The first Telugu Silent film Bhisma Pratigya was made by R S Prakash in 1922.. The first big movies in Telugu were made by the Surabhi Theatres troupes. They produced the first Telugu talkie, Bhakta Prahlad, directed by Hanumappa Munioappa Reddy in 1931.
Initially, mythological stories dominated Telugu films. In 1936, Krittiventi Nageswara Rao made the first social Telugu film Premavijayam. The film influenced other Telugu filmmakers to produce films on social issues. Some popular social themes were feudal system, for example Raitu Bidda made in 1939 and untouchability shown in Mallapilla released in 1938. Although social Telugu films were quite popular, yet films based on mythological or folk stories continued to be produced till late 1970s.
Early Telugu film had close connections with stage. Most of them were conducted as screen versions of the stage. There were no cinematic scripts, body language and dialogues. Those were of the theaters. Maya Bazaar was a classic example of film version of stage. The people used to hold cinemas as fast moving plays. The major silent movies, made in early 1920s, include Malla Pilla and Gunasundari Katha narrated the stories of Rajas and landlords.
The pioneer of stage-cut Silent Telugu film was Adruti Subba Rao. His movies including Tenemansulu and Kaemansulu brought new actors and actresses in the Telugu film world. Yaragudipati Varada Rao continued the tradition through his films Pandava Nirvana (1930) Pandava Agnathayaas (1930) and Hari Maya (1932).
In 1950, nineteen Telugu films were made. This time the trend was making films in both Telugu and Tamil languages. However expression in Telugu ethos in Tamil language created some problems and those led to the complete stoppage of the trend of making bi-lingual movies.
Telugu films’ first star Akkineni Nageswar Rao or ANR was a stage actor and his first film Sriram of Balaramiah was released in 1944 wherein he played as a character actor. In Janam , ANR played a hero for the first time. ANR ruled over Telugu films for a considerable time.
Telugu films’ another hero N T Rama Rao or NTR, who later joined politics and became chief minister of Andhra Pradesh, emerged in films in 1950. Both ANR and NTR played together for the first time in Palletnori Pilla of B A Subba Rao and also in Samsaram. Both the films were great hits. ANR and NTR filmed together in 15 films including the famous Gundamma Katha, Missamma and Chanyaka-Chandgragupta.
NTR was held as darling of Telugu films. Mostly seen in mythological movies, NTR ruled the Telugu filmdom for twenty long yeas since 1962. With S V Ranga Rao, NTR played in mostly mythological films and almost reached the status of a demi-god to the audience.
Krishna is another film personality who has left indelible marks in Telugu films. He encouraged new talents to flourish and many actors and actresses were indebted to him. Chiranjeevi is the new cult figure that emerged in Telugu filmdom in 1987. He is still going on in full strength. His ability to dance, fight and the superlative performance as an ‘angry young man’ has made him a living icon in modern Telugu films.
Telugu Cinema has been revolutionized by three art movies of Shyam Benegal ‘s Anugraham (1977), Mrinal Sen’s Oka Kuri Katha (1977) and Gautam Ghosh’s Maa Bhoomi (1979). These three films proved that Telugu films could come out of mythological bend and focus on reality. The talent of Telugu actors and actresses in playing such realistic roles also gave confidence to the film men and women of Telugu movies.
Influenced by these art films, Narsingh Rao produced Dassi in 1988 and the film won five National Awards including an award for best actress for Archana who played the lead role.S S Rao mixed entertainment and reality in his films including Samskara (1977), Mayuri (1985) and Puspak Vimanam.(1988).
Telugu movies won National awards for best feature film since 1983. The award winning films are Meghasandesam (1983), Sagara Sangamam (1984).Swathy Muthyam (1986), Shruthi Layalu (1988), Dassi ( 1989), Ninne Pilledatha (1996), Shinduram (1997), Toli Prema ( 1998). Kalisundam Ra ( 2000), Nuve Kaveli ( 2001), Aithe ( 2004) and Swarabhishekam ( 2005).
Like all regional movies, present-day Telugu films too nakedly copy Bollywood form and content to attract the audience. By doing so, Telugu films are fast losing the spirit of the soil. It is high time, Telugu filmmakers explore their own culture in their movies for taking a giant tread to modernity.