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When Will Telugu Cinema Gives Us Powerful Female Lead Characters?

Posted: January 18, 2020

The Telugu film industry continues to churn out films that glorify the hero and add along a woman as eye candy. How long before we get better fare?

Movies play a key role in shaping the minds of the people. Agree? Yes, they do, by sending a strong message to the society, viewers, and youth of our country.

So far, the Tollywood (Telugu) film industry has worked on films that showcase fierce fights, conventional plots, bawdy setups in the background, so-called ‘semi-sexual’ content, and the same old climactic endings.

Till today, we have hardly seen many powerful female lead characters in Telugu films, with usually three-fourth of the movie led forward by a male protagonist. Female protagonists/characters are added just to amplify the already dominant male character in the film and nothing more than that.

Even if you look at films like Bahubali, where Ramya Krishna in as Sivagami, that character was suppressed when Prabhas as Bahubali entered the scene. Also, there were hardly any dialogues for the Sivagami character, which makes us feel like female lead characters in Telugu films are like the mannequins at the shopping malls.

Films like Arundhati too didn’t qualify for the title of having a ‘female lead character’. The film showcases the fictitious queen Arundhati (played by Anushka Shetty) who kills the enchanter (Sonu Sood as Pasupathi), a manifestation of patriarchy, chauvinism, and machismo. Despite this, Anushka’s character was not shown the way it should have been, with a lack of dialogues and ferociousness in the character. It’s been a squalid trend in films to depict female characters in a half-naked manner for no reason and the same goes for the film Arundhati as well.

Incomplete without item numbers…

Not just the lack of clothing, from Bollywood to Tollywood, it became a trend for moviemakers to add an item song in the middle of the film. This has been so regular and continuous a trend that everyone know what to expect from these these item numbers. The name itself says it all – with an enormous group of drunken men, dancing around the sylphlike woman in the middle.

Item songs in Indian movies show women as sex objects – if movies don’t show women as objects of violent abuse or as submissive characters, it’s in the form of item numbers. The cult of voyeurism plays an indispensable part in the movie. These kinds of songs have nothing to do with the movie’s twists and turns for sure. But when it comes to movie collections, these item songs have some part of the share, which propelled many in the audience to go watch it.

While Bollywood was far worse when it comes to showing female characters, today many of the female lead characters are spot on, with powerful dialogues, projecting the spotlight on them.

Bollywood movies like Pink, where the lead characters include Amitabh Bachchan (as Deepak Sehgal, a retired lawyer) and Taapsee Pannu as Minal Arora explore issues like molestation, with substantial dialogues for the female characters, Also, in the end, the film ends with utter justice for the female protagonist.

If there’s a count to be made of dominant, feisty, female lead characters, Bollywood will be on my checklist. Big female lead movies in recent times include Queen, Neerja, English Vinglish, Mardaani and a few more are still discussed as epic movies. The reason is that the industry focused on trending issues, reality-based movies and knows the pulse of the people.

In Tollywood, this was never the case. A below-average film gets converted into an average film because of item numbers, a popular hero with an abundant fan-following, and subtle comedy to cover up the flaws of the film.

As the talk is about Tollywood films – South Indian films are still heavily male-dominated, and contain much exaggeration, filled with dim-witted puns. Many films still revolve around the male character, how he ends up winning the trust of a female lead, takes up the arduous work to fight for his female companion, saves her from villains, maligns the men besieging her, – in short, everything around the survival and victory of a male protagonist.

To those who aren’t well acquainted with Telugu films, they may make you feel a whole lot like you are watching a foreign movie. Watching movies should be an experience that makes your time, money and value you spend feel worthwhile. There should always be something you can take away from the movie you watched. Telugu cinema is not yet there.

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