Early silent movies in telugu are a continuation of the stage on to the screen. This trend continued even with the early talkies. Movies at that time were in the "praapakam" of Rajas' and Zamindars' this is evident from the names of the producers and directors of "maala pilla", "gunasundari katha" etc. Most of the movies were no different from their stage version same script, dialogues, "padyaalu", background environment changes from scene to scene Overall it was like watching a play on the screen instead of live actors.
The primary requirement for acting in those days was stage experience or "naatakaanubhavam". Great actors from stage with a very good face, kanchu khantam or kokila swaralu moved on to films. No doubt the present day stars when compared to the actors of that time pale in "havabhavaalu", dialogue delivery, body language, presence in the scene. The only name i remember of the actors/actresses who belonged to this era are ballari raghava(i'am doubtful here) and shanta kumari others are welcome to fill in with some more names.
In the begining movies had to compete with stage, harikathas, burrakathas, tolubommalata and other forms of entertainment. They had ingredients from them in all the movies to some extent. As time passed, movie is in competition with itself only as it has monopolized the entertainment segment.
Then came background singing and the demand for people who could sing was dropped and it was like opening the flood gates and came a crop of great actors - who could not sing very good but had good stage experience. ANR, NTR, Relangi, Ramana Reddy, CSR, and of course SVR the one and only one among actors and on the other side Saavitri, Bhanumati, Girija, B.Saroja Devi, Suryakantam to name a few.
It was around this time the movies started to alienate themselves from the stage in presentation of the theme. It became more mass oriented, more entertaining and as one of the netters pointed than burrakathas and harikathas where the listner has to conjure up the scenes, the fights, the romance and the humor. Movies were doing it all for the viewers, this i believe is the reason for the decline of the above mentioned art forms. Even stage has been uprooted badly.
Still movies made were adaptation of popular stage plays, stories from the puranas, janapada kathalu and the classic example was "MAYA BAZAAR" a totally fictional story never narrated in any version of Bharatam but was a creation of the movie writers of that age. Social themes started getting nod more and more away from the purana katha mode and movies like Missamma, badipanthulu, rangularatnam, shaukaru, gundammakatha reflect these. Sudigundalu is by far the best telugu movie on contemporary problems. Very good performance by ANR and all others involved in that. Some very radical suggestions.
Some of these telugu movies won the "raashtrapathi awards" at the national level for their social themes. This trend with more and more social themes, less of purana and janapadalu continued and by 1975, the later two almost died except for kurukshetram and d.v.s.k.
Adurti Subba Rao could be cosidered as the starting point for the new direction in the telugu film industry. His moives like tenemanasulu, kannemanasulu brought new faces into the industry and moved away from the established artists. Their success helped others to go for new artists, directors et al. He was an expert in making a grosser from a simple story line with some excellent scores, and taut screenplay. T.Krishna was an editor with Subba Rao, Vishwanath was an asst dir. to name a few of his proteges.
Movies after all became the sellers of dreams. Hero winning against all odds, good prevailing over the evil and slowly the mainline cinema moved away from the realities. They became more and more hero orinted by early 70's and it still continues to this day. ANR, NTR, Krishna, Harnath were the leading actors (need not be in the order mentioned) with people like ramakrishna, ranganath, balaiah, krishnamraju, chandramohan in the wings. Hero became the focal point of the whole story.
Some producers who were willing still came with some movies like maa bhoomi, nimajjanam, chali cheemalu which were critically acclaimed. Toorpu velle railu, padaharella vayasu were off-beat movies which grossed at the box office.
Adavi Raamudu in 77-78 period (i may be wrong here) was the movie that lifted NTR to the super hero status. The movie had very good songs, a strong story line oriented around the hero with all the movie gimmicks like elephants taking on the villians and much more. This movie ran for 100 days in 32 theaters a record that was not bettered till recently. This started a flood of commercial movies more and more away from reality in the sense that the solutions offered were more movie like not in real life.
Then came dasari, raghavendra rao, kodandarami reddy and others who took the cinema more and more away from reality into the dreams. Ironically dasari came into light by working with a socially strong themes like tata-manavadu, swargam-narakam, korikalle gurralayithe.
Those producers who could not afford the superstars like NTR, ANR and others who demanded huge settings, exotic locations, costumes, storyline that suited their image resorted to small actors like chandramohan ( who to this day is there only ), ramakrishna, ranganath both of them faded away into oblivion. Narasimha raju also flourished along with sudhakar who started as a side hero to a villian, and off for some time and now back again.
Krishna was the only star who was kind of openly challenged NTR in the film industry. When NTR left for politics in '82, Krishna became the only superstar and all the mega buck movies starred him as the hero. His movies became predictable and had a string of flops around then. ANR was never a potent force for a super star even though he was talented and had the finnesse than NTR.
Chali cheemalu, toorpu velle railu brought to us a new hero - Narayana Rao who won the best actor award at the Cannes Film Festival. A product of the DVK Raju film institute, he lacked the looks of a superstar and was typecast to the roles of his first 2 films. Rajendra Prasad - Aha Naa Pellanta fame, bhanu chander - nirikshana fame, chiranjeevi also graduated from the same institute together and to this day remain friends.
The first one to get a crack at the movies was Narayana Rao. Chiranjeevi, Rajendra Prasad started as small villians, then to side heroes and the rest is .... u know ...
>From about 1979 to early 81 chiranjeevi was doing some small roles and then he became son-in-law of Allu. With some help from Allu and his talent he got good roles in abhilasha a hit movie, khaidi which made him dear to the youth, who for the first time saw a hero without pot-belly, young, who could fight a la krishna, steps like ANR. This was the begining and there was no other new face at that particular time. He also established himself well with good performances in "manchu pallaki", "subhalekha", "intlo ramaiah veedhilo krishnaiah".
Producers were willing to ride his back. He was not expensive, gave them winnable combination good music with ilaya raja entering the fray. This coupled with NTR's exit, Krishna's string of failures provided an oppurtunity for any new comer to exploit and get established. Chirnajeevi was at that time a good established young actor and he capitalised on it. kamal hasan's on and off performances were not worth taking a risk with a heavy budget. There were other new comers like suman, who had some troubles off-screen, bhanuchander for a while had some good movies. Rajsekhar too had some good movies. But By the time Nagarjuna or Venkatesh entered the fame, chiranjeevi has overtaken Krishna to the lead star position. From 1987 he did not act in more than 5 movies a year and at least 3 each year were a hit with good songs, direction and story line which appealed to the masses. This is the same strategy NTR used from 1980-82. Giving the public enough dosage to keep them happy but not delude them.
The latest crop of heroes Nagarjuna and Venkatesh have some dist to go. I doubt if they could deliver any of the bhari dialogues SVR, NTR, ANR used to deliver. Most of the time these two heroes have small sentences for dialogue and it is to the credit of the directors who are using these two for their new faces but lack of other things. Venkatesh has improved from his early movies a lot. Nagarjuna still has some problems.
What happened to balakrishna who was acting from age 14 or so. He has a good dialogue delivery. But for obvious reasons he could not compete with chiranjeevi during the mid to late 80s'. He started with some very good performances in "babai abbai", "mangamma gaari manavadu", "seeta rama kalyanam"(with rajani) but he was type cast into his village hero roles which kind of halted his rise. His movie "aditya 369" was a good one.
One should not forget the role of chandra mohan who was the main stay for sannakaru, chinnakaaru nirmaatalu, darsakulu, rachayitalu. he was their savior in many ways. He reached the status of a hero. was willing to work against a new lady. Economical, and was not type cast into a particular role. Jaya prada, Jaya Sudha, Suhasini, and others starred opposite him. They had talent and got a chance to show-case their talents and got the eye of the public. The most notable of the heroines is Sri Devi in "padaharella vayasu".
The telugu people even though can appreciate off-beat movies evident from the hits like "sankarabharanam" to "abhinandana", cannot see their favorite hero in a different role. Case at point chiranjeevi starred in the movie "swayam krushi" which was a moderate success due to viswanath's name associated with it. But the movie "rudra veena" which had more social theme with less fights was not accepted by the public. It won the 1988 Nargis Dutt National award for best picture towards National Integration. Even his recent movie "aapad bhandavudu" which i liked and where he gave one of his best performances was a flopper at the box office.
The same thing goes even with Kamal Hasan. His early movie "maro charitra" with sarita took him to stardom, but he was quite expensive with s.p giving him voice, and he trying to establish in tamil and then in hindi, he kind of took himself out of the race for the superstar in telugu. He lost that one in tamil to Rajanikant but that is another long post :-)
Krishnam Raju was never a major player but was good in some movies especially katakatala rudriah, bobbili brahmanna and of course bhakta kannappa.
Sridhar with good performance in muthyala muggu, murali mohan in ramadandu, jaggaiah, ram mohan are few other lead stars of mention here.
There is no mention about the character artists like gummadi, padmanaabham, rajababu, rao gopala rao, satyanaryana even though some of them are villains.
Not much about the leading ladies of the film industry. I feel it would be better for one of the lady netter's to give us their perspective of the leading ladies. Magavaadinainu nenu naa aalochana vidhanni oka vaipu nunchi nettukosthanu. So if it is from the other side, valla drukpadham nunchi vuntundi.