Continuing the journey through the Woods of sub-continental cinema, tonight’s stop is a place called, even less convincingly than Lollywood, (wait for it)…Tollywood.
Where the hell is Tolllywood you might ask?
This mysterious kingdom is situated in the SE Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, where most people speak the Dravidian language, Telugu. One assumes this part of the Wood is named in reference to a language rather than a place, as is the usual pattern. While Andhra Pradesh and Telugu may be unfamiliar names to many readers, this region is a significant economic and cultural part of India, centered most famously around the very cool city of Hyderabad. Much of the present State was, until the 1950s, administered as part of the larger Madras State (now Tamil Nadu), with the exception of a vast area around Hyderabad from where one of the richest royal families in India, if not the world, lived in lavish luxury. It was from Hyderabad that the earliest forms of Urdu, South Asia’s most mellifluous, and Pakistan’s national language emerged. Hyderabad today, is a major hi-tech software center, vying for market share with Bangalore and Chennai.
Outside of Hyderabad, Andhra is a big state with other very significant cities like Rajahmundry, Vishakapatnam and Vijaywada. But lest I begin to sound too much like a travel office promo let’s get to the point of this post, the cinema of the Telugu speaking people.
As moving pictures captured the imaginations of Indians immediately the first flickering images were shown in Bombay by the Lumeire brothers in 1896. The first Telugu production hit the screens less than a decade later, in 1909. Today Tollywood is bested only by Bollywood as the single largest producer of commercial films in India. The people of Andhra clearly love going to the movies.
You can’t have any discussion about Telugu cinema without dealing with the giant figure of N.T. Rama Rao, for better or worse, the best known export and Ambassador of Tollywood. With a a minor part debut in 1949, NTR, carved out an unassailable position not simply as superstar but as ‘god’ in the consciousness of Telugu speakers. Indeed, the two categories of cinema hero and divine entity were merged superbly by NTR himself who is remembered mainly for the roles in which he played Lord Krishna, Vishnu, Shiva or Rama. A 1963 mythological, Lava Kusha, in which he played Lord Rama was a massive hit and has recently been re-released as a 50th Anniversary edition to great acclaim. For the illiterate or poor Telugu speaker, NTR was indeed, a messianic figure; someone who oozed charisma and who lived a clean, disciplined life.
When in the early 1980s NTR established the Telugu Desam Party (TDP) with him at its head it was a rare politician indeed, who did not fear his entry onto the political stage. With a win over a corrupted Indian Congress Party in 1983 NTR became identified with a new generation of politician, one who mixed populism, anti-corruption messaging and a fiery commitment to regional interests of his constituents. He was certainly not the first such figure–MGR, another hero of the silver screen turned politician, in next door Tamil Nadu leaps quickly to mind–but his years of enacting the grand deities of Hinduism gave everything he did a somewhat grandiose feel. His political career, while not unmarked by controversy, was as successful as his acting one. He served as Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh for 12 years before handing over to his son-in-law, Chandrababu Naidu.
As is appropriate for a man who played the gods in the films and acted like one in politics, his two careers will forever be intertwined. Even as Chief Minister, NTR made time to act or produce films suggesting where his true passions lay.
Tonight’s album is from 1967 and covers some of the then recent hits of NTR Starrer films. I wish I could understand Telugu but all is not lost because the music is wunderbar.
01 Kalavaramayemadhilo (Film: Pathala Bhairavi)
02 Lechindi Mahila Lokam (Film: Gundamma Katha)
03 Brindavanamidhi (Film: Missamma)
04 Janani Sivakamini (Film: Narthanasala)
05 Kanupa Pa (Film: Chiranjeevulu)
06 Adakaichina (Film: Dagudu Moothalu)
07 Ravoyee Chandamama (Film: Missamma)
08 Anthaka Nanuchoodaku (Film: Manchi Manishi)
09 Edu Kondalavada (Film: Pellichesichoodu)
10 Athey Athey (Film: Ramudu Bheemudu)
11 Amma Nanna (Film: Panduranga Mahatmyam)
12 Lahiri Lahiri (Film: Maya Bazaar)