I often find myself falling through the rabbit hole that is ‘google search for best movies in other Indian languages’. Since I do not live in India anymore I miss out on watching trailers (unless I fall through the Youtube rabbit hole of trailers which is a topic for another conversation) or having a gauge on release dates of movies.
I recently stumbled upon a starter list of Malayalam movies that was recommended highly on Twitter. That sort of served as an inspiration for me to put together a list of Telugu movies I have really enjoyed watching these past couple of years. Unfortunately, for several non native Telugu speakers the ‘idea’ of a Telugu movie is built on badly dubbed Set Max versions (some of these movies were bad in their original form as well but the awfulness is exacerbated by the bad translation), so the aim is to help you separate the wheat from the chaff.
Like any list, this one is subjective and a reflection of my own preferences however I am fairly confident you wouldn’t feel cheated watching any one of these :). I refrained from including Baahubali in this list because it has already had a pan-India release and frankly deserves a post of its own.
Note: The list is in no particular order
- Pelli Choopulu (Romantic, Comedy)
Funny how the first movie that came to my mind when I set off to write this list was the one I had heard least about. I actually saw the trailer of the movie after the movie was already in cinemas. But, take nothing away from this lovely, slice-of-life film directed by Tharun Bhascker. Drizzled with lovely moments — both humorous and emotional with top notch performances from all actors especially Priyadarshe, Ritu Varma and Vijay Devarakonda, Pelli Choopulu talks about ambition, struggle to find a passion and societal pressure to start earning and get married at a certain age. There is a maturity with which the story unfolds and the tone of the movie is relatable throughout. The songs and background score complement the movie beautifully and elevate the scenes. Though there is a strong nativity to the dialogue, the subject matter is so universal that the movie should have no problem crossing over to people who do not speak Telugu.
- Ninnu Kori(Romantic, Drama)
Nani is perhaps my favorite actor in Telugu cinema right now. Beyond his acting skills and comic timing, it is his choice of movies that impresses me the most. Pick up any movie of his and you will enjoy it. I cannot think of many contemporary Telugu male actors who would have done a movie like Ninnu Kori where the story, female lead are the focal point. Director Shiva Nirvana doesn’t lose sight of the message he is trying to communicate all the while working inside a commercial format — a balance that even seasoned directors often fail to strike. Nani and Niveda Thomas (in another exceptional performance and showing maturity way beyond her age) are lovers separated by circumstances who re-connect after the latter is happily married to Adi. The movie could have benefitted from more character development. You wonder if someone as patient as Adi exists in the real world and had Nani and Niveda communicated better things would be so different but by not spending time explaining these things too much we also get to walk away thinking about ifs and buts and regrets in life (and a shorter movie!). Highly recommended for a warm cosy viewing.
- Kshanam (Thriller)
A movie I have recommended over and over to family and friends, Kshanam is Telugu cinema’s answer to Kahaani. A great story with a strong emotional core that keeps you invested to the very end. A missing child, a mother whom no one seems to believe and an ex-boyfriend who is struggling to come to terms with his own emotions, Kshanam captures all the complexities of a suspense-drama with great finesse (thanks to a tight screenplay). Adivi Sesh (who is also a co-writer on the movie), Adah Sharma, Satyam Rajesh (in a surprising brilliant performance) and Vennela Kishore all perform well without over the top histrionics which helps you feel a strong connection with the proceedings on screen.
- Oopiri (Drama, Comedy)
An official remake of the French movie The Intouchables, which I haven’t seen, Oopiri literally came as a breath of fresh air when it released. How often do we see male bonding or friendship (or for that matter even female boding) be the driving force in a story? Nagarjuna and Karthi are brought together by an unusual circumstance — the former is confined to his wheelchair and wants a caretaker who doesn’t pity him, the latter has a zeal for life that often results in carelessness. They quickly develop a friendship that seems mutually beneficial and helps both characters evolve into better versions of themselves. Their journey is beautifully captured by Vamsi Paidipally who masterfully navigates both the emotional and humorous moments in the movie without any obvious dissonance. A feel good movie with a positive message.
- Gentleman (Thriller)
Thrillers are often tricky to pull-off. To keep an audience constantly guessing is no easy feat so I was excited to see Gentleman aim for that even if it doesn’t hit the bull’s eye. Starring Nani, Surabhi and Nivetha Thomas, Gentleman starts off as a harmless romantic comedy between it’s lead pairs but the trick here is that the girls are either in love with the same man or two men who look identical. The rest of the movie is a key to unlocking this mystery. Director Mohanakrishna Indraganti sets up scenes that set your pulses running high but then intercepts them with slower scenes thereby resulting in inconsistent pacing. However, these are minor obstacles in a movie that gets most other things right. Nani performs brilliantly especially in the role of a businessman with grey shades to his character. The entire team should be appreciated for attempting a tricky genre and almost pulling it off because TFI doesn’t always have a healthy appetite for risks.
- Mahanubhavudu (Comedy)
A delightful movie that is centered around a protagonist who suffers from severe OCD. The humor is clean and crisp and the performances — especially from lead actor Sharwanand and Vennela Kishore — are top notch. You can read more about my thoughts on the movie here https://medium.com/@namratasuri/mahanubhavudu-telugu-61ea2d67ebb3
- Arjun Reddy (Drama)
What can I say about this movie that hasn’t already been said. A movie equally loved and scorned. I had a tough time slotting Arjun Reddy into a genre because it straddles so many themes and therein lies the biggest reason why you should watch it. While the story isn’t novel, it’s the treatment of the characters and the texture of the movie (the music is fantastic as are the performances) that sets it apart from several movies in both Telugu cinema and Indian cinema in general. It is a coming of age movie about an anger fueled, immature doctor whose notion of love and romance is messed up as it is a story about friendships, egos and growth. I wrote about it extensively here — https://medium.com/@namratasuri/some-thoughts-on-arjun-reddy-the-movie-f039457df63e
- Fidaa (Romance)
I often struggle with the way romance is depicted in Telugu movies. More often than not, it involves a glamorized first meeting between the boy and girl, courtship that often feels like stalking, tons of songs in foreign locations and no focus on the ‘relationship’ itself. Which is why when I saw Shekhar Kammula directed Fidaa I was overjoyed. Not only does this movie rectify a lot of the flaws I mentioned above, it goes a step beyond by giving us a female lead who feels, looks and talks like a real girl (Bhanumati is a once in a lifetime role and Sai Pallavi excels and turns in a star turning performance here). I was also impressed by Varun Tej’s character because he too is devoid of standard heroic qualities and is vulnerable and emotional in a way we don’t often see. The story is not ground breaking (to be honest there are only so many new stories that can be told) so the packaging of the story is what drives this movie. The movie stumbles towards the latter half but it isn’t too big a hurdle so as to affect the entire movie.
- Manamantha (Drama, Thriller)
I saw this movie on Youtube of all places. A friend recommended it to me much after it had had its theatrical release so I went in went no expectations. However I was thoroughly impressed with how unique the movie was in terms of screenplay and plot and how involved I was in the unfolding of the events. The movie follows 4 characters through their day to day lives — each has his/her own struggles, challenges and mundane life stuff to deal with. All of this is simply setting the foundation for the conflict coming up in each of the character’s lives and finding out how they resolve it. Whilst guessing one step ahead may be easy in some scenarios in the movie, the end result is still satisfactory thanks to the acting ably led by Mohanlal and Goutami. Director Chandrasekhar Yeleti serves the movie well by shooting in surroundings that seem lived in and his characters dress and talk like middle class people. A refreshing emotional story with suspense tied in that deserver more viewing.
- A Aa (Drama)
Trivikram Srinivas has penned some of my favorite one-liners in recent Telugu cinema. He is a dialogue writer par excellence and comes across as an intelligent, well meaning director through his movies. His biggest issue is catering to the masses whilst still sticking to his ideas and ethos. This often results in his movies being just shy of great. In A..Aa he finds a freedom to tell his story without any constraints and he manages to deliver a movie that is heartwarming and emotional. The movie’s protagonist is Samantha — a 23 year old struggling to come out of the domineering shadow of her mother and trying to find her own identity(how refreshing to have a movie where the lead actress isn’t either a glammed up doll nor a perfect miss goody two shoes). A sequence of events lands her in her native village where for the first time away from her mother’s suffocating gaze she finds happiness and freedom for the first time along with love. Her love-interest is played by Nithiin who for a change isn’t your typical village buffoon or simpleton but rather an intelligent, kind young man who is aware of his circumstances and limitations but lives life with dignity. There are several other interesting characters in the mix and Trivikram lets them all co-exist beautifully in this world that he creates.