2021 Tollywood End of the Year Review
Hero of the Year- Stylish Star Allu Arjun for Pushpa The Rise: This award is for the most commercially successful (highest grossing) actor of the year based on share. It's rare to see a star hero win this award 2 years in a row as the business of their films do heavily influence and basically run Tollywood but for every blockbuster there's usually a flop in a star heroes career. Allu Arjun has had the distinct honour of winning the award back to back years with AVPL and now Pushpa. Given the hype around the film, it didn't meet the expectations but given it's a superstar hero and superstar director film, it only made sense that Pushpa would be the highest grossing movie of the year. Allu Arjun has earned newfound stardom after AVPL and Pushpa is the first step of truly putting it to use.
Special Mention - Raviteja for Krack: It's hard to find a Telugu movie fan who dislikes Raviteja. His hard work, sincerity, and legendary comic timing have made him one of the most bankable actors in Telugu cinema since the early 2000's. However you're only as good as your last film and your fate changes every Friday and unfortunately the Mass Maharaja tasted only 5 hits from 17 films in the last decade from 2010-2020 which were Don Seenu, Mirapakaya, Balupu, Power and Bengal Tiger. Success has been hard to find for him as the routine commercial formula that made him a star didn't work anymore with the content revolution that was sweeping Tollywood since 2015. The man that gave him his biggest hit in the past decade was put to the task once again in Gopichand Malineni and delivered a blockbuster in Krack for Sankranthi. It proves that any star is always one good box office success away from regaining form. With the success, the actor has signed almost close to 6 movies. Here's hoping he can continue entertaining us and may this decade be more succcessful than the last.
Best Actor - Allu Arjun for Pushpa The Rise: It's one thing to have one of your career best performances in Ala Vaikunthapurammulo and then it's another thing to follow it up with your career best performance. In Pushpa The Rise, you don't see Allu Arjun you only see the character Pushpa Raj. The rugged makeover, the slang, body language, ease and overall transformation was simply mind blowing and the efforts Allu Arjun put in was just amazing. Everybody knows he's the most hardworking actor in TFI for where he was when Gangotri came out till now. It's been an incredible journey and perhaps this is the start of his rise to all around superstardom like Chiranjeevi. If there's one thing Allu Arjun has earned over the years, it's definitely respect and he continues to gain that with each passing film and performance he delivers. All of the Best Actor awards next year should be a lock for him.
Special Mention - Naveen Polishetty for Jathirathnalu: Naveen Polishetty entertained all of us in Agent Sai Srinivas Athreya and finally got his breakthrough and followed it up with an absolutely riveting comedic performance in the blockbuster that was Jathirathnalu. What's even more impressive is that the entire film is improvised and that makes you appreciate the acting and comedic situations even more. Whether it was his dialogue delivery, quirkiness with Fariah Abdullah, or comic timing with Rahul Ramakrishna and Priyadarshi, Naveen's relentless energy and charisma shined in every single scene. One of the finest comedic performances in recent times, Naveen finally got his much needed success to take him to the next level. Mr. Polishetty we are all eagerly looking forward to what's next and please keep entertaining us at the highest level.
Best Supporting Actor (Male) - Vijay Sethupathi for Uppena: To be brutally honest the only reason people even cared about Uppena was the announcement of Vijay Sethupathi being in the cast and Devi Sri Prasad's music. Other than that nobody really cared that the 15th actor from the Mega Family was making their debut and was adding more saturation to an already oversaturated nepotism scene in Tollywood. Playing Rayanam and a voice dubbed by the legendary P Ravi Shankar, Viajy Sethupathi was simply chilling as the main villain and was responsible for the scene of the year in the now world famous cutting scene. While it doesn't feel like the character needed Vijay's presence, he definitely made the most of it with his intense expressions and incredible acting throughout.
Best Supporting Actor (Female) - Varalaxmi Sarathkumar for Krack/Naandhi: It's quite to rare to see a female character ina film being so loved in Telugu cinema and Varalaxmi Sarathkumar's performance as Jayamma in Krack got her a lot of fans with her intense acting and fantastic screen presence. There are always bonus points for dubbing for yourself and the talented actress did that in both her releases this year for Naandhi and Krack. It's upto the awards committee to decide which film she will be nominated for as her role as a lawyer who fights for Allari Naresh in Naandhi was also a great performance.
Best Actress: Sai Pallavi for Love Story - Most people (haters always exist) love Sai Pallavi's for her incredible acting skills, amazing grace in dancing, humble nature, and natural beauty with no makeup. After the blockbuster success of Fidaa, she was cast once again in Sekhar Kammula's Love Story as the female lead. Playing a child sexual abuse survivor in Mounika, Sai Pallavi once again showcased her incredible range as an actress, capturing each and every emotion of Mounika to perfection. Her dance movies in Evo Evo Kalale made your jaw drop to the floor with her sheer grace and flexibility and in the songs or any scenes she was in, she hogged the limelight completely from Naga Chaitanya. It's a treat to watch her on screen and she possesses a stunning screen presence that we see very rarely for actresses working in Indian cinema today. Her performance in Shyam Singha Roy will most likely put her in contention but as of this writing we have not seen the film so it's not fair to comment which performance was better. Either way it's quite rare to have an actress who delivered two knockout performances in the same calendar year. In a time where only male lead actors are praised for their stardom and acting prowess, Sai Pallavi constantly challenges that and keeps gaining stardom and appreciation with each growing film. Here's hoping she has a fantastic 2022 and delivers another blockbuster in Virata Parvam.
Best Film: Cinema Bandi on Netflix - Ever since Care of Kancharapalem in 2018, the Telugu cinema independent film scene has taken off and has provided some memorable films over the past few years. But many come and a few stay. Cinema Bandi is one such film that will definitely stay. The directorial debut of Praveen Kandregula, the film tells the hilarious and relatable story of a group of villagers all with their own financial struggles who try to make ends meet by creating a short film with a camera they found in an auto. What ensues is a hysterical turn of events that makes you laugh out loud, cheer, and root for these characters. The entire cast specifically Sandeep Varanasi and Rag Mayur as Ganapathi and Maridesh Babu stole the show. Varanasi's comic timing was incredible and he has a very bright future and Mayur showed relentless charisma and desire to be the lead hero in Maridesh Babu. As a die hard Mahesh Babu I can confidently say that Maridesh Babu is > Mahesh Babu. The reason for the choice of best film comes down to the relatability factor of how much Telugu folks love cinema. The message and story resonates with how much we as an audience and society is willing to give to cinema. We will always be crazy passionate about it whether it's watching films or making them. In the end the film drags even with it's short runtime, but it's relentless heart makes it a winner all the way through.
Best Director: Praveen Kandregula for Cinema Bandi - Much like Venkatesh Maha when he debuted with Care of Kanchaparalem and the audience and was looking forward to a very promising talent who can make unique movies and improve Telugu cinema all around aspects to show that we can make a great commercial star hero film as well as making great independent films. Praveen Kandregula is another such talent that we can piun hopes on. His direction was very good for the most part in Cinema Bandi. The way he was able to narrate the story with good finesse on all his crafts and was able to blend the comedic scenes while keeping the overall narrative gripping was very good. Despite some flaws here and there especially towards the climax and last half of the movie, overall it was a great debut for a director who showcased better command on his craft than most directors this year. Special mention to Gopichand Malinenli as well. His direction Krack was watertight with no deviations from the story and crafted a well made action thriller with Raviteja after a long gap with excellently choreographed action sequences.
Biggest Surprise: Mail on AHA - This quite heartwarming and funny film remains one of the only good original films or perhaps the only one Aha has ever released. Starring a Priyadarshi and a fantastic debut by Harshith Malgireddy, this film tells the story of when email first became a thing and tells the story of two young boys who fall prey to a scam email claiming they will receive a huge sum of money. Piryadarshi plays a nice supporting role as the owner of the computer shop and the love track between the leads and various problems all the characters face in the village are entertainingly showcased. In the end, it was relatable and entertaining for the most part and made for a solid watch on OTT. Despite the familiar issues associated with thin storylines in feeling dragged out or prolonged, Mail is still a good film overall and is our pick for the most surprising film for 2021.
Best Debut (Male): Vaishnav Tej for Uppena - The 15th actor to come from the Mega Cricket team, Vaishnav Tej exuded confidence and ease in his debut in Uppena. He has expressive eyes and a decent screen presence which will help him a lot in the future. Given how award shows work, he is a lock for the award.
Special Mention: Harshith Malgireddy for Mail - Harshith was easily the highlight of Aha's delightful OTT film Mail. His performance throughout the movie was superb and he stole the show in every scene he was in. His screen presence as a boy next door helped a lot in relating with his character and his performance. Hoping he continues to shine with a wide range and variety of characters in the future.
Best Debut (Female): Krithi Shetty for Uppena - Krithi Shetty is definitely a promising young actress and her performance in Uppena was superb, Showcasing a wide range of emotions and an eyebrow range reminiscent of wink sensation Priya Prakash Varrier, the way she was able to match and outshine Vijay Sethupathi in the crucial climax scene was a testament to her talent. She's now one of the rising actresses in Telugu cinema with Shyam Singha Roy, Sudheer Babu's next with Mohankrishna Indraganti, and Bangarraju.
Worst Movie: Vakeel Saab - It's been a year where I had to prioritize my time and patience because I'm gonna run out of funds for Zandu balm depedning on how many rods I decide to watch this year. And I figured it's not ethical to talk about the films I haven't watched so I'll talk about the ones that I have seen. Now I'm not a feminist or a libtard or a dumb woke Telugu cinema fan who finds everything problematic in Telugu cinema but I have to say Vakeel Saab was the most overhyped and trashy remake in recent times. Due to Pawan Kalyan's reentry after 3 years which was spoiled due to the pandemic last year, it's ironic that the very same film's theatrical run was spoiled by an impending 2nd COVID wave in AP/Telangana resulting in a commercial result that only the producers know and have since never released the actual numbers. Coming to the film, it was awful. I enjoyed watching Pawan Kalyan back on screen after 3 years, the fights, and Thaman's outstanding BGM but everything else especially the direction was atrocious. Not a single scene registers, a pointless fight in a bathroom, and the entire 2nd half reminded me of a fish market rather than a civil court argument with lots of shouting and overaction. In the grand scheme of things I felt the movie sort of distorted the message of it's original Pink and in the end nothing really registers and the women felt sidelined. It's a known fact that Telugu film industry remakes are basically just bad masala dishes that forget the essence and soul of the movie they're remaking. Vakeel Saab is no different. Special props to Venu Sriram. More on that below.
Special Mention: Maha Samudram, Gaali Sampath, Alludu Adhurs, Mosagallu, Most Eligible Bachelor, Check - All were among the biggest rods this year.
Worst Director: Venu Sriram - Pawan Kalyan fans love to give elevations for any directors who shows their favorite star in a good light and so the memes were born about "Mass God" Venu Sriram. The director has made 3 feature films so far, the first being Oh my Friend way back in 2011 which was a flop and then Nani's MCA in 2017 which was routine to the core and got bad reviews but nontheless entertaining due to Nani's stardom being at its peaks and the music being well recieved, the film remains the highest grossing movie in Nani's career. He was given a chance by Dil Raju to remake Pink with Pawan Kalyan and our mass god does everything but get the main point of the movie into the minds of the audience and PK's fanbase. The flashback is arguably the highlight (sarscasm). It's atrociously written and everything about it from Pawan's looks to Shruthi Hassan's screentime, Kanti Papa song visually on screen, her death, and that drawing of PK and Sruthi Hassan was born into a meme that looks exactly like something Gnaneshwar from King (rip Srihari garu) would have drawn. While in the Hindi and Tamil versions the courtroom drama scenes and suspense is whether or not the girls are innocent, in Vakeel Saab they are terribly directed and feels like a huge drag for the entire 2nd half. Pawan Kalyan's presence is the only plus but overall it was a terrible job by the Mass God. What the result of the movie was we will never know but one thing is for sure. Venu Sriram's direction sucked ****.
Best Music Director: Thaman S for Vakeel Saab, Akhanda, Tuck Jagadish and Bheemla Naayak - Thaman had another career defining year which easily propelled him to this award. More than this compositions, his background scores are garnering huge appreciation from the audience and provide many goosebumps inducing moments in both Vakeel Saab and Akhanda. His albums for all the films mentioned were superb and he's certainly in the form of his life where anything he composes turns to gold. The instrumentation and outputs have been fantastic this year and here's hoping he continues to deliver more memorable albums and scores in 2022. His upcoming films are Sarkaru Vaari Paata, Bheemla Naayak, Ghani, Godfather (Lucifer Telugu remake), Ram Charan - Shankar movie, Naga Chaitanya's Thank You, SSMB28 with Mahesh Babu and Trivikram Srinivas, and NBK 107 with Balakrishna and Gopichand Malineli.
Best Singer (Male): Sid Sriram - The star singer has become a daily part of Telugu movies now with small films using him to garner hype and attention through his voice. Sid Sriram is basically free publicity for any movie and once again he had at least 15-20 songs this year but none have reached the success of AVPL's Samajavaragamana back in 2019. His best songs this year include but are not limited to Srivalli, Idhi Chala Bagundhi Le, So So Ga, Nijam Ide Kadha, Leharaayi, Choosare Kallara, Kola Kalle Illa, Nailu Nadhi, Yemunavve Pilla, Naa Kanulu Yeppudu, Naagumomu Thaarale, Acha Telugandhame, and Okey Oka Lokam Nuvve. Sid Sriram might be overused but we never get tired of hearing his soothing voice.
Best Singer (Female): Mangli - The folk singer got her breakthrough with the female portion of the song in the all time classic Raamulo Raamula from AVPL and it was Saranga Dariya this year that basically cemented her as the next female superstar singer from Telugu cinema. Her other songs this year included Bhoom Baddhal from Krack and Jwala Reddy from Seetimaar. It's safe to say with a song like Saranga Dariya and the success of it across all platforms, this was Mangli's year.
Song of the Year: Saranga Dariya from Love Story - On first listen, you basically knew this was going to be one of the songs of the year. The popularity of Sai Pallavi and anything she dances in proves to be a viral sensation just like Rowdy Baby which remains her biggest digital success. The combination of Sekhar Kammula - Suddala Ashok Teja - Sai Pallavi is always a deadly combo and Mangli's powerful vocals carry the entire song along with Sekhar master's choreography. Sai Pallavi's stunning screen presence and grace in dance moves is the cherry on top. When all things considered, Saranga Dariya IS the song of the year for 2021 Telugu cinema. However, it's a huge disappointment on screen considering the placement, context in the movie, and the manner in which it's shot seems very hurried and rushed.
Recap: 2021 was a decent return to form for Telugu cinema. It was just nice to see movie theaters back up and running again and lots of films due to the pandemic sentiment and eagerness to leave the house became unexpected hits such as 30 Rojullo Preminchadam Ela and SR Kalyanamandapam despite atrocious reviews and bad talk. It was also great to see star hero movies such Vakeel Saab, Akhanda, and Pushpa post housefulls in the USA and India and bring the audience back in huge numbers after a such a long gap. Despite missing a wholly satisfying star hero movie this year, a few smaller films left more of an impact on us. Here's hoping that all our favorite stars can entertain us to the fullest extent next year. Happy New Year and stay safe and healthy as always. Lastly here's a list of movies to look forward to in 2022 that we can (hopefully) watch.
Roudram Ranam Rudhiram aka RRR (SS Rajamouli- Jr NTR-Ram Charan-Alia Bhatt-Shreya Saran-Ajay Devgan-MM Keeravani)
Sarkaru Vaari Paata (Mahesh Babu-Keerthy Suresh-Parasuram Petla-Thaman S)
Radhe Shyam (Prabhas-Pooja Hegde-Radhakrishna Kumar- UV Creations - Justin Prabhakaran)
Salaar (Prabhas-Shruthi Hassan-Prashanth Neel-Ravi Basrur)
Pushpa 2 The Rule (Allu Arjun-Rashmika- Fahadh Faasil -Sukumar-Devi Sri Prasad)
Dasara (Nani-Keerthy Suresh-Srikanth Odela (debutant)-Santosh Narayan)
Ante Sundaraniki (Nani-Nazriya Fahad-Vivek Athreya-Vivek Sagar)
Acharya (Megastar Chiranjeevi-Ram Charan-Kajal Aggarwal-Pooja Hegde-Koratala Siva- Mani Sharma)
SSMB28 (Mahesh Babu-Pooja Hegde-Trivikram Srinivas-Thaman S)
Khiladi (Raviteja-Dimple Hayathi- Meenakshi Chaudhary- Arjun Sarja- Ramesh Varma-Devi Sri Prasad)
Ramarao on Duty(Raviteja-Divyansha Kaushik-Sarath Mandava(debutant)-Sam CS)
KGF Chapter 2 (Yash-Sanjay Dutt-Srinidhi Shetty-Raveena Tandon-Prakash Raj-Anantnag-Prashanth Neel-Ravi Basrur)
NTR 30 (Jr. NTR - Koratala Siva - Yuvasudha Arts- NTR Arts)
Bheemla Naayak (Pawan Kalyan-Rana Daggubati -Sagar K Chandra - Thaman S)
Bhavadeeyudu Bhagat Singh (Pawan Kalyan-Pooja Hegde-Harish Shankar-Devi Sri Prasad)
Dhamaka (Raviteja-Trinadh Rao Nakkina-Bheems Ceciroleo)
Ravanasura (Raviteja-Sudheer Varma)
Tiger Nageshwara Rao (Raviteja-Vamsee-GV Prakash Kumar)
Adipurush (Prabhas-Kriti Sanon-Saif Ali Khan-Sunny Singh-Om Raut)
Ram Charan 16 (Ram Charan-Gowtam Tinnaruri-UV Creations)
Naveen Polishetty 3 (Naveen Polishetty-Anushkha Shetty-Mahesh Babu P-UV Creations)
Naveen Polishetty 4 (Naveen Polishetty-Kalyan Shankar-Sithara Entertainments)
Annnnndddddddd.......SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST! Happy tears never thought I would see the day where my favorite director would be making a return to TFI. Thank you Megastar Chiranjeevi garu for the opportunity to witness the magic once again.
JAI MEHER ANNA!