2016 was a significant year for the Telugu film industry. On one hand, it was the year that saw actors like Junior NTR and Allu Arjun give their biggest commercial successes ever in the form of Janatha Garage and Sarrainodu. It was also the year that saw thrillers like Kshanam and Gentleman not only receive acclaim but also end up as resounding commercial successes at the box office. What these films managed to do goes beyond box office accolades and critical acclaim. Kshanam, in particular, made thrillers an acceptable genre for aspiring new-age directors, owing to the creation of a template with a meagre budget.
In no manner does this inference discredit thrillers of the past like Anasuya and Nenokkadine, which have been accepted as cinematic gems of the Telugu film industry by both, critics and filmmakers. These were one-off movies at the time, however. Kshanam, on the other hand, opened the floodgates to several thrillers in Tollywood. Today, thrillers have transitioned from being experimental films to becoming commercially safe bets for filmmakers.
The Telugu film audience has reached a point where they have started yearning for thrillers. This can be deduced from the success of Telugu thrillers. Filmmakers are now comfortable using thrillers as a base to include other genres in their movies as well. The rising number of comedy-thrillers like Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya and Brochevaruevarura has given a new direction to thrillers in Tollywood. The Telugu audience loves laughing while being kept on their toes with the twists and turns that these thrillers have had to offer.
Another notable feature of these movies has been the rise of newer actors like Adivi Sesh. They’ve also supplemented the comeback of actors like Rajshekhar by showing them in a new light. The thriller genre has become a sure-shot method for several actors to form a fanbase. Audiences resonate with the protagonists of these movies as they are not the stereotypical “Telugu-film heroes”, who beat up a bunch of goons and dance to hit numbers in the span of five minutes. These thrillers bring to us protagonists who are more believable and relatable.
With the advent of OTT platforms and their libraries of films in other languages, Telugu audiences have also become more discerning about the content of the film. This can be demonstrated by comparing Kshanam and Mattu Vadalara, which released four years apart. Despite a more recognised cast, with the likes of Adivi Sesh, Adah Sharma and Vennela Kishore, Kshanam wasn’t able to generate the same amount of hype as Mattu Vadalara could, with a relatively newer cast of actors. Mattu Vadalara has also appreciation from viewers on Amazon Prime, which Kshanam lacked owing to the absence of OTT platforms then.
Thrillers also break societal barriers and taboos by depicting the protagonists as people with vices. In Hit, the protagonist is someone who gives up his police career to mend his mental health. Similarly, in Kshanam, the concept of an illegitimate child and an illegitimate relationship is legitimized through the efforts Adivi Sesh makes for his ex-girlfriend, played by Adah Sharma.
Thrillers have reached their peak over the last year. With so many hitting theatres one after another, there’s a higher benchmark of filmmaking that directors must live up to. Thus, the floodgates of this genre, opened by Kshanam in 2016, must be approached carefully, to avoid a sense of repetition in the minds of the audience. That said, 2020 had several exciting thrillers like Nishabdham and Wild Dog lined up, which could have the potential to further raise the benchmark for thrillers in Tollywood. As they say, too much of anything is bad, so this genre must tread carefully so that the audiences don’t lose the “thrill” in “thriller”.
Disclaimer: This article has not been written by Film Companion’s editorial team.