How Shiva Changed Indian Cinema Forever

In the year 1989, the Telugu Film Industry had a different look and feel.

Nagarjuna, who had seen some success since his debut in 1986, was yet to make his presence felt in a career-defining role. He met a young, bespectacled film fanatic and they began a discussion while looking up at the sky. ‘Do you think there is life outside earth?’

The discussion grew, and layer after layer was added till a plot was discussed. A crew of newcomer actors and technicians were pooled together, helmed by a person who had never assisted or directed a movie his entire life. The only famous name in the ranks was Illayaraja.

The film was put on floors, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Here are five ways in which Siva changed Indian cinema forever.


Siva stood out from the rest of the pack from the very first frame. The scene lights up on a college campus, where goons control how people lead their lives. The hero stands and watches silently, frowning at the injustice. For 25 minutes into the film, all we see is the clear tension on screen. Till Siva decides that enough is enough, and bends down to pull the chain from the cycle.

Boldly doing away with deviations, Siva proved that the story is of paramount importance in the film. And it chose to take an uncompromising, risky path to tell its story.


Up until Siva, the hero was expected to display the nava rasas – or the nine forms of expression in traditional dance and theatre. Films went to great lengths to establish the heroism – whether through a song, or a fight scene, or bombastic dialogues.

For the first time, the hero was a silent spectator. Siva brought to the screen a more relatable, humane hero. One who channels his fears and his frustrations, beating the lion in its den. For the first time, the hero conveyed more through his glares than his vocal chords.


In Siva, we see a different Illayaraja. The soundtrack that Illayaraja provided for Siva was a jarring, heart-thumping, spine-chilling score. With a distinct Hans Zimmer feel to it, the soundtrack of Siva escalated the tension on screen manifold. Whether it is the incessant drums when Bhavani comes on screen, or the war-horns when Shiva is being chased on the road, Illayaraja outdid himself. Also, for the first time, impact was created not by music, but the lack of it.

Watch this clip, where for five minutes, there are barely any dialogues. Yet, the mix of an eerie score and silences heighten the tension.


Before Siva, there was no genre of action films as such. Yes, there were films whose plots dealt with revenge and retribution, but the pressure of nava rasas caused a dilution of the impact. Siva too dealt with just one them – Good v/s Evil, and conveyed more through its pauses, than the actual scene.

Take for example the scene where Chinna after successfully fighting away the goons and then takes a left turn. There is a pause for a few seconds, and we see his stumble back on screen, an axe pierced deep into his chest. The cycle chase scene has now acquired legendary status, as has the use of SteadyCam for the chase scenes. Siva was the first genre film of its time.


With the success of Siva, RGV spread his wings up north. He went on to make films in Hindi, and unleashed a slew of films that stayed true to his philosophy of film making. They were all films that were made on a small budget, had a tight script, and a great story.

Rangeela, Kshana kshanam, Shool, Satya, Company, Sarkar were all gems that came out from the period. Siva had forever altered the grammar of Indian cinema. It heralded an era where the story was the king.

The real impact of Siva can be seen in the huge number of filmmakers in the country who worked under Ram Gopal Varma. Krishnavamsi, Poori Jagannath, Anurag Kashyap, Shimit Amin, Jaideep Sahni, Madhur Bhandarkar, Sriram Raghavan – these are all filmmakers who began under Ramu.

And to think that it all began with two youngsters, staring up at the sky, and wondering: ‘Is there life beyond?’

Bonus: If you are a die hard fan of Siva, or we were able to spike your interest, watch this fascinating documentary on YouTube celebrating 25 years of the film.

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