‘An audience always gets the films it deserves,’ reads a popular quote and it aptly summarises the kind of films that the Telugu film industry takes pride in producing. Telugu cinema audiences largely view the medium as an escape route from reality, wanting to be entertained and seeing stories they are largely familiar with and can relate to. Mass entertainers, family dramas, romantic comedies always have a market here and it takes an emotionally engaging yet a simplified screenplay to succeed.
‘Manchi cinemalu teesthe mana janalu eppuduu aadaristharu,’ is a cliché that every producer uses in press meets these days to promote their film. However, the very idea of what’s ‘manchi’ keeps changing with time in the industry and that’s what makes this business extremely unpredictable. The insipid response to Zombie Reddy that released last week in theatres tells us that crowds here only accept experiments to a certain limit.
The novelty in Zombie Reddy’s content has found little takers and there could be many factors one can attribute to it – the absence of a familiar face in the lead cast, the doubt in the minds of the audiences that if it merits a big-screen experience and the newness of the genre. Though the director Prasanth Varma has tried to make a zombie comedy relatable and entertaining in a factionist backdrop, he’s been staring at empty halls through the Telugu states – the same fate that his earlier films Kalki and Awe met with, despite being good films.
Although we’ve had directors like Tharun Bhascker, Vivek Athreya, Adivi Sesh and Siddhu Jonnalagadda who’ve tried to create an alternate path for themselves in the industry, Telugu cinema has not been a place where experiments have thrived. Even in the lockdown, while audiences have shown great love to the not-so-regular films on OTT like Bhanumathi and Ramakrishna, Uma Maheshwara Ugra Roopasya, Krishna and his Leela, Colour Photo to name a few, it’s hard to say if the films would have enjoyed the same adulation if they had released in theatres.
It’s convenient to say Tamil and Malayalam cinema is several years ahead of Telugu cinema in terms of content, but it’s also the audience that’s driving such novel content in those industries. While we praise the films from other industries to the skies on OTT or on occasions when they’re dubbed, the reactions of the same audience to a direct Telugu film are largely contrasting. It takes two hands to clap after all!