Sports: An under-explored genre in Telugu cinema

Sports: An under-explored genre in Telugu cinema
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Highlights

Jagapathi Babu, who challenges a mighty kabaddi team, is in a tricky situation, his team is on the verge of losing and he has to go as a raider and win maximum points to ensure he saves his team from embarrassment and also win his love (a lot of motivation eh!). Shunning the traditional “kabaddi kabaddi…” chant, he hums “Kaveri Kaveri…” - name of his lady love. 

Even though sports dramas in Telugu have all been commercially viable ventures, but only a handful of such films were made. For an industry, that saw sports dramas as early as 1991, it remains a genre that is terribly under explored

Jagapathi Babu, who challenges a mighty kabaddi team, is in a tricky situation, his team is on the verge of losing and he has to go as a raider and win maximum points to ensure he saves his team from embarrassment and also win his love (a lot of motivation eh!). Shunning the traditional “kabaddi kabaddi…” chant, he hums “Kaveri Kaveri…” - name of his lady love.

This was, of course, a campy and cringe-worthy climax from the movie ‘Kabaddi Kabaddi’ (2003), but it worked, the audience connected to it and when eventually the hero wins all points (he has to, right!) the audience in B and C centres were clapping.

Sports dramas no matter how melodramatic, cheesy, campy and cringe-inducing are more or less successful. We as an audience like larger-than-life heroes and in a way, sportsmen are the same. They perform physical feats that we hardly dream of and if they win, there will be a rush of adrenaline and euphoria and we as an audience will cheer for even most ridiculous and campy sequences.

While Aamir Khan - starrer ‘Lagaan’ (2001) started the trend of sports dramas in Bollywood, Tollywood has its share of sports dramas even before it. Sprinter Ashwini Nachappa - starrer ‘Ashwini’ (1991), which is loosely based on her real life, is considered to be one of the out and out sports dramas. Prior to ‘Ashwini’, Chiranjeevi starred in movie ‘Vijeta’ (1985), in which he plays a football goalkeeper.

However, the movie cannot be called a sports drama, as he sacrifices his ambitions for the sake of his family and even donates his kidney to raise money (way too melodramatic). Though, Telugu cinema saw a sports drama in the early 90s they failed to capitalise on its potential.

It was only after the success of ‘Lagaan’, filmmakers and writers in Telugu started churning out stories, with sports as an integral theme.

Gunasekhar’s ‘Okkadu’ (2003) starring Mahesh Babu, though primarily is a faction love story, the director made the actor a kabaddi player and used the competition to drive the story. The movie, which was a stellar success, started a flurry of sports dramas, with as many as four including ‘Okkadu’ releasing in a span of a one-and-a-half year. Some of these movies even though they are cheesy and way too melodramatic to the tastes of the modern audience, saw commercial success – ‘Amma Nanna O Tamil Ammayye’ and ‘Kabaddi Kabaddi’ to cite a few.

Pawan Kalyan - starrer ‘Thammudu’, though introduced kickboxing to Telugu audience, cannot be called a sports drama like SS Rajamouli’s ‘Sye’, which introduced the audience to the rugby, as it was coming of the age story.

Sadly, the flurry of sports dramas ended by 2004, unlike Bollywood, which started making biopics on sportsmen. There are occasional films like Nani - starrer ‘Bheemili Kabaddi Jattu’ (2010) and Venkatesh - starrer ‘Guru’ (2017), one can say sports dramas is an under-explored genre in Telugu.

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