Ahead of elections Andhra’s season of political ‘thrillers’ storm the box office

As the election period draws near, cinema halls in Andhra Pradesh are witnessing an intriguing trend where films are becoming tools of political propaganda. With Andhra Pradesh Assembly Elections on the horizon, local film industries are churning out movies that portray political leaders in sharply contrasting lights, either glorifying them as heroes or demeaning them as villains. This phenomenon is not particularly new but has seen a surge during election years, reflecting the timeless nexus between politics and cinema.

In 2019, Andhra Pradesh’s political landscape spilled over onto the silver screen with a succession of politically charged movies. Notably, in January of that year, Nandamuri Balakrishna – an actor and the Hindupur MLA – starred in ‘NTR: Kathanayakudu,’ a biographical film about his father, former Chief Minister and TDP founder, N.T. Rama Rao. The film chronicled NTR’s rise from a film star to a political stalwart, capturing the hearts of many of his admirers.

The cinematic journey continued with a sequel, ‘NTR: Mahanayakudu,’ which hit theaters the following month. Renowned actor Rana Daggubati was cast as Nara Chandrababu Naidu, lending his charm to the portrayal of the political figure. Both films, directed by Krish Jagarlamudi, garnered attention for their depiction of these influential leaders.

However, ‘NTR: Mahanayakudu’ faced competition from ‘Yatra,’ another biopic that was released just one day later. Directed by Mahi V. Raghav, this film shone a spotlight on former Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy and his momentous ‘Padayatra’ prior to the 2009 elections.

As the year progressed, controversy-laden director Ram Gopal Varma entered the fray with ‘Lakshmi’s NTR,’ a movie based on the events subsequent to Lakshmi Parvathi’s entry into NTR’s life. This narrative provided a different perspective on the TDP founder’s legacy.

This month also saw the release of ‘Yatra 2,’ a sequel that continued the story into the political life of the current Chief Minister, Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy. Encouraging the film’s distribution, several YSRCP leaders even arranged free screenings for party supporters. Alongside this, ‘Rajadhani Files’ caused significant stir, as it examined the ongoing protests of Amaravati farmers in light of the YSRCP government’s decision to establish three separate capitals.

While YSRCP leaders were promoting ‘Yatra 2,’ the TDP rendered its support to ‘Rajadhani Files.’ Additionally, Ram Gopal Varma announced that he was gearing up for the release of two more films, ‘Vyooham’ and ‘Sapadham,’ purportedly based on post-2019 election events involving prominent political names including Jagan Mohan Reddy, Naidu, and JSP president K. Pawan Kalyan.

Criticism surrounds these films for their limited box office success, yet their underlying purpose seems to be more about influencing voters rather than raking in commercial proceeds. Political analysts point out that such leader-centric or issue-based cinema has long been utilized to sway public opinion.

On the matter, an experienced political leader commented on the trend, noting that cinema has become a venue for projecting leaders as either good or bad, with many scenes and situations being purely fictional. These films might have some sway, particularly in rural areas, but their reception is often muted in more urban settings. With political backing, the success of these films is not gauged by their collections at the box office.

Looking back, director Mani Ratnam’s ‘Iddaru,’ and Ram Gopal Varma’s ‘Sarkaar,’ starring Amitabh Bachchan, as well as the two-part ‘Raktha Charithra’ featuring Vivek Oberoi and Surya, were all based on the careers of political figures. The common thread in the earlier films was the alteration of character names and settings, a practice filmmakers are increasingly abandoning today.

The upcoming Andhra Pradesh Assembly Elections highlight the continued fusion of arts, culture, and state politics, as movies remain a vibrant, if controversial, medium of expression and persuasion in the sociopolitical arena.

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