While the big stars are busy signing projects and building eclectic fan bases across the country and the world, these actors, too, deserve the spotlight. They might not be part of the A-list, but there’s a good chance they will bowl you over with their performances. But, for that to happen, filmmakers must open some doors for them.
When Aithe, Sye and Anukokunda Oka Roju released in the beginning of the 21st Century, one thought Telugu cinema had found another credible actor. Shashank played one of the leads in Aithe, and, in the other two movies, he travelled alongside the protagonists till the final acts. But after such a terrific start, his chart seemed to go haywire, and he was offered silly parts in below-average films. When actors prove their worth in three successful films in a row, one expects they will land better roles, but that did not happen with Shashank. With more web series and short films being made, one hopes he will make a comeback soon.
Though Fish Venkat has starred in more than 60 films, he still remains a don’s right-hand-man. He usually doesn’t get the spots occupied by prime antagonists and his screen time is always limited. Of course, the focus usually never shifts towards the second-rung of villains, but this actor has so much to offer. The way he throws English words in the middle of short Telugu sentences in Subramanyam for Sale (2015) is a laugh bomb. He is not another Brahmanandam, but why should he be?
If he gets roles where he gets a little more spotlight, this is an actor who can wow audiences. Filmmakers willing to experiment in the commercial space should look at him with a new pair of eyes.
When women who do not speak a word of Telugu (they somehow manage to say Namaskaram) bag leading roles or when antagonists are brought from other industries to shout at the heroes, the biggest problem the audience faces is lip-sync.
Which is why it hurts to see the likes of Eesha Rebba being sidelined in mainstream cinema. Her turn as a young, queer woman in Awe (2018) brought her accolades but not offers. With Ami Thumi and Awe, she should have reached the stars by now. What’s stopping Telugu filmmakers from casting Telugu women in Telugu films?
Sumanth, who almost began his career alongside Pawan Kalyan and Mahesh Babu, is also a good actor. There’s no doubt about that. But he hasn’t been able to capture the hearts of the Telugu states like the other two superstars. You can’t imagine Sumanth as an action star or a dialogue king. He’s this soft-spoken, city-bred fellow. Do you remember his aloof nature in Godavari (2006)? He found his missing piece in that film perfectly.
Sumanth isn’t a star who can do justice to big-budget action entertainers. He’s got this guy-next-door aura around him and if he wants to break it, he can gladly take up parts that don’t require him to shoulder the movie alone. Many think there’s glory waiting for him in indie cinema, which will appreciate his understated performances better.
The range of characters that women play in Indian cinema is awfully limited. And it keeps getting worse as they age. This is because the stories are mostly narrated via men’s perspectives. In the early 2000s, Kovai Sarala and Brahmanandam were a hit formula. And now, it’s the turn of Vidyullekha Raman as the face of the heroine’s friend. This leaves very little room for Hari Teja and her contemporaries. Only in HIT: The First Case, was the stereotype shattered, for she played a suspect in a murder case.
If writers come up with wholesome plots and not just manage to throw in a sister, or a sister-in-law, maybe Hari Teja can climb the ranks quicker than expected. She can take a cue from Anasuya Bharadwaj since the latter has been trying all the tricks in the book.
If you’ve followed Ravi Varma’s career since his debut Vennela, you’ll know he’s a smart actor most of the time. In film parlance, it means he doesn’t go overboard with his expressions even when he tells a joke. He doesn’t try too hard, and owns the characters he plays.
Ravi Varma needs to widen his portfolio now that he’s shown film folks what he’s capable of. He’d be great as a loud-mouthed villain in a comedy caper. Anyone listening?
In India, actors with distinct voices go on to become villains in mainstream cinema (unless they are Amitabh Bachchan). They also become great voiceover artistes, but that’s a discussion for another day. Aadarsh Balakrishna, like Sai Kumar, has a voice that seems to echo from the diaphragm. But, somehow, it hasn’t come to his rescue yet. He’s regularly seen as a bad guy with bad intentions. That’s not a problem for actors who’ve built a reputation along those lines, (Rami Reddy, Rao Gopal Rao, and so on) but that’s not happening with this actor.
Does he receive only substandard parts or is he choosing badly? His career graph needs an anchor that will show him and us what he’s capable of.
There are better comedians and actors in Telugu cinema than Satyam Rajesh. But, he has acquired an X factor over the years. If he’s okayish as a comedian, he’s fantastic in supporting roles. The difference between the two is simple – while comedy relies on timing and punch lines, other roles majorly depend on emotions. That’s what MS Narayan was great at. He could make you laugh in one scene and immediately make you shed a tear or two in the next.
Satyam Rajesh hasn’t yet been pushed towards that zone, and we are waiting. In the samples he’s shown us (Kshanam (2016) for example), we know he’s come a long way. But, there are more milestones to reach, and if young directors give him that extra nudge, he’ll surely get there.
Films like Allari come once in a lifetime. I’m talking about silly comedies that were made around the turn of the century. They don’t withstand the test of time; the next generation might find Allari cringey and out-dated even. But Naresh found a niche and he naturally started building a name there. But, without any space for experimentation, his stardom dimmed.
He’s not without work though, and is seen in films of all manner. But, his filmography reveals more misses than hits. This, when he’s been brilliant in supporting roles (Gamyam, 2008; Maharshi, 2019). Will he take another route from now on, at least?
Satya Krishnan wasn’t a big name before Anand (2004), but, guess what happened — she won a Nandi Award for her performance. And today she’s starring in many films in blink-and-miss roles.
There’s not much space for women of a certain age in Telugu cinema. And they can’t be entirely blamed for choosing the wrong projects either, since options are barely there. Here’s an idea. Why don’t Sumanth, Satya Krishnan, Hari Teja and Satyam Rajesh form a team and demand that Sekhar Kammula make a film with them? That would be perfectly splendid!