order)
Ram Charan (Rangasthalam): With Chittibabu, Ram Charan broke the mold of quintessential Telugu film here. As the small-time rookie in the town of Rangasthalam, he mastered the rural dialect and looked every bit of a ‘sound engineer’ – one with hearing difficulties. This was an endearing and honest performance, which canvassed his acting skills.
Keerthy Suresh (Mahanati): On the cusp of being written off as yet another ‘bubbly heroine’ in Telugu and Tamil cinema, Keerthy Suresh gave a knockout performance, reprising late actor Savitri. She looked regal, re-enacted scenes from Savitri’s classics and never played a note out of place. It was a role of a lifetime and she lived way beyond the expectations!
Samantha Akkineni (U-Turn, Rangasthalam): Being one of the most sough-after actresses currently, Samantha needed a strong part, after playing second fiddles in hero-centric movies. And she redeemed herself by delivering two strong roles, one of which (U-Turn) was completely carried by her. It will be interesting to see how she follows these up in 2019.
NTR Jr (Aravinda Sametha): Though I had my issues with the narrative and its addressing of ‘feminism’, there is no denying that NTR Jr delivered a praise-worthy performance. Much like his grandfather, his powerful dialogue delivery and demeanor can win over anyone. As the man ‘fighting’ for non-violence, he was restrained, calm yet very volatile. A knockout performance, indeed!
Jagapati Babu (Rangasthalam and Aravinda Sametha): While his contemporaries are still romancing actors half their age, Jagapati Babu 2.0 continues to overshadow the current crop of actors with his powerful roles. His characters in Rangasthalam and Aravinda Sametha were structurally similar, yet Jagapati Babu used his command over his skills, to make them distinctive.
Special Mention: Nithya Menen (Awe), Mahesh Babu (Bharat Ane Nenu), Dulquer Salman (Mahanati), Vijay Devarakonda (Geetha Govindam) and Vishnu as Hollywood (Taxiwala)
Note: This list has been compiled as on December 25, 2018. Also, the following movies were not considered since I have not watched them: Kanam, Sammohanam, Chi La Sow, C/O Kancherapalem and Antariksham