The year 2020 has deceptively tricked us into watching many badly-made Telugu movies. Most OTT releases were colossal disappointments. From lining up in front of theatres to watch much-publicised action thrillers at 8 am to waiting eagerly at 10 pm in front of one’s phone screen for a big year-ender bonanza, we have come a long way. We don’t know what 2021 has in store for us, but the movies on this small list have silver-lined the pandemic’s grey clouds.
7. Bhanumathi Ramakrishna
Director: Srikanth Nagothi
Bhanumathi Ramakrishna inverses the rom-com trope and becomes a film about the difficulties of being single. The people being attacked with a barrage of questions and barbs are in their 30s, and the outside world isn’t kind to them. They are seen as outliers who don’t belong to the fast-moving world. Nagothi also goes on to highlight the mismatches that occur between an urban-bred woman and a man raised in a small town. Ramakrishna (Naveen Chandra) is always seen with a warm smile and a smudge of kumkum between his brows, whereas Bhanumathi (Salony Luthra) is seen trying to bury her resentment.
6. Palasa 1978
Director: Karuna Kumar
At a time when laws are being made to hinder interfaith marriages in India, here comes a film that discusses the everyday struggles of Dalits. Palasa 1978 isn’t perfect throughout its run time. The depth in its storytelling isn’t supported by its accompanying materials — the action choreography, for instance, looks hazy and amateurish. But it enters a territory that not many Telugu movies would dare to even imagine. The final shot captures Mohan Rao (a Dalit man, played by Rakshith) walking into a prison cell voluntarily while BR Ambedkar pensively looks on through a portrait. That’s a powerful punch in the gut!
5. HIT: The First Case
Director: Sailesh Kolanu
There’s a spurt of investigative thrillers in the Telugu and Kannada industries. Though a large number of them follow a generic formula, some movies really stand out. HIT is pulpy — there are misleading suspects and diverging narrators. But all the brushstrokes come together effectively in several places and that is important for a well-made thriller. For Vishwak Sen, this isn’t entirely new ground since he’s already played a man who has skipped anger management classes in Ee Nagaraniki Emaindhi (2018). Nevertheless, the movie feels like it’s made with the intention to pull out your heart through your throat. That’s a winning case.
4. Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya
Director: Venkatesh Maha
Remakes come with many unposted disclaimers and they are weighed on the same scale as the originals. Often, even if the writers manage to polish the adapted screenplays, the new actors may not be able to recreate the magic. But Venkatesh Maha’s Uma Maheswara Ugra Roopasya doesn’t take any of the pressure into account and wonderfully makes its actors — Satyadev, Roopa Koduvayur, Naresh, and Suhas — inhabit the small town in which the movie is set. This is a remake that stands on its own feet. Also, this movie sets a precedent for the upcoming Telugu remake of Ayyappanum Koshiyum.
3. O Pitta Katha
Director: Chendu Muddhu
This is a pleasantly surprising thriller that runs in different directions every now and then. If Nithya Shetty’s uncanny resemblance to Swathi Reddy is unbelievable, then, you should just sit back and watch her perform. It’ll definitely remind you of Reddy’s role in Ashta Chamma. There’s a sense of small town innocence that the former brings to the table in O Pitta Katha. In case the twists aren’t convincing enough, you can rely upon the comedic bits to keep you glued to the screen. It’s not as broad-veiled as Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya (2019), but it tries and succeeds to a great extent.
2. Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo
Director: Trivikram Srinivas
If there’s a genre called “wholesome masala”, you can easily fit Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo into that category. It has foot-tapping songs, eye-popping cinematography, and two protagonists who are in sync with the idea of entertainment. Trivikram takes care to showcase his hero as this larger-than-life man who can handle any situation under any circumstance. Allu Arjun’s costumes and hairdo add panache to his screen presence. Also, this movie released before we all locked ourselves inside our homes. If not for the pandemic, ‘Ramuloo Ramulaa’ would have been the perfect song to dance to in a crowd while ringing in the New Year.
1. Middle Class Melodies
Director: Vinod Anantoju
Telugu films do not usually treat their fringe characters with respect and dignity. But Vinod Anantoju does it beautifully here. He makes room for a milkman who doesn’t actually have anything to do with the main plot. Similarly, he tackles the issues of casteism and superstition in hilarious ways.
Middle Class Melodies is a breath of fresh Guntur air. Anand Deverakonda is still, perhaps, a bit camera-shy. He doesn’t let his face contort more than a certain degree, or pour his words out with anger as and when the scenes demand. But he’ll get there slowly and surely. This film has given him wings, and here’s hoping he uses them well.