We have been noticing of late the controversies that the Telugu Film industry is getting enmeshed into.
How come it is happening today? Has the film industry become more insensitive than earlier? And how come that there is an almost incestuous endogamic nature where a small group of families control the whole industry and not represent the diversity in the society?
Before we answer these questions it is critical to understand the evolution of the film industry in AP and follow through its development, its ideological evolution or lack of it.
The cinema industry, quite unlike other art forms of expression demands significant capital and other capabilities including infrastructure to produce content, exhibit it and make money to recover its costs and make profits to the producers.
When the art form was new and was being developed in India, it attracted people who were either themselves idealistic or were surrounded by an aura of idealism sweeping the country post independence of the country.
That is how the film industry responded to the idealism in the air and the aspirations of the people being shaped by it and shaping it in some way.
So were the other art forms – poetry, music and writing – short stories, novels etc.
Given its glitz and the larger than life size and its ability to create a temporary make-believe world the industry attracted all sorts of people as it evolved. The first wave attracted people with literary values, cultural values and personal values. The second wave attracted the neo-rich classes enriched by the green revolution based surpluses.
The nature of feudal elements as producers has significantly impacted the industry to follow a feudal structure – while adapting to emerging technology the nature of the industry did not change. This contradiction can be observed glaringly, while the latest technical gizmos are used in production including animation, the nature of the industry is fundamentally very feudal.
The neo-rich green revolution enriched feudals obviously came from agricultural families, and one community which leveraged the new agricultural revolution started to dominate the industry. You can see primarily two dominant agriculturalist castes control almost the whole industry. And a new one is aspiring to get a share of the spoils! While both the communities are at loggerheads where politics are concerned, there is an apparent truce and probably an implicit understanding.
Every one knows the natural veering of these communities towards the two major parties in AP, barring individual exceptions.
One community in particular seems to have found communist parties as an alternative power base and foothold in politics around independence, but as the communists’ influence waned and a new party was born, obviously the dividing lines became clearer.
Hence you do see some traces of idealism, leftist ideology or lingo, which however waned as time passed by.
Which is very much seen in the cultural production and the producers – Sri Sri and many other writers belong to that genre and who shaped and were shaped by the times.
And post independence hope in the air also offered inspiration and space to poets like Krishna Sastry et al.
During and after the merger, they did not connect with either Hyderabad or its ethos of pluralism and cosmopolitanism or with the local Telangana.
Instead of being respectfully curious, and appreciating the differences this class imposed their language, culture, social practices into their cultural productions.
All films show ‘menarikam’ which is anathema in Telangana by and large. Calling a husband maava comes from the practice of the maternal uncle having a right on the sister’s daughter. You can see the cultural practice of a mena-mama bringing the bride in a basket to the marriage pandal – a kind of publicly renouncing or giving away the first right of refusal over the girl!
And marriages among cross-cousins also seems an import from their social customs. I can only guess that it could have come from the need to keep the land holding within the family. The vestige of this social artefact keeps recurring in ‘bava-maradalu’ type of scenes, songs and love.
Obviously the first encounter for these people was Hyderabad and the Telugu spoken in Hyderabad – and instead of respecting the differences they used it to amuse their audiences.
Unfortunately, no Telanganaite ever seriously protested against it. For it was found to be acceptable – a cultural subjugation where one is made to feel that one’s language is not good enough or not ‘standard’.
Hence all the rowdies, anti-social elements are either Hyderabadi Telugu spouting or are Muslims or bad politicos who spout a Telangana language and Kota’s and Babu Mohans have given some of their best performances in pouring life into them.
But today the situation is not same. Telangana is seeking to assert its identity. People are getting awakened to what is the nature of this animal called Telugu film industry.
We have to understand that the limited social representation limits their understanding of the world around them which often revolves within their limited experience – and therefore projects their prejudices, their social customs and their way of looking at the world.
You can check the social exposure, education of the directors and writers of today. Check their experience of life and exposure to life and the world and worldviews. They are victims of their own circumstances.
But the problem is when they bring their victimhood to the large screen it gives an authenticity and a scale that it influences ordinary mortals.
It is not that they have the guts to challenge the status quo, they have no respect for anything. Nothing is sacred. Only money is sacred. And money and fame add to their arrogance and feeds each other in a vicious cycle.
Do they have the guts to explore police excesses? Do they have guts to challenge the corruption which is corroding the basic fabric of democracy? Do they have the guts to expose the wrong-doings of corporates? Do they have the guts to expose the charlatans, the scamsters and schemers? Do they have guts to go against the pernicious caste discrimination? Do they have the sensitivity to depict the status of women?
Would they be concerned about the aspirations of the people?
A resounding NO. No, they are only interested in reinforcing the status quo, reinforce the stereotypes, and they are interested in creating fear and feed the ignorance of gullible people with mumbo jumbo films. Or draw cheap laughs from ridiculing one or the other.
No Laughing Matter
On another note, when people want to be funny they relate the episodes/scenes enacted by one comedian or the other from films. That is how much films have infiltrated our lives.
It is not funny to see all the fun, laughter programs on television having only film content of the comedians.
It is so sad that there is no more cultural production to tickle the funny bone beyond the often garish , cheap and risqué film comedy!
But Telangana has pittala-doras who are very funny, how come it does not get represented or the films get inspiration from?
I believe that there is a great opportunity for Telangana people to create entertainment from the pittala-dora type and evolve it into mature stand up comedy – ala George Carlin, Bill Maher, Bill Hicks etc.
The film industry divorced itself from the brahminical sense of comic from Bapu-Ramana combine (Mutyala Muggu is the best example), the sharp biting satire of Gurazada a la Kanyasulkam but brought their imitation from cheap Tamil excessive comedy and imposed on us.
To be able to make people laugh is serious business. Since the industry lacks depth and width, it resorts to – slipping-on-banana-peel type of slapstick!
Or it resorts to caricaturing a social section, a caste or a profession – often bordering on gross insensitivity and landing into controversy and gain some cheap publicity even when protested against!
And given their pool of (often a cess pool) of talent and experience the depiction of women has also been less than ideal to say the least.
Gone are days of Malapilla or a wholesome Madhuravani exposing the hypocrisy in society, women are portrayed in a cheap manner.
And they think it is cool to call a woman ‘ose’! And call themselves cultured.
And almost all their heroes are shown as teasing or ragging women, which is fawned upon by smiling heroines!
Often women are not more than sex-objects or appendages in the story.
The earlier films separated the oomph or titillation into a Jyotilaxmi or a Jayamalini while keeping the heroine in the image of Sita. I am not endorsing this either!
Today like re-engineering corporations where multiple roles are rolled into one to improve efficiencies, these folks have rolled the vamp and heroine into one! Smart business move.
While they claim Andhra is the basis of Telugu culture – what with Kuchipudi form of dance born in coastal Andhra, the whole dance numbers reek of cheapness catering to the basest of human emotions.
Gone is the boldness of a Gudipati Venkatachalam in portraying women and their sexuality and politics of sexual domination and issues surrounding it, what they imbibe their films with is cheap regressive sleaze.
While divorcing sensuality, they resort to plummeting necklines with cleavage as leverage and bosom heaving and vigorous pelvic thrusts as the new dynamic esthetic!
Instead of exploring sexuality boldly they either resort to an obsession with a milk glass holding woman or vatsayana’s complex sexual positions and add some mobility to it and call it ‘sensual’!
Telugu Films and social issues
Rarely do you find a filmmaker struggling with issues that confront us as a society. Instead of challenging myths they pander to mumbo jumbo and, instead of questioning injustice pander to the stereo-types in society.
What can you expect from a moribund culture where money is the only God and power is the only ideal?
Obviously we cannot expect anything of social relevance from this lot.
They have disowned their own idealists, social reformers, revolutionaries and buried the spirit of humanness by erecting statues for them and symbolically garlanding them once a year!
They whine if the statues are desecrated but never think once how the regressive rubbish that they churn out will make all their ‘vaitalikulu’ turn in their graves!
If they really respect a Gurazada or a Kanduduri or a Sri Sri, that should reflect in their work. Especially the spirit of the men and the ideals they lived and devoted their lives to. Obviously it is hard to expect from these bunch of guys.
As the idealism waned and as the idealists either became old or died, the industry did not have any thing to anchor on.
Thus started the decline of the Telugu film industry. It became more of an industry and less of an art form for expression of either beauty or social issues.
Meanwhile, there have been shifts in the economy and demographics – the ratio of young people in the society has been significantly increasing since the last decade. Instead of inspiring the youth they look at them as pliable and malleable markets. Hence the 16 year love stories and the sick depiction of love. Looks like they have not grown beyond ‘padaharella vayasu’, full of hormones and little else. Seems like they haven’t grown beyond the groin, and have a long way to go to heart and forget about cortex, doubtful if ever will!
Politics and Films
The industry gives tremendous visibility and face-familiarity to some of the players – like actors and producers, directors among people, and many of them start believing that they are larger than life. That is another source of their arrogance. Who gives them the power? We do. What if we ignore when we see an actor or treat them as any other person on the street?
We need to remember great people have small egos and small people have great egos. I have seen Amok Palekar on the streets and Irani restaurants, I have seen Sanjana Kapoor at Prithvi theatre coming in an autorikshaw! They have no airs about them.
The other day Rana Daggubati came to the smoking room before getting his baggage at the Hyderabad airport. He asked for a light and I gave him. I refused to recognize him as an actor or someone coming from heavens! He just lit his cigarette and thanked which I acknowledged and went on about my business!
We as audience apart from paying for their profits and lavish life-styles also give them too much attention.
How is the actor different from my barber who does a great job with my hair and I respect him for his skills? Both of them render a service and get paid by me. My barber acknowledges and wishes me when he sees me outside of his shop. Should this guy who is living off my money be any different? He is an entertainer. I pay him for his services. Period.
This is a view that we need to build in Telangana society. The T school teachers need to teach our children – not to be awed or overawed by any body, least of all film actors and actresses.
When we stop treating them as special, they learn about their ordinariness. He is like any one of us doing our job for a living. Nothing special about it.
This special treatment, face-value and recognition gives them the platform to seek political spaces.
That’s how NTR got away with political power partially, partly due to a self-obsessed Congress government.
That’s how every now and then some of them try to make political statements to get attention of political parties so that they can get some foothold in political space. They need politics, so that they can put their dirty hands in the public till. The whole CGR seems to emanate from such ambitions.
Without the protests and resistance they faced, they would have gone about their business as usual, insulting, humiliating and showing their arrogance.
Same seems to be true of another film clan. And they want to show their regional seema manliness, especially the hero, on hapless protestors belonging to one community.
One need not seek a ban of their films, – just do not watch them. Money speaks, and I am sure they will listen with interest.
If 4 crore Telangana people choose not to see their films, they lose half their market. It is more powerful than protesting or seeking bans. Seeking bans only gives them cheap publicity.
I personally believe that when we encounter a problem, we can sense an opportunity.
Greatest of the world literature was produced when there was turmoil in the society or social struggles.
Whether it is Dickens, or a Steinbeck or a Soyinka or a Marquez.
Here is a great people’s movement, a movement for Telangana, which already is throwing up new voices, poets and writers. However it is important that a concerted effort is made to give rise to a new class of cultural producers – who respect other cultures, are progressive where women are concerned, have values of pluralism, secularism and most of all are driven with a passion for social justice. A new set of harbingers of change – confident, assertive non-reactive and creative.
Here is an opportunity to produce clean, wholesome entertainment, and an opportunity to fill in the abysmal vacuum. To expect someone else to respect us or our culture or our customs is futile. We need to fill the gap ourselves.
Like Namaste Telangana newspaper is playing its role, Telangana needs its own players in the game.