Post-Baahubali almost everyone’s in agreement that Telugu cinema’s indeed having a moment now. To be fair though Tollywood has a history of fun cinema. So if you’re in the mood for a primer, here’s a list of my favourite Telugu films that you can stream; movies I have been dipping into like comfort food for a while now, and some new films that I’ve really come to love.
Maya Bazaar, 1957
To begin at the beginning because how can we not recommend you watch this right away if you haven’t (or re-watch if you have again anyway). No Deepavali in our home was complete without a heavy meal and an afternoon television show of Maya Bazaar. The humour, the effects, Savitri’s ridiculously superb screen presence, a little-known plot point from the Mahabharata involving Sasirekha and Abhimanyu, that allowed the screenplay to take liberties to craft something original while also drawing from a familiar setting… the movie has it all. Maya Bazaar is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Kshana Kshanam, 1991
Ah, Ram Gopal Varma in his glory days. Here’s (Victory) Venkatesh and a glowing, sensational, deadpan Sridevi, and a motley crew of superb performers including Paresh Rawal and Brahmanandam. Satya, a middle-class girl, and Chandu, a petty thief are caught in the midst of a heist and are on the run. Watch it for the vintage RGV humour, romance and, the absolutely iconic songs. Kshana Kshanam is streaming on Amazon Prime.
When Anand released in 2004, I found myself instantly drawn to the film. I think the movie’s aged okay too and is still worth an occasional watch. But the Sekar Kammula film that has really stood the test of time for me is Godavari. Kamalini Mukherjee’s Godavari is cut from the same cloth as Sridevi’s spunky Satya. Unable to run her business successfully, rejected by the arranged marriage guy she grudgingly says yes to, Godavari packs her bags and goes on a solo vacation. On a cruise. Through Papikondalu. How tired are we seeing men go on solo trips after breakups and shake-ups? This is what drew me to Godavari. And the rest of the film held up well enough for me to revisit the film, occasionally; particularly its music. You can watch Godavari on Youtube.
Maryada Ramanna, 2010
With Eega, Magadheera and, Baahubali taking away all the attention from Rajamouli’s oeuvre, this little gem is among the most underrated works of the filmmaker. Especially in the way it champions the story. Starring Sunil, (who has since and until then mostly only done side, comedic roles) in the lead, Maryada Ramanna is Rajamouli’s tribute to Buster Keaton’s Our Hospitality and has spawned several remakes. Vallavanukku Pullum Ayudham starring Santhanam in Tamil, Maryade Ramanna starring Komal in Kannada, Ivan Maryada Raman starring Dileep in Malayalam, Faande Poriya Boga Kaande in Bengali and Son of Sardar starring Ajay Devgan in Hindi. Watch out for the talking cycle, it is a riot. The movie is streaming on Youtube.
Anukokunda Oka Roju, 2005
Starring Charmme, Jagapathy Babu and Shashank in the lead, this is a stunningly understated mystery film from Chandra Sekhar Yeleti. Almost art house-sque in its aesthetics. Remade as Sunday starring Ayesha Takia in Hindi, it was also a critical and commercial success in Telugu. The film is remarkable in the way it is centred around Charmme’s Sahasra. An everyday woman who is relatable and likeable. Sahasra is a chorus singer trying to catch a break, who goes out partying with a friend. She wakes up to find everything slightly weird. Only to realise that she’s woken up the day after. The movie revolves around her trying to piece the wild night and the following day together with the help of the two men. The film is streaming on Amazon Prime and Youtube.
Ala Modalaindhi, 2011
Ala Modalaindhi announced the arrival of one of my favourite Indian filmmakers. Nandini Reddy. She’s perhaps the only woman director to make films regularly in Tollywood today and has consistently made fun movies whose women are just casual. There’s nothing precious about them. The meet-cute in Ala Modalaindhi involves Nithya (Nithya Menen) throwing up having drunk a bit too much at her ex’s wedding, with Nani’s Gautham helping her. Nithya Menen is sensational in the film, earnest and funny, as is Nani, as the two navigate their friendship and relationship. Nandini Reddy’s latest Oh! Baby, starring Samantha in the lead too is a fun movie that I absolutely recommend. It is a remake of the Korean hit film Miss Granny. Ala Modalaindhi is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Starring a group of famous actresses in a gender-bender of a film from Prashanth Varma, Awe strikes a superb balance between the experimental and the entertaining. Featuring Nithya Menen as Krishna in a role that plays up her ‘plain-speak’ strengths, Kajal Aggarwal as Kali that plays up her ‘pokerface’ to hide what’s going on in her head, the utterly underrated Devadarshini as Parvathy in a beguiling avatar and Regina Cassandra as Meera a bewildered young woman, Awe looks like one thing and turns out to be something else entirely. While the conceit and the reveal are both superbly done, the way the film plays out is in itself fun. Awe is streaming on Netflix.
C/o Kancharapalem, 2018
CoK features four love stories that are all set in Kancharapalem. The stories are those of couples in various stages of their lives and like Awe, even as its conceit is brilliant, CoK is so much more than its ‘reveal’. CoK is as sweet as it is bold. It is not frilly. Not loud in its boldness. It is the casual bravado of its everyday people that makes the film so special. The mumblecorish feature has a cast that is almost entirely drawn from the village of Kancharapalem, and this adds to the flavour of the film immensely. Watch out for the US-based producer of the film, Praveena Paruchuri who also plays one of the best roles in the film. She’s simply all charm. CoK is streaming on Netflix.
Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya, 2019
This movie is almost a throwback to the RGV era of deadpan humour meets slightly off-key mystery. Directed by Swaroop RSJ and written by him along with the lead, Naveen Polishetty, this is a remarkable film that does not take its main man seriously. That in itself is refreshing. Naveen’s ‘Agent’ is unshackled from the burdens of the usual ‘hero’ and he is so much better off thanks to it. A hilarious scene (that was deleted) features Shruti Sharma singing (entirely off key), the title song of one of my favourite TV serials from way back. Lady Detective. Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya is streaming on Amazon Prime.
Dear Comrade, 2019
Bharat Kamma’s directorial debut Dear Comrade is noteworthy because even as the rest of the Indian film industry is championing and or rehabilitating abusers outed in the #MeToo movement, here’s a film that is squarely on the side of the women. The film revolves around Rashmika Mandanna’s Lilly and her dreams, as Bobby (a superb Vijay Deverakonda) aids her as her ‘comrade’. The songs that capture Lily and Bobby’s love story feature perhaps some of the most beautiful visuals for songs in Indian cinema in recent times. Justin Prabhakaran’s score is sublime. When the song ‘Maama Choodaro’ played in the theatre, every single element was so good — the song, the visuals, the dancing, the emotion the song sought to convey, mirth — that I did not want the movie to end. It was commercial cinema at its finest. Dear Comrade is streaming on Netflix.