Beautiful Lies

Blood, sweat and tears on the sets of the Telugu film industry

01 August 2013
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ANDHRA PRADESH WAS NOT ALWAYS home to Telugu movies. When the Telugu film industry began life in the 1920s, starting with Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu’s Bhisma Pratighna in 1921, and leading up to the first talkie, Bhakta Prahlada, in 1931, most Telugu films were shot in studios in Bombay and Calcutta—the centres of pioneering Indian film industries—and shown in the Tamil-majority Madras Presidency. The first Telugu film studio in Madras, Vel Pictures, was established in the 1930s. Vel Pictures marked the beginning of film production, if not quite at home, then in the metropolis closest to the Telugu-speaking areas of South India.

At the time, many of these districts were still bound by the zamindari system. Wealthy landed families from the area would soon begin to invest in the new industry—Saradhi Studios, Hyderabad’s first film production studio, was built by one such family. In 1948, film production in newly independent India experienced an economic boom, which led to more production houses, studios and cinema halls opening across the country, including the area which became Andhra Pradesh in 1956, when the States Reorganisation Act merged the linguistically similar regions of Telangana—the Telugu speaking parts of what used to be Hyderabad state—and Andhra, the northern districts of the Madras State, into one new state.

All this while, the city of Madras had remained the centre of the Telugu film industry. This had troubled people like Gudavalli Ramabrahmam, filmmaker and early patriot, whose seminal Telugu movies in the 1930s had advocated for social reform and critiqued the zamindari system, which, ironically, had financed some of these very films. Film scholar SV Srinivas writes that Ramabrahmam was concerned that Madras was not an appropriate centre for Telugu cinema. The lack of movie halls in Telugu-speaking Andhra Pradesh, he complained, was bad enough, but the greater problem was that people in Madras simply did not have the appetite for Telugu cinema. He believed Telugu films were not profitable in Madras; this was linked to the fact that they were void of something distinct, a ‘Teluguness’ that defined the Andhra spirit. They needed their own Telugu film studio, in Andhra Pradesh.

Stefano De Luigi is a contributor to many international magazines including Stern, Paris Match, Le Monde Magazine, Time and The New Yorker. De Luigi has won the World Press Photo award three times.

Keywords: photography cinema Telugu Hyderabad Ramoji Film City