Every few weeks, a film crosses a milestone, and articles and tributes come pouring out.
10 years of DevD, 15 years of Athadu — we have read them all. But what about the films that nobody talks about? What about the films that ran to packed theatres but did not meet the discerning standards of film critics? Do these films vanish in the sands of time?
No, they do not. Not if the film is called Legend.
2014 was not too long ago.
The band Metallica had written a song dedicated to Balakrishna movies —‘Nothing Else Matters’—the script, story, gravity, physics, life, death…
Manmohan Singh was spending his last few days as the Prime Minister of the country. India was getting comfortable with smartphones, and Balayya Babu was at the peak of his stardom. It was under these circumstances that Legend released.
It wasn’t shocking that the film was a hit.
What was shocking was that it won a number of awards—both Filmfare and Nandi. I understand 2014 wasn’t a path-breaking year for Telugu cinema, but there’s something else that blew my mind about the film.
Legend ran to packed houses across the state (it would be a few months until Telangana was formed), and broke records for the longest-running Telugu film of all-time. Mind you, this was long after the days of 100 days and 200 days were a thing of the past. Legend ran for 100 days in more than 30 centres and 200, 300, and 500 days in other centers. The film finally ended its run with 1000 days at a movie theater in Proddatur. Which means that for three years, people in the area had just one movie to go to. You could go for a movie on your first date, first anniversary, and with your kid — and the same film would be playing!
It could be argued that this was a gimmick, as the film ran for a single show in most of these halls. It could also be argued that it was a political move, since Balayya was contesting elections in a few months for the Telugu Desam Party.
But let’s keep such nitpicking aside, and launch into a movie that’s a gift that keeps on giving.
The film stars Balakrishna in a double role, along with Jagapathi Babu, Sonal Chauhan, and Radhika Apte before she became Ms. Netflix. Most Balayya Babu’s films at the time had single-word names — Lion, Legend, Simha and Dictator. The names explained nothing about the movie or the plot, but these things don’t really matter in a Balakrishna movie.
Most actors put in months of effort when they are playing dual roles—the gait, voice, gestures are carefully curated by the actor and director. Not in case of Balayya Babu. He has essayed a dual role in 15 movies, and the only difference between two roles is a different wig. It is acting without the frills and fuss of acting—an intense art form where method acting and dramatics is crushed into a wig rented from Krishna Nagar.
There isn’t much in terms of a story, but you see, even that doesn’t matter. Balakrishna plays a young man who lives in Dubai. He shares a loving bond (and two songs) with his girlfriend and decides to return to India to get married. In India, he comes across a murder and finds out that his girlfriend’s father is an evil man who works for the evil villain. The narrative then switches from present day to flashback to present day with a dizzying speed that would give Nolan seizures.
Suffice to know that Balakrishna kills people with swords, knifes, sickles, sticks, guns, chains, and a customised axe straight out of a video game. All these killings are committed in broad daylight, and in front of thousands of people, but even that doesn’t matter. The band Metallica had written a song dedicated to Balakrishna movies —‘Nothing Else Matters’—the script, story, gravity, physics, life, death…
The film also stars two heroines—Sonal Chauhan and Radhika Apte —but both of them play doormats. In Telugu cinema, if there are two heroines—one of them is made modern, while the other is made traditional. The heroines are either angry or horny, and do very little apart from dancing around the hero. The heroines are both doormats—but one dances in a miniskirt (Doormartini), while the other throws flowers in a saree (Doormata).
I tried to keep a body count of all the killings that happen in a movie, but I am not very gifted in Mathematics. By the end of the movie, the population of Andhra Pradesh has significantly dropped, and justice has been served.
Legend did not change cinema in any way. 2014 was the year the Marvel Cinematic Universe established its position as the McDonald’s of cinema.
When we discuss films in hindsight, we only talk about the great movies. The trailblazers, the originals, the films that changed the craft in some way or the other. But nobody speaks about the bad movies. Bad movies end up becoming statistics.
If you do come across Legend, do watch it. If you catch a Hindi remake Legend – The Terror, do watch it. As a lifelong connoisseur of bad films, I firmly believe that bad films need to be protected too. Which is why I decided to write this article.
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