When we mention enormous effigies, garlands and poojas, you would be forgiven for assuming that we are talking about a religious procession. Once you witness the opening day celebrations of a Telugu heros’ movie, it becomes clear that in Andhra Pradesh, matinee idols are treated as demi gods.
Leading the pack for close to three decades are superstars Nandamuri Balakrishna, Akkineni Nagarjuna and Daggubati Venkatesh. All three actors hail from noted film families. NTR’s famous dialogue delivery techniques were passed on to his heir Balakrishna. He has scores of movies to boast of, with Lakshmi Narasimha (2004), Simha (2010) and Sri Rama Rajyam (2011) claiming blockbuster status in the past decade.
Nageshwar Rao’s acting prowess was ably inherited by Nagarjuna. The year 1989 and ’90 were especially notable in his career with Mani Ratnam’s Geethanjali (1989) and Ram Gopal Varma’s Shiva (1990) both achieving critical acclamation, box-office success and many awards. Now with over 90 movies under his belt as lead actor, and 24 awards, Nagarjuna is an icon in the industry. Nagarjuna is currently ruling the roost with Damarukam, his costliest movie till date.
Victory Venkatesh found inspiration in his father Dr Ramanaidu Daggubati, a prolific film producer and former MP. His name says it all. Victory has been a constant companion of Venkatesh all through his film career. From his debut as lead actor in Kaliyuga Pandavulu (1986), Venkatesh has offered cinema of the highest calibre like Prema (1988), Dharma Chakram (1996), Ganesh (1998), Kalisundam Raa (2000), Sankranti (2005) and Adavari Matalaku Ardhalu Verule (2007). His upcoming Seethamma Vakitlo Sirimalle Chettu, along with Mahesh Babu, is one of the most awaited films of the decade. Chiranjeevi was the first pillar of the group and came from a non-filmy background. Born as Konidala Siva Sankara Vara Prasad, this megastar paved his own road to success. During the initial phase of his career, 1978 to 1981, Chiranjeevi appeared in several films in supporting and negative roles, even playing the anti-hero opposite Rajinikanth in Ranuva Veeran (1981). He was soon cast in lead roles in mega-hit films like Abhilasha (1983), Khaidi (1983), Challenge (1984), Chantabbai (1986) and Aradhana (1987). Gangleader (1991), Gharana Mogudu (1992) and Indra (2002) went on to become cult classics. These are just a few of the over 150 Chiranjeevi starrers but they paint a picture of an actor who rose from the ground, playing roles inspired by every shade in the book. He has since taken to philanthropic interests leaving Telugu cinema audience asking for more of the megastar.
The current superstar statuses are held by Mahesh Babu, Pawan Kalyan, and Jr NTR, closely followed by Prabhas, Allu Arjun, and Ram Charan Tej. Prince Mahesh Babu, son of yesteryears super star Krishna is currently hailed as the biggest star around. He has starred in some of the biggest blockbusters in the past decade including Athadu (2005), Pokiri (2006), Dookudu (2011) and Business Man (2012). He is also the most wanted brand ambassador. Pawan Kalyan, brother of megastar Chiranjeevi, became an overnight sensation after his movie Toliprema (1998), became a rage with the youth. His earlier releases Akkada Ammayi Ikkada Abbayi (1996), Gokulamlo Seetha (1997), and Suswagatham (1997) all ran for 100 days and gave him a strong base in Tollywood. The success of Gabbar Singh (2012) has again put Kalyan in the reckoning.
Grandson of NTR and son of Hari Krishna, Jr NTR had the Nandamuri fans since his debut. Jr NTR has risen to popularity as much for his dance moves as for his larger than life expressions. In a career of 23 movies, he has won 22 awards, an amazing feat for any actor. In a similar action oriented genre, when Prabhas’s rippling arms appeared on screen for the first time in the introductory scene of his film Varsham (2004), the girls swore to come back for more, and the movie became a sensational hit. With a maximum of two films per year, whichever movie he touches turns into gold.
Allu Arjun may not have expected his current star status, after his debut in Gangotri (2003). It was his second film Arya (2004) directed by Sukumar which had the audience sit up and take notice. Today Allu Arjun, or as his fans call him, Bunny, has cemented his place in both Telugu and Malayalam cinema. When you have two superstars in the family, the pressure to succeed is inevitable. Chiranjeevi’s son Ram Charan Tej, managed to live up to the expectations and his double whammy title when his second film Magadheera (2009) became the highest grossing Telugu film of its time and won nine Nandi awards and six Filmfare awards. With a re-make of Zanjeer in the pipelines, he may soon reign supreme in Bollywood.
Ravi Teja and Allari Naresh are regarded as sure-fire stars whose films are known for their entertainment value. They both fill theatres across Andhra Pradesh with an audience that just wants to forget about the drama in their real life and enjoy two and half hours of pure comedy.
Nandini’s Ala Modalaindi started the trend of small budget hits in 2011. Since then Maruti’s Ee Rojullo (2012) and Sunil Kumar Reddy’s Oka Romantic Crime Katha (2012), have given the audience a new flavour, different from the hero loves heroine, hero beats villain and hero marries heroine scenario. Telugu audience have started to pay attention to aspects other than the mystical hero.