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Sunday, April 14
The Indiana Daily Student

arts

COLUMN: Welcome to Tollywood

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In 2022 I went to the Bloomington 12 AMC movie theater to see “RRR”. My anticipation for this film started back in 2018, when the film studio began promoting the movie with vague video clips featuring the logo and lead actors Ram Charan and Jr. NTR. Then, almost a year after the film’s release, original song “Naatu Naatu” won an Academy Award — the first Oscar for any Indian film song

Tollywood (Telugu film industry) films are a staple in my house. I recently had to explain to some friends that I did not grow up watching classic rom-coms like “13 going on 30” because I was watching Tollywood films. This prompted one of my friends to turn to me and ask “Is “RRR” Tollywood or Bollywood?”  

At that point, I went into a slight rant about how “RRR” is Tollywood and how frustrating it is that people default to Bollywood. But it is a fair assumption for people unfamiliar with the Indian film industry to have.  

So, here is an introduction to the Telugu film industry.  

The three basics of Tollywood films 

There are three basics to Tollywood films that you need to know: the hero craze, the music and — as many people might suspect — the 2 ½ hour plus runtime.  

1. The Hero Craze  

Like many industries, the Tollywood industry is dominated by males. Not only is it male-dominated, but many fans of the industry will watch films solely for the hero. In Hollywood if your favorite actor is starring in a new film, you might go and see it; if your favorite Telugu hero is starring in a new film, you are watching it regardless. The plot is not what draws people to theaters for a new film, it’s the hero. I even told my parents during the four years of vague “RRR” film promotions: “it doesn’t matter if we don’t know what this movie is about, we’ll watch it anyways.” And that is exactly what we did.  

The protagonist is almost always the hero of the film. If there is any sort of conflict, it is rare that the hero does not have a happy ending. Heroes are also depicted in Tollywood to have Captain America level abilities. If they are fighting a big mafia don and all his goons, he is usually able to take out all the villains without breaking a sweat. It is a little unrealistic but that is just the way the hero craze presents itself on screen. That, and the fact that the hero always gets a dramatic entrance. Sometimes it feels as if you don’t know who the star of the movie is going to be. 

Like many movie industries, Tollywood is made up of actors that are products of nepotism — Ram Charan and Jr. NTR included. Both actors are descendants of well-known and highly regarded Tollywood actors: Charan is Chiranjeevi’s son and Jr. NTR is NTR’s grandson. Thankfully, of the many Telugu actors that are products of nepotism, most are fit for the screen.  

Comparatively, while most Tollywood heroines might not be products of nepotism, they are also usually not native-Telugu speakers. Like heroes, heroines have large, dedicated fanbases and receive spotlight for dramatic entrances in the movies too. Slowly, but surely, the industry is transitioning to be less male-focused. 

2. The Music 

Whether it be Tollywood or Bollywood, the Indian film industries produce musical-like movies. In fact, I don’t think I have ever seen a Tollywood movie that didn’t have a movie soundtrack like the ones of “Mamma Mia!” or Disney movies.  

Movie songs from one Telugu movie to the next differ. Some actors, like Mahesh Babu, almost always star in movies that incorporate a wedding song. Typically, there will be a music sequence that introduces the hero. Then a handful more involving the hero and the heroine — or multiple heroines, in the case of multiple love interests.  

There are a few instances where the musical sequences actually contribute to the plot. Usually though, the three-to-four-minute song just depicts the hero and heroine dancing in foreign locations (even if the movie is entirely based in India, the cast will fly out to a scenic, foreign spot to film).

3. The 2 ½ hour plus runtime  

I remember when Marvel’s “Endgame” was released and my friends complained about the three-hour runtime — I laughed. Tollywood movies are notoriously long. Movies tend to be so long that the writers or directors often incorporate a line for the hero to signal an intermission, such as “Now it’s time to take a break.” When the screen fades to black, movie-goers in India often have 10 to 15 minutes where they can go get a samosa and a chai.  

The long runtime is usually used without feeling overbearing. Nowadays movie storylines are more diverse but movies I grew up with, and even some newer releases, follow a set storyline. A hero is introduced, bumps into and pursues the heroine, while an external threat to the hero or the relationship is introduced. He then wins the affection of the heroine and there may be a plot twist or major conflict that starts the second act (i.e., violent fighting, rescuing a damsel in distress or both) before the happy ending. 

While the storylines may feel predictable in nature, it isn’t to the extent where you can watch one movie and know exactly what happens in all of them. To be sustainable, the movies have dimensions and variety in the plot to make you want to watch them. The versatility of the films is something that continuously draws me back to them. Typical Tollywood movies are a bit of everything: musical, drama, romance, comedy and action. 

Movie Recommendations 

I encourage everyone to embrace a new film industry and a part of Telugu culture. Curl up on your couch, order your favorite Indian takeout and pick one of these films to watch on a cozy evening:   

  • From the same director as “RRR”: “Baahubali” (Netflix)
  • Starring Jr. NTR: “Naanaku Premato” (Prime Video)  
  • Starring Ram Charan: “Dhruva” (Hulu)
  • Historical Fiction & Romance: “Sita Ramam” (Prime Video or Hulu) 
  • Modern Telugu Rom Com: “Ante Sundaraniki” (Netflix) 
  • Heartwarming romance/drama: “Bommarillu” (Prime Video) 
  • Mystery thriller & new release: “Virupaksha” (Netflix) 
  • Spy Thriller: “Goodachari” (Prime Video or Apple TV) 
  • Female lead: “Oh! Baby” (Netflix)  
  • A Jalluri family favorite: “Race Gurram” (YouTube or Apple TV) 

 

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