The 80s are generally considered as the golden generation of Telugu cinema.
Not only did we have superstars like NTR, ANR, and Krishna, we also had a healthy, thriving parallel cinema movement, where films with strong, moving scripts, and lack of any excesses, were released and met with success. This was a phase when a small budget film with no superstars could compete with a huge star blockbuster, and both the films were appreciated and loved by the audience. Somehow, in the age of 100 crores and foreign locations, this seems impossible to fathom.
Let’s go back into the past and look at the men who made this movement possible. Visionaries who put their hearts and souls into bringing good cinema to the Telugu audience.
Most of Vishwanath’s films revolved around art and culture. In an age when the world was moving forward into a faster time, Vishwanath dealt with the complex issue of maintenance of the great arts.
Sagara Sangamam spoke about the preservation of the great tradition of classical dances. Swati Mutyam dealt with an autistic man who marries a widow (an idea far ahead of its time in cinema). In Swayamkrushi, Chiranjeevi actually learnt to stitch a shoe to portray the work of a cobbler. Vishwanath avoided signing huge stars, instead went with earnest young actors who put their confidence in the director’s vision. Shankara Bharanam, another classic by Vishwanath, is still remembered for its intense drama. Vishwanath was an institution in himself, and after retiring, he has acted in films in special roles too.
Sattiraju Lakshmi Narayana, affectionately called Bapu began his career in collaboration with friend and writer Ramana, and the two of them created works of art long before they entered the field of cinema.
Bapu is an accomplished cartoonist and is regarded as one of India’s greatest. His illustrations of Navarasas, and Indian Dances is the stuff of legend. When he turned director, Bapu’s artistic sense shone through in each and every shot in his films. His films mostly dealt with conflicts between husband and wife and spoke on issues like independence, loyalty, and trust. Bapu shaped the idea of the petite, demure heroine, called Bapu Bomma, which you can see in magazines, buses, and posters even today. Bapu passed away in 2014 at the age of 80, just a year after his dear friend Ramana’s death.
3. DASARI NARAYAN RAO
The face of revolutionary films in Telugu cinema, Dasari Narayana Rao introduced many actors and technicians into the industry, most notably Mohan Babu and R. Narayan Murthy.
Dasari Narayana Rao has won 9 Nandi awards and 2 National awards for his films, along with a Limca record for directing the most number of films. Dasari Narayana Rao’s film revolved around people’s rights, rebellion, and peasant problems. He also spoke of women empowerment and he boldly dealt with the themes of Naxalism and communism.
4. K RAGHAVENDRA RAO
We weren’t sure if Raghavendra Rao could be in the list because he did huge blockbusters with major stars. However, we later realized that there are very few people who have influenced Telugu commercial cinema as K. Raghavendra Rao as.
He drove commercial Telugu cinema for more than a decade, doing huge films with superstars, and finding success in most of his ventures of the time. Also, Raghavendra Rao changed the way songs are shot in Telugu, where he choreographs the songs himself. His songs and dream sequences are now part of a legend, and his sets are his own ideas. Some of his biggest hits are Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari, Annamayya, and Adivi Ramudu.
5. JANDHYALA SUBRAMANYA SHASTRY
Even though he was a director for a short span of time, Jandhyala took the state by storm. A prolific writer whose credits include Shankara Bharanam, Sagara Sangamam, Aditya 369 and Govinda Govinda, Jandhyala began as a writer, Jandyala has the unmistakable quality of clean, clever humour. His films rarely had big stars, choosing instead to go with actors who could do justice to his comic vision – Rajendra Prasad and Naresh.
Jandyala is also responsible for Kota Srinivasa Rao and Brahmanandam’s legendary status today, and his films are classics that you can watch even today. He is also an influence for Trivikram, and Jandyala also began the trend of writing sharp, sarcastic dialogues that kept the audience in splits.
His biggest directorial hits are Aha Naa Pellanta, Ananda Bhairavi, and Padamati Sandhya Ragam.
6. KODANDARAMI REDDY
Another Commercial director, who played an equally crucial role in what Chiru went on to become starting with Khaidi, shot both Chiru and Reddy to fame. Abhilasha, Challenge, Donga, Vijetha are some of the success saga both tasted together. Though he didn’t have any distinct style of his own, he very well knew how to appeal to the masses and show their Idol in maximum light. His other films include Nari Nari Nadumuna Murari with NBK. Vicky Dada, Allari Alludu with Nagarjuna. Surya IPS, Dharma Kshetram with Venky.
Considered as one of those pillars in Telugu cinema in the 1980s and 1990s, Vamsy had a unique style which comprises the nativity and the Godavari Basin is a prominent element in most of his movies apart from a light-hearted narration of his stories.
He assisted the legendary K. Viswanath in the beginning of his career as a writer. His movie Sitaara through which he introduced Bhanu Priya, with whom he also fell in love. Though the movie won him many applauds but failed to win her heart and post the failure it is said his movies were never the same. Music in his movies and choreography too was a distinct feature carrying Vamsy’s trademark.
8. EVV SATYANARAYANA
EVV worked under Jandhyala for about eight years and then ventured into his own as a director.
EVV was also a prolific writer who has also written many hits like Hello Brother and Suryavamsham. While his mentor Jandhyala relied on witty dialogues, EVV had a trademark quality of situational comedy. His scenes were classic comic writing, take for instance the scene where both the Nagarjunas are in the tub. Or the scene in Avide Maa Avida where Nagarjuna has both his wives in the same apartment. He has also done extremely tragic films like Aame, and Thaali.
EVV passed away in 2011, but his genre of comedy is kept alive by his son Allari Naresh, who specializes in situational comedy films.