The lovely Heather and Temple take us through their favourite shared activities- watching Telugu movies in Melbourne- and help us select gateway films for you
Friendship is often a jigsaw of shared memories and experiences. And one of the most ‘shared’ of experiences is the act of watching a movie. My Big Red Bag automatically walks over to the person in the party talking about Spike Jonze, or Manmohan Desai, or Ranveer Singh or Mahesh Babu- because these are tastes she shares as well. In this conversation, we talk to two good friends and bloggers at www.cinemachaat.com about their shared love of Telugu film. We also use this chance to recommend 5 interesting Telugu movies to those who may be new to this kind of cinema- each of the choices selected are specific of a kind of movie that mainstream Bollywood just isn’t making any more.
Heather Wilson and Temple Connolly first met as extras on the set of Chak De, in sunny Melbourne. As Temple puts it “boredom and Shahrukh Khan bought us together“. While she was kept busy playing- among other things- an Indian fan in a crowd of Argentine supporters (obviously played by a raucous Punjabi family), a photographer on both sides of the hockey- ground and other bit parts; Heather waited in her sequinned dress as part of a stand-by troupe that danced and entertained the extras who were dropping left and right out of the relentless boredom of a shoot. The highlight of this experience was a chance to dance with Shahrukh Khan himself (MBRB fans herself); and a new friendship developed over a shared interest in Indian cinema which began with Hindi movies but over time has settled into a love for all kinds of Indian cinema, especially Telugu.
On the kind of cinema they like
Heather is partial to European cinema, as well as to Telugu and Tamil films. She watches almost no conventional Hollywood movies though- because she’s neither fond of being force-fed a moralistic view point nor of big budget action pieces.
Temple is perfectly fine with the action pieces- she says that if the movie can’t give her a plot it may as well give her a song and a dance, silver pants and a building blowing up. But she has little patience for Hollywood and it’s near-constant nostalgia for an idyllic past that didn’t exist in the first place.
They both began exploring Indian cinema as Bollywood fans until the day they heard of Magadheera. The synopsis of the movie sounded like something that was especially made for them, and they made every effort they could to get a hold of the DVD. Over time they discovered places where they could watch Telugu (and eventually Tamil) films even on the big screen in Melbourne. Today, they’re almost mascots of the Telugu-viewing community in the city and a frequent presence at screenings of the latest Indian blockbuster.
On what they like, and what they would change about Telugu films
Temple enjoys the fact that there is such a strong and resolute sense of justice in Telugu movies when there is so little of it in real life. Good always triumphs, and the bad guy always perishes- possibly not only impaled, but also shot, stabbed, and blown up into smithereens in a most cathartic way.
They are not huge fans of Brahmi and the other “comedy uncles” (think Mehmood, or worse Kader Khan) though, and suggest that these be locked in an island fortress and only released in very small doses one at a time.
Heather astutely points out that in some ways Telugu movies are not dissimilar to old Hindi masala movies, in their insistence on serving up a little bit of everything. They aim to entertain- and most of the people involved in the industry realize that what they are producing is ultimately to make the audience happy. Perhaps it is this ‘putting the audience first‘ mentality that attracts so many of the North Indian producers into buying these script? (MBRB notes: The reason some of the Hindi versions of these movies don’t work though is that there is a subtle difference in film making designed to make audience happy, and film making designed to make audience ‘pay'; and modern day Bollywood unfortunately veers towards the latter)
Not surprisingly, in most movies the actresses don’t have much to do. But that’s not something which particularly offends either Temple or Heather. As they point out- the stories are so simplistic- and the plot revolves so entirely around the hero (with the heroine often little more than the prize that he’s doing all else for) that if the actresses are underwritten then so are the mother, father, friends, brothers and everyone else in the constellation around the superstar hero. In that respect, they have also discovered a higher degree of tolerance for Telugu violence because it is so over the top and cartoonish that it is almost impossible to get too affected by it.
On watching Telugu movies in Melbourne
The weekend before we spoke with Heather and Temple, they were deprived of the latest Mahesh Babu starrer because the theater broke into a fire a few hours before the show. They are regulars of the Tollywood viewing community in Melbourne now- and love the communal act of film watching (“You are never alone in a Telugu movie, even if you walk in without a friend”)
(That’s Mahesh Babu’s entry scene in Pokkiri-remade into Wanted)
They were clapped and cheered on as they correctly guessed every single hero based on his mannerisms in the Eega end credits, and were happy to distribute their own pieces of tiny-paper shreds for the audience to throw up in the air when Mahesh Babu entered the screen at the start of Businessman.
Then there was the time they were at the theater to watch Puli, and the movie started two hours late- two hours of Pawan Kalyan fans singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Pawan Kalyan Power Star”
On their favourites
(Even Shahid doesn’t dance with quite the abandon of Allu Arjun aka Bunny)
Heather is partial to Allu Arjun and his slightly manic energy ( She claims she watches the songs from Arya 2 at least once a week- and if you watch ‘Bunny’ dancing you will know exactly why!). Temple is a fan of Megastar Chiranjeevi (1988 Chiranjeevi as she says- when the hair was perfect- after the good boy hair; but before the mullet).They also find Pawan Kalyan a charismatic actor who refuses to become stereotyped , enjoy the dancing of Jr. NTR and while they are not quite part of the hordes of screaming Mahesh Babu fan-girls, they do enjoy how competent he is as an actor (“if he has big ears, is not as short as Aamir and has driven the crowd insane, it has to be Mahesh Babu”)
On watching Mumait Khan gyrate in a bus
Both Heather and Temple have visited India multiple times, Temple having traveled quite extensively in the North while Heather has traveled almost all over India. They have watched movies in the theaters here, stood in the ladies’ queue, been stared at for their seemingly bizarre interest in desi movies and taken every bit of that experience in stride.
Heather who does the Chennai-Trichy route for work fairly often with a group of people new to India has fond memories of the time the sudden appearance on the video screen of Mumait Khan gyrating inside a bus, scared her co-passengers into silence!!
But that’s the thing about immersing yourself in a culture- what’s creepy to a stranger is just mildly amusing -or better- a ‘plot point’ to you.
To read more of their writings, visit www.cinemachaat.com
Five to Watch
For a good intro into current Telugu masala we recommend the following. We are linking to the CinemaChaat reviews of these pieces where available, to give you a bit of background and context
Magadheera- How you feel about Magadheera will determine how you feel about Telugu movies on the whole just as it did for the Cinemachaat girls. If you enjoy the spectacle, the dancing, the suspension of disbelief, the reincarnation, the dancing again, the fighting, the costumes and just how much fun the movie is, then you’ll do well with Telugu Masala.
Eega- You’ve probably already seen the Hindi dubbed version. If not , the synopsis should tell you everything you need to know- ” a murdered man is reincarnated as a housefly and seeks to avenge his death“. Whatever language you end up watching this in doesn’t really matter. Watch it for taking the kind of risks with story and character that no one takes in Hindi cinema any more.
Arundhati- The movie which made Sonu Sood a Tollywood darling- well not quite darling- because he chews the scenery as probably the most despicable man ever to walk on the silver screen. But the movie is a very specific re-telling of the ‘devi’ mythology and the actress (Red Bag favourite Anuskha Shetty) is so effective and powerful in her role, that this may be one of our favourite depictions of a woman in a movie in almost any language from the last few years.
Kick: Quick, watch this one before Sajid Nadiadwala ruins it! Ravi Teja can be a bit of an ‘acquired’ taste. (He may be too hairy for Temple, but we’ve mentioned our Anil Kapoor love earlier). He doesn’t dance , fight or romance particularly well. But he tries so damn hard to win your love, that you have to give some of it back. Also, the first twenty minutes of this movie are probably the most insane and funny we’ve ever seen. (Temple suggests Pokkiri or Athadu instead- if you had to pick one of them we’d recommend Athadu)
Ala Modalaindi: This one is sort of a more ‘real’ Dharma production. There is a bit of a “When Harry Met Sally“ vibe to it- but the characters are all so much more relatable than the dunderheads in some of the recent romances we’ve seen! We also love love love Rohini as the hero’s mother here.You know how there are movies where you wonder how the girl will compete with the guy’s frankly creepy mother-love once they’re married? This is not one of them!