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Idealised, idolised & fictionalised
Any relationship that can be idealised, idolised and fictionalised is grist for the mills of movie makers. And friendship found a sacred third place after romance and family sentiment in the fodder menu for melodrama for Telugu film writers, who earnestly tried to milk the emotion right out of friendships.
Starting with classics, at a time when films leaned heavily on family themes and classical romance, director CS Rao picked up the multi-shaded classic of Vishwanatha Satyanarayana 'Ekaveera', to tell a story of the friendship of the highest order of morality and sacrifice. The film remains unique in the genre till date as it weaves the complications of love into a friendship of commitment and manages to preserve the sanctity of friendship till the end. The film may be unfamiliar in idiom and language for new generation audiences but continues to be an iconic reference whenever there is a discussion on friendship in Telugu films.
'Iddaru Mitrulu' of Akkineni in the 1960s may appear like a story of friends while it actually is built upon the confusion caused by lookalikes, a premise that time and again tickle the movie industry pink, a movie by the same name three decades later, starring Chiranjeevi and Sakshi Shivanand in a nice, little man-woman friendship scores high on novelty in an industry that has always shied away from new lines of story-telling. The film attempts to put a youthful spirit into the already larger-than-life image of the megastar though, ultimately, it is more a story of jealousy and misunderstanding with the wife then of friendship.
'Manchi Mitrulu' of the 1960s decade does a much better job over an unlikely friendship with a personality study between an optimistic Sobhan Babu and a cynical Krishna, ably supported by insightful lyrics by Cinare.
'Nuvve Kavali', a film that brought fame to debutant Tarun and writer Trivikram, pans across the whole gamut of emotions of friends from playfulness to intense love. 'Nuvve Kavali's leisurely exploration of emotions, evident to the viewers but incomprehensible to the lead pair, made for a good friendship story. Much later, Siddharth and Shruti Hasan's 'Oh My Friend' managed to avoid the pitfalls of love in a fraternal relationship and stuck to pure friendship, a rare achievement for filmmakers.
The iconic 'Prema Desam' is another film, made around the same time, that has friendship at its heart, though it ends up as a romantic movie. As usual, the test for true friendship came from a romantic angle but the movie touched a chord with young people who lapped up the easy college camaraderie that served as the setting for the story.
Mani Ratnam's 'Iddaru', though a Tamil tale through and through, does engagingly present the politics of friendship, underlining the undulating dynamics between two strong personalities.
Young friendships are probably the easiest to capture but had appeared much later, given that our celluloid has been dominated by ageing heroes whose youthful frolicking with friends was awkward, if not outright ludicrous, to behold.
Sekhar Kammula's 'Happy Days', an all-time favourite for college students, can be deemed as a sort of experiment as it deals with multiple friendships one canvas, inspired possibly by the legendary F.R.I.E.N.D.S. Movies such as 'Student No. 1', 'Kerintha', 'Nee Sneham', 'Life is Beautiful' and the very latest 'Maharshi' are some of the friends stories that used the subject.
Most older heroes had their friendship tales told in the context of class and wealth differences, in fighting villains, who paradoxically seemed to stick together with gleeful amity, and in drifting apart over misunderstandings and coming back together again. Chiranjeevi's 'Sneham Kosam', Nagarjuna and nephew Sumanth's 'Snehamante Ideraa', Venkatesh and Suman's 'Kondapalli Raja', Arjun and Jagapathi Babu's 'Hanuman Junction', Ravi Teja's 'Shambho Shiva Shambho' were some such films.
The last decade and a half did show some promise with Krish's 'Gamyam', a fine tale of friendship without overtly being so and 'Arya 2' that delved into the darker side of a relationship.
'O my friends, there is no friend,' Aristotle is famously said to have scoffed. Most of the Telugu movie friendships would fall into his ideal category of friendship based on mutual goodwill and virtue. But there was never a tale of friendship told in an utterly satisfying manner, thanks to the many constraints in an industry dictated by stardom rather than narration. Melodrama, in-your-face interpersonal dynamics, over-dramatised sequences have robbed silver screen friendships of their most beautiful aspect, unspoken language and undercurrents of understanding and mutual respect.
Subtlety, unfortunately, has not been much of a forte for Telugu filmmakers and even the best of the movies failed to explore the subtle and complex nuances of a real human friendship, rather like they failed to go in-depth into any multi-emotional relationships.
Unlike love, that fuelled the making of some strong, intense stories, the friendship remained a lukewarm subject for Telugu filmmakers. And as the calendar rings in yet another Friendship Day, it appears that it is still the ever-popular film songs on friendship rather than films themselves that seem to aid expression of love and affection between friends on their happy day.