The Telangana flavour has been on the rise in Telugu cinema in recent years. Will Falaknuma Das and Mallesham drive this further?
Earlier this week, the team of Falaknuma Das, which will release shortly, held a test screening. This screening saw a mixed audience — people with their roots in different regions of Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Rayalaseema. The intent was to gauge if they warm up to a film that has a Telangana flavour.
Falaknuma Das, directed by and starring Vishwak Sen, is a Telugu adaptation of the Malayalam hit Angamaly Diaries. While the essence of the story remains the same, the film has been tweaked to the Telugu context. Director Tharun Bhascker, who is one of the principal actors in the film, is happy with the response to the test screening and feels that a well-made film representing a subculture can appeal to a wide audience.
The steady rise in representation of Telangana dialect in Telugu cinema is a recent phenomenon. The markers of change were visible during the Telangana agitation that led to the State formation in 2014. After the State bifurcation, superhits such as Tharun Bhascker’s Pelli Choopulu and Sekhar Kammula’s Fidaa brought the Telangana dialect to the mainstream. In the former, the show stealer was Priyadarshi Pulikonda with his comic lines in Telangana dialect. A large portion of Fidaa unfolded in rural Telangana and speaking the native dialect was Sai Pallavi. Director Sandeep Reddy Vanga’s Arjun Reddy followed, with Vijay Deverakonda speaking in his casual Hyderabadi-Telangana accent.
Newer films are set to push the boundaries, presenting stories from the interiors of the State. Mallesham, starring Priyadarshi and directed by Raj, is a biopic of Padma Shri awardee Chintakindi Mallesham who invented the ‘Asu machine’ that simplifies the processing of silk yarn for ikat weavers. Another film in production is Dorasani, set in the 1980s. Executive producer Venkat Siddareddy reveals that it will be a tragic romance set in a fictitious town in rural Telangana. Venkat, who is also an executive producer of Mallesham, attributes the change in Telugu cinema to two reasons — State bifurcation and the evolution of Telugu cinema with the audience rooting for diverse content.
For a long time, Telugu filmmakers stuck to a ‘neutral’ or Vijayawada-Guntur dialect to make their films appeal to viewers across Telangana, Andhra and Rayalaseema. Occasionally, characters would speak in East Godavari, West Godavari or Rayalaseema dialects. A few actors, the late Srihari and ‘Telangana’ Shakuntala for instance, were known for their Telangana accent. But the neutral accent ruled Telugu cinema. It’s still the staple, but the bandwidth for the expression of other subcultures has grown. Steering away from the norm was also director Venkatesh Maha’s Care of Kancharapalem, presenting the ethos of Vizag beyond its picture-perfect seafronts. “In the last decade, our cinema has gone through a change. Filmmakers want to create better content, and the audience is welcoming of native stories,” reasons Venkat.
The cool factor
Actor Priyadarshi, who’s been in the industry since 2011, has witnessed the shift in scenario. Earlier, he would be urged to adhere to the neutral Telugu if he slipped into Telangana accent. He still speaks the neutral accent in many films so that he appeals to a wide audience. However, he notices that directors and dialogue writers have no qualms if he speaks in Telangana dialect today. “This dialect is now considered normal,” he points out.
Ananya and Priyadarshi in Mallesham
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Actor Rahul Ramakrishna, who can speak the neutral accent as well as the Telangana dialect, says the pop culture representation of Telangana language and culture has grown by leaps and bounds. “The dialect is not only accepted, it’s considered cool,” he says, adding that this has led to the possibility of more stories emerging from this region. He emphasises that there’s a strong scope to also reflect other subcultures — Rayalaseema or Uttarandhra (the north coastal districts of AP, namely Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Visakhapatnam). “The language, clothing and culture changes every few kilometres and cinema has to reflect this,” he says. In Nagesh Kukunoor’s Telugu film under production, Rahul will be speaking in a rural Rayalaseema dialect.
Tharun says the acceptance of subcultures is visible even on film sets. “People no longer fear expressing themselves in native dialects. Our cinema has been playing safe and scared to experiment — both in terms of subcultures and genres. That is changing,” he says.
While Arjun Reddy and Pelli Choopulu had the universal appeal, the industry is waiting to see how the audience will receive the newer films. “Aspiring writers are eager to narrate stories from their own region, particularly Telangana. The reception to Mallesham and Dorasani holds the key. It has the potential to change the dynamics,” sums up Venkat.
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