Telugu film industry based in Hyderabad is actually the second biggest film industry in India in terms of the number of movies produced annually. Popularly known as ‘Tollywood’, it is officially as old as its Hindi counterpart ‘Bollywood’. The first Telugu talkie Bhakta Prahlada, made by Hanumappa Muniappa Reddy, was released in 1931, just a few months after Alam Ara, the first Hindi talkie. However, in reality the history of Telugu films predates this to the attempts of a man named Raghupati Venkaiah, whose passion for the medium equaled the likes of Dada Saheb Phalke, if not surpassed it. He pioneered the Telugu silent movies revolution. Such was his dedication to the cause that he sent his son RS Prakash to foreign countries to acquire the knowledge of film-craft. Prakash religiously studied the finer nuances of moviemaking under the able guidance of a giant like Cicil B Demille, while assisting him in the making of the legendary movie Ten Commandments. Raghupati Venkaiah is also credited with building the first permanent theatre of the era named Gaiety Theatre in 1914, rightfully earning him the title of Father of Telugu Cinema.
The 30’s decade saw astounding milestones achieved in quick succession. In 1935, GK Mangaraju opened the first film distribution company with Visakhapatnam as its head quarters by the name Quality Pictures. Krittiventi Nageswara Rao made the first socially-relevant movie Prema Vijayam in 1936, which became an instant hit, paving way for a plethora of such movies on issues ranging from Independence struggle, abolition of zamindari system and the practice of Sati, evils of dowry system, need for widow marriage, et al. Many of these films were well received. The year 1941 was notable for the emergence of a big banner Sri Raja Rajeswari Film Company. This belonged to KB Nagabhushanam and Pasupuleti Kannamba. 1942 was also the time when a new banner ‘Gemini’ was born. Gemini changed the business of movie making by incorporating things like majestic sets, pyrogenics, thrills, magic and fantasy. Their movie Balanagamma recorded huge box office success because of all these elements. Another genre, folklore films, did considerably well alongside such magnum opuses. Balaraju was one of them. The momentum of filmmaking picked up manifoldly between 1949 and 1953. To meet this demand, numerous studios like Vauhini, Bharani, Rohini and Prakash sprouted one after another.
In 1952 the first International Film Festival of India was held in Mumbai. Many countries took part in it. India’s entry was Raj Kapoor’s Hindi film Awara and K V Reddy’s Telugu film Patala Bhairavi, announcing the entry of Telugu film industry in the International arena. In 1956, another Telugu film Tenali Ramakrishna won the coveted All India Certificate of Merit for Best Feature Film. 50’s also saw the emergence of a prestigious studio Sardhi Studio, which continues to function to-date. This was also the time when the ‘two eyes of Telugu cinema’ ANR (Akkineni Nageswara Rao) and NTR (Nandamuri Taraka Ramarao) came to the fore. While the former served the film industry for close to 8 decades, earning him the Dada Saheb Phalke award for his yeomen service, the latter went on to join politics and become the Chief Minister of the State. In fact it was in the early 1990s, during NTR’s political reign, through the efforts of DVS Raju, the Telugu film industry completely shifted its base from Chennai to Hyderabad.
Telugu film industry had its fair share of enigmatic lead ladies like Tanguturi Suryakumari, Telugu Cinema’s first heroine, who could act, sing and dance with equal ease. Her rendition of Maa Telugu Thalliki, Andhra Pradesh’s anthem, remains unchallened to this day. She even has the distinction of being the first woman to play a male role — Narada. Then came Gemini Movies lead lady Kanchanamala who was called the ‘Greta Garbo of the East’. The decades spanning 50s to 70s was known by another lead lady, the Savitri era. Then came Jamuna, Tollywood’s first diva, followed by many more like Jayaprada, who was better known as the great Satyajit Ray’s Muse and Sridevi, who went to be the reigning queen of Bollywood for a long time.
Hyderabad is the only city in India which has six functional film studios – Saradhi Studios, Ramakrishna Studios, Padmalaya Studios, Annapurna Studios, Ramanaidu Studios and Ramoji Film City. In fact, Ramoji Film City has the distinction of entering the Guinness Record as the largest film studio complex in the world. This is not the only mention of this vibrant industry in the Guinness Book. It has many other record holders like D Rama Naidu, who holds the record as the ‘Most Prolific Producer’ with 130 films, Actor Brahmanandam, for ‘Acting in the most number of films in a single language’, playback singer SP Balasubramanyam, for having ‘Sung the most number of songs for any male playback singer in the world’ and Vijaya Nirmala as the ‘Female Director with most number of films’. She has made 47 films to-date.
Apart from the above mentioned achievements, Prasad’s IMAX located in Hyderabad is the world’s largest 3D IMAX screen, and the most attended cinema screen in the world. Walt Disney Pictures co-produced Anaganaga O Dheerudu, is the first Indian production by Disney. Closer home, the State of Andhra Pradesh, consists of the maximum number of cinema theatres in India. It boasts of 5 Dada Saheb Phalke Awardees – BN Reddy, LV Prasad, Shri B Nagi Reddy, A Nageswar Rao, D Ramanaidu. The Film, Television and Theatre Development Corporation of the Government of Andhra Pradesh has constituted the Nandi Awards, to reward excellence in Telugu Cinema, Theatre and Television and ensure its longevity.