THE IMMINENT FORMATION of Telangana state, the proposed capital of which, Hyderabad, also houses the Telugu film industry, has triggered fresh speculation about the future of Telugu cinema. The humongous Telugu movie business—Andhra Pradesh has India’s second largest film industry and its highest number of cinema halls—has been increasingly embroiled in political controversies related to the state’s division, and the over-representation of coastal Andhra in most departments and sectors of the industry has contributed significantly to anxieties over the industry’s fate. This regional skewing dates back to the late colonial era, when entrepreneurs and actors from the coastal region became an important part of the film industry in Madras, which was the centre of film production in South India between the late 1930s and early 1990s. To this day, the Telugu industry’s leadership is primarily constituted by actors and producers who began their careers in Madras, and belong to what is now being called the Seemandhra region—a combination of Rayalaseema and coastal Andhra.
For some years now, statehood agitations in Telangana have disrupted film shootings and screenings, and led to protests against individual film stars or films. After the UPA government announced the bifurcation of the state in early August, anti-Telangana protests in Seemandhra—largely driven by fears of losing access to education, employment and investment opportunities offered by Hyderabad—have complicated matters even further for the industry. Big-budget productions lined up for release, including a Rs 50-odd crore project featuring film-star-turned-politician Chiranjeevi’s brother Pawan Kalyan, were delayed. Kalyan’s film was expected to face trouble in Telangana because of Chiranjeevi’s anti-bifurcation stand, but its fate is now also uncertain in Seemandhra, where agitators are reportedly unhappy with Chiranjeevi’s reluctance to resign from his position as the Minister of Tourism in the union cabinet.
Although the short-term impact of a separate Telangana on Telugu cinema is clearly negative, the big question is what its long-term consequences, if any, will be. The industry is going through a bad patch, and it is tempting to attribute its struggles to the Telangana tangle, but that might be a simplistic view.