Telugu cinema is in an interesting space right now, with story-driven, indie films finding their place and audience. Commercial cinema is important, but 'diehard fans' aren't as forgiving — multi-starrer, big-budget films such as Saaho and Sye Raa Narsimha Reddy received only a lukewarm reaction. There may not be as many perfect films as in the neighbouring industries, but the intention to make one seems more alive than it has been in years.
Director: Ashwin Saravanan
You'll have a newfound appreciation for jump scares after watching Game Over. For, when used effectively and sparsely, they can evoke both horror and the nervous laughter that follows. Even if Ashwin uses sexual assault and its aftermath to drive the plot, it is not exploitative. This is a highly immersive psychological thriller that comes from a place of empathy and knowledge, thanks to Kavvya Ramkumar on the writing team. Depending on how you see it, half the film can be interpreted as a dream inside the protagonist's troubled mind, and if that's not experimental, what is?
Director: Swaroop RSJ
In any comedy thriller, the humour comes from the actors and the thrills from the writing, and this film is no different. Except for the small detail that Naveen Polishetty, who plays Athreya, also cowrote the film's screenplay. His portrayal of a detective who gets all his knowledge from Hollywood thrillers is hilarious and very persuasive — the scene where he finally solves the puzzle is acting at its understated best. A lot of inventiveness and creativity have gone into writing this film, and you can sense it. The empty Starbucks coffee cup is ingenious enough to be sold at a memorabilia store.
Director: Raj Rachakonda
Biopics sometimes bloat the details of a "true" story to make it more entertaining and acceptable for a wider audience. The best thing about this film is that Raj does not tinker with the story, except to add some romance — Priyadarshi and Ananya work really well as a couple. We see an ordinary man — this mundanity halts the screenplay a bit but comes out as an honest and intimate portrayal of a unique man — use everything he has accumulated over the years to build something extraordinary and pertinent.
Director: Vivek Athreya
Sree Vishnu plays a mildly brash and awkward young man to near-perfection in this film, and the cast only adds to the overall experience. There is no role too small for Nivetha Thomas to make an impression. Even though the second story is dull, in comparison, it works well in the story-within-a-story template. The music (Vivek Sagar), cinematography (Sai Sriram) — the stories have two different colour schemes — and seamless screenplay transitions take care of the rest. I'd be hard pressed to remember the last time I had such a fun time at the movies.
Director: BV Nandini Reddy
There is this false notion that female-centric cinema has to be serious or issue-related, but Oh Baby changes all that. There are a few emotionally-charged sequences, but it's an entertaining film about a hardened-by-age woman who turns into a young girl. I have misgivings about the film, but a very effective Samantha Akkineni makes one forget that the film occasionally veers off track. She has the inimitable Rajendra Prasad by her side, which makes the film even more enjoyable.
Director: Ravi Kiran Kola
Despite its narrow and predictable premise, the film does manage to bring in fresh perspectives. Of a man who cannot express himself; of a woman who has been waiting for just as long and can't anymore. There's something delightful about even stereotypical best friends, making them more interesting than the protagonists. With a great technical team backing this project — the music and cinematography are just as important as the screenplay — it's the perfect film to close this year on a hopeful note.