The Telugu film industry, popularly known as ‘Tollywood’, is the third largest film industry in India. The Telugu film industry is still in its infancy when it comes to making and accepting realistic, contemporary, unconventional cinema. Traditionally, the Telugu audiences idolize their actors and like to watch them in larger-than-life roles. This article is about the four most popular, still-reigning actors of Telugu cinema.
Chiranjeevi: This ‘Megastar’ of Telugu cinema had a modest beginning to his career in 1977, acting in villainous and supporting roles. He started playing leading roles in movies in 1982. Films like Intlo Ramayya Veedhilo Krishnyya, Khaidi, Abhilasha and Rudraveena earned him awards and accolates. And there was no looking back after that. The 90’s further established him as a top hero, with films like Jagadeka Veerudu Atiloka Sundari, Gang Leader, Gharana Mogudu and Aapadbhandavudu that won the hearts of class as well as mass audiences. After a few more super hit movies like Indra, Tagore and Shankar Dada Zindabad in the 2000’s, Chiranjeevi is now more focused towards his political career. He started an independent political party called Praja Rajyam (People’s rule), which later merged with the Congress party. He is also actively involved in social activities, running a blood bank named after the actor himself. Chiranjeevi is the most popular actor of Telugu cinema till date, loved by Telugu audiences across the world for his versatility, dancing style and charisma.
Balakrishna: ‘Yuvaratna’ (young diamond) Balakrishna is the son of legendary Telugu actor and former chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, N.T.Rama Rao. Following his father’s footsteps, he entered the film industry as a child actor in the film ‘Tatamma Kala’ in 1974. He debuted as a main lead in the 1984 film ‘Sahasame Jeevitham’. ‘Mangamma Gari Manavadu’, released in the same year, was a roaring success at the box office. His popularity soared in the next few years with several hit movies like Muddula Mavayya, Nari Nari Naduma Murari, Lorry Driver, Rowdy Inspector and Aditya 369. The films had Balakrishna in various interesting roles that attracted class and mass audiences, and particularly, the youth. The 2000’s saw Balakrisha acting in several factionist-backdrop movies like Chenna Kesava Reddy, Narasimha Naidu and Samara Simha Reddy. His latest super-hit movie was Simha in 2011. When we talk of Balakrisha, we can’t forget his mythological movies and socio-fantasies. Like his father, Balakrishna excels in such roles and it would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the only current hero who can do complete justice to such movies. Some of his note-worthy performances in such roles were in the movies Bhairava Dweepam, Pandurangadu and Sri Krishnarjuna Vijayam. Another film ‘Sri Rama Rajyam’ based on lord Rama’s life is currently in the post-production stage and is slated to be released in Aug, 2011. Balakrishna is also involved in social causes and runs the Basavatharakam Indo American Cancer hospital, which is a brain-child of his father and named after his mother.
Nagarjuna: Widely regarded as one of the most stylish actors of Tollywood, Nagarjuna entered filmdom with high expectations. His father is Akkineni Nageswar Rao, one of the legendary actors of Telugu Cinema. He is one of the few heroes in Tollywood who excels in romantic roles. Though his first film was ‘Sudigundalu’ (1967) when he was just 8 years old, his debut film as a hero was Vikram in 1986. Two movies of Nagarjuna that released in 1987, Geetanjali and Shiva, not only got him commercial success, but also critical acclaim, and they remain among Nagarjuna’s best movies till date. In the 90’s, Nagarjuna acted in several hit movies like Killer, Varasudu, President Gari Pellam, Hello Brother, Criminal and Gharana Bullodu. The roles he played in these movies were a mix of sophisticated, urbane characters and rural, mass characters, and he did justice to both types of roles alike. In 1996, Nagarjuna produced and starred, along with Tabu, in ‘Ninne Pelladutha’, which is ones of the best Telugu romantic movies ever made. Among his other light-hearted, romantic entertainers are Santhosham and Manmadhudu. Another interesting movie of Nagarjuna was ‘Sisindri’ in which the story revolves around the life of a little boy who went missing from his house. The little boy’s role was played by Nagarjuna’s son Akhil. In the movies Annamayya and Sri Ramadasu, the audiences got to see a different side of Nagarjuna’s acting abilities. He played the role of an ardent devotee in both the movies, and proved that he is also capable of excelling in a genre his father was well-known for. With a charming personality and unmatched style, Nagarjuna has kept the Telugu audiences captivated for over two decades now. Nagarjuna’s son from his first marriage, Naga Chaitanya, has also entered the Telugu film industry and is doing well, with a recent hit ‘Ay Maya Chesave’. Nagarjuna is the co-founder of the Blue Cross of Hyderabad, which is an animal welfare organization run by his wife Amala.
Venkatesh: ‘Victory’ Venkatesh, as he is popularly known, is the son of famous producer D.Ramanaidu. Venkatesh debuted in the movie ‘Kaliyuga Pandavulu’ in 1986. He then acted in the movie Swarnakamalam, which is among the best Telugu movies ever made. Starting with this movie, Venkatesh has always made an effort to act in meaningful cinema. However, he also acted in some mass movies, which gained him a fan following in mass as well as class audiences. The 90’s saw some interesting movies like Bobbili Raja, Kshana Kshanam, Chanti, China Rayudu, Dharma Chakram, Preminchukundam Raa, Premante Idera. Some of these were romantic entertainers, some socio-fantasies, while others were set in a rural backdrop. This versatility makes Venkatesh stand out among his contemporaries and the audiences have come to expect something good and different from him each time. One other speciality of Venkatesh’s movies is the scope they give for female actors to perform at par with the hero of the film. Examples of such movies include Malleeswari, Adavari Maatalu Arthale Verule and Nagavalli. Venkatesh keeps a low profile and avoids media attention except for his movies. So not much is known about his other activities.