In The Armchair

Telugu Cinema: Variety Entertainment

Posted in Movies and Entertainment by Armchair Guy on July 13, 2008

Pursuant to my rant about maturity in Telugu films, I’ve come to a realization about the Telugu film industry. Calling most Telugu movies a “Film” or the industry “Cinema” is not consistent with the way the term is normally used in other film industries.

Usually a film refers to a coherent piece of work, an invention that is internally uniform and distinguishable from other pieces of work in its ethos, not just because it is on the same physical tape or disc. The story, plot, screenplay, cinematography, or a combination of these and other elements serve to give it a distinct character. You can’t take a piece of one film and put it into a different film and have it make sense in the new context.

Movies in the Hindi and Telugu film industries often aim at a different ideal. When people from abroad stare in amazement at Indian cinema and wonder why there is a song-and-dance sequence all of a sudden, what they are missing is this: an Indian film is essentially variety entertainment. This kind of entertainment has been popular traditionally in India for centuries; a troupe of entertainers traveling from town to town putting on stage shows, with music, dance, acrobatics, a bit of drama, clowns and buffoonery, all thrown in.

The Indian movie is often a simple migration of this centuries-old motif to a different medium. The plot or story, if anything, only serves to hold the audience’s interest and to give the movie a natural ending. The main offering is the song-and-dance routines, the music, the fights. Indeed, many Telugu movies are reviewed this way: not holistically, but as separate departments: songs, fights, comedy, dialogues, photography. A review might read: “Dialogues in this film are very good. First half has non-stop comedy. Fights by Peter Hynes are excellent. Photography is terrific. Dancing by hero and heroine is very well choreographed. The hero’s style is terrific, he lives up to his image of Prince Charming with his mesmerizing looks (sic). The heroine is in her element with traditional costumes and cute mannerisms.” And so on. “She is sensuality personified,” says one review about the lead actress in a movie.Her wardrobe in this film includes dresses ranging from traditional sarees to mini skirts.” Hmm.

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