Undying love for suave spy

Undying love for suave spy

It was an arduous task, one that would have lot of risk involved. Yet, the duo was undeterred, with eyes on ultimate prize, they embarked on a mission, which required them to smuggle secrets from the US. During the mid-60s the Americans were masters of the craft, emulating it was considered impossible.

Spy thrillers have defied all odds to make a mark in Telugu cinema. Passion of a duo gave birth to the genre, which enthralled the audience for good three decades, before taking a siesta for more than 25 years. With current superstars going behind the genre, let us take a look at what makes a spy tick

It was an arduous task, one that would have lot of risk involved. Yet, the duo was undeterred, with eyes on ultimate prize, they embarked on a mission, which required them to smuggle secrets from the US. During the mid-60s the Americans were masters of the craft, emulating it was considered impossible.

They knew that to pull off a heist of such magnitude, more hands were required; they have to be the best in their fields. People, they found for the task were best in their trade but not in the conventional sense. But they persevered, persisted and prevailed in smuggling out the secret.

Smuggling out the secret was only a part of the task, with the key in hand they have to use it to unravel the mystery. However, the key has to be turned a precise number of turns clockwise and counter-clockwise, else it would implode into a disaster.

Thankfully, they found out the right combination and let out the mystery before Telugu audience, much to their astonishment. The duo was producers SunderlalNahta and Pothina Dundeswara Rao; the mystery was first spy thriller in Telugu ‘Gudachari 116’.

The movie, which was based on James Bond films that were minting money across the world, was a sea change for Telugu audience, who until then only had social dramas, fantasy films to contend with.
The film was such a stellar hit that Krishna, who was only two-films-old, was propelled into superstardom. The espionage, skulduggery, deceit, lies and mystery intertwined with a simple story of ‘whodunit’ has intrigued the audience to no end.

It created the character – “Agent 116”, the desi version of Bond. He was every bit suave, cool, confident and unapologetic like the British spy sans the one-liners.

All credit goes to writer and lyricist Aarudhra, who fleshed out a character, which all characters that make a Bond, yet added more local flavour that made it more relatable to Telugu audience. The character was so successful that various iterations of the character – “Agent 117”, “Agent 777”, “Agent 1”, Agent Gopi to name a few stood strong for more than three decades.

‘Gudachari 116’; a movie that created a new chapter in the history books on Telugu cinema, has many firsts to its credit. Apart from being the first spy caper in Telugu, it also holds distinction of having a senior actor playing a cameo role. Sobhan Babu, who then had blockbusters like ‘Veerabhimanyu’ (1965) and others to his name, played the role of “Agent 303”, who dies in the opening scene of the film, which also features a car chase, another first in Telugu cinema.

The film sparked a revolution as next few years saw a flurry of films in the genre. Krishna followed the act as undercover agent in investigative thriller ‘Ave Kallu’ (1967); the film was a rage in both Telugu and Tamil. A taut screenplay, good performances and foot tapping music were a plus for the movie, which also gained cult status over the years.

In the same year, comedian-turned-producer Padmanabham, roped in lyricist Veeturi to adapt folk tale of Maryada Ramanna, a spy dating to late 1800s. Veeturi along with director Hemambaradhara Rao brought the life and escapades of the detective/spy successfully on screen in the movie ‘Sri SriMaryadaRamanna’. The film also marked debut of legendary playback singer SP Balasubramanyam.

Running high on the back to back success of ‘Gudachari...’ and ‘Ave Kallu’, Krishna, liberally used plot points from Hitchcock’s ‘North by North West’ (1959) and Bond films in his 1968 spy caper ‘Asadhyudu’. In the film he plays a simpleton, who gets caught in web of lies, deceit, murder and a sinister plot.

This film too was a stellar success and earned the star the moniker ‘James Bond Hero’. In a scene in the movie, Krishna disguises as Alluri Sitaramaraju in a bid to escape from goons, his getup got tremendous response and the actor made sure that he produced the film on the freedom fighter, which was his 100th film.

Sadly, Krishna could not repeat the success of his three films later, KSR Das’s ‘James Bond 777’ (1971), ‘Agent Gopi’ (1978) and ‘Rahasya Gudhachari’ (1981) were duds and Krishna had to keep his tuxedo back in the closet for good period of eight years.

Like George Lazenby took the mantle of James Bond from Sean Connery, Chiranjeevi took the mantle of “desi spy” in 1983, with Kodi Ramakrishna’s ‘Gudachari No 1’, which was a blockbuster hit. While audience rejoiced that there was a new spy in the tinsel town, Chiranjeevi for reasons of his own hasn’t made more movies in the genre.

He turned as agent for only one film. Later, when Krishna reprised the role in Kodi Ramakrishna’s ‘Gudachari 117’ (1989) it not only marked the end of actor playing spy but an end to the genre all together.

In the same year, Chiranjeevi donned the role of Rudra Netra, an Indian secret agent in Yendamoori Verendranath’s eponymous novel, adapted to screen by legendary director K Raghavendra Rao. The movie also has the distinction of being first Telugu movie based on conspiracy theories. Despite both the movies minting money at box office, Chiranjeevi did not act more such movies.

The 90s and 2000s, was a bad period for the spy genre. For the reasons best known to writers and directors not a single movie was made in the genre. The lean patch which lasted for about a quarter of the century is all set to change with current superstars increasingly opting for spy thrillers.

In a sea change from the slam-bang action associated with current movies; directors and actors are going for sophisticated action and brains over brawns.

Actors like Mahesh Babu, Prabhas, Ajith and Vikram are all coming up with spy thrillers and it seems to be the order of the day.

The recently released teaser of Mahesh Babu’s upcoming flick ‘SPYder’, directed by AR Murugadoss intrigued the audience, as it said volumes of how the movie would look like, without revealing any spoilers. Similarly, trailer of Gautam Menon directorial ‘Dhruva Natchathiram’ sees a suave looking Vikram dapper in three-piece suit having a monologue in a cafe.

Prabhas, who became a national star with ‘Baahubali’ has chosen a spy caper as his next movie. With national media’s eyes on the project, the makers are leaving no stone unturned to rouse the interest on ‘Saaho’. It is said that the “Whodunnit” factor, associated with all spy thrillers rakes the audience attention; lead actor’s charm, brainy and sophisticated stunts are added attraction.

Speaking to The Hans India, National Award-winning director Praveen Sattaru said that spy thrillers and investigative dramas are not run-in-the mill fare but out of the ordinary.

“An average citizen will not know what goes behind catching a terrorist, ways and means of espionage and the like. This is the pulling factor as audience expect to see what they haven’t seen before. The most important scoring factor is the awe generated by suspense in the movie,” which Praveen, who is currently shooting an investigative drama ‘PSV Garuda Vega’, opines, give spy capers an edge over regular slam bang action and family dramas. With as many as six films will be hitting screens in the coming six months to one year; it is safe to say that the genre has come to life again.

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