Beautiful Lies

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

The actor Sneha rests on the set of the Telugu film Adivishnu (God Almighty) in Hyderabad in March 2008. She debuted in a Malayalam film and went on to win a Filmfare Award in 2002 for Best Supporting Actress in a Tamil film. VII
The actor Sneha rests on the set of the Telugu film Adivishnu (God Almighty) in Hyderabad in March 2008. She debuted in a Malayalam film and went on to win a Filmfare Award in 2002 for Best Supporting Actress in a Tamil film. VII
01 August, 2013

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.

And so, in the fifties, the great shift began with the founding of Saradhi Studios. Over 300 Telugu films were made in that decade. Today, Andhra Pradesh is the second largest producer of films in India. The Hindi film industry released 206 films in 2011—the highest producer that year. The Telugu industry released 192 films the same year, while the Tamil industry released 185.

In 2008, photographer Stefano de Luigi travelled to Hyderabad to photograph the making of Telugu films in two of the industry’s landmark locations: Ramoji Film City and Annapurna Studios. De Luigi’s photographs blur the line between fiction and reality. These images are not just behind-the-scenes film stills. Elements like the silhouetted film unit in the obscure foreground of some of the photographs lend the images a documentary feel, but the dramatic lighting and the imitation of the cinematic frame give them a sense of being staged, or artificial.

Despite the Telugu industry’s shift to Hyderabad, and the advanced resources available there for filming and post-production, some filmmakers still choose to record music for Telugu films in Chennai. Earlier this year, the Andhra Pradesh Film, TV and Theatre Development Corporation announced that they had marked a deadline, 15 August, by which they expected all music directors and producers outside Andhra Pradesh to complete the pieces they are working on for Telugu films. Following this, any recordings produced for a Telugu film are to be carried out within Andhra Pradesh. Filmmakers who comply with this regulation will pay an entertainment tax of only 12 percent, while those who fail to comply will have to pay a tax of 24 percent.

The AP Cine Musicians Association intends to help enforce this rule. RP Patnaik, honorary president of AP Cine Musicians Association, told the Times of India, “We have enough musicians here and there are several talented singers. Our effort from now on will be to see that local musicians and technicians only get to work for Telugu films.” In an effort to capitalise on local talent, Telugu cinema continues its journey from Tamil Nadu to Hyderabad.

Text by Sukruti Anah Staneley