Bollywood is one of the largest film industries in the world — thousands of movies make their way to the silver screen each year, and their stars are treated like gods.
While Bollywood movies are primarily written in Hindi, India has a wide variety of spoken and written languages depending on the state one travels to. One of the languages spoken is Telugu — a language spoken mainly in the southern states of Telangana and Andhra Pradesh. It's 1 of the 22 official languages of India, and it differs from its Northern Indian counterparts.
As such, Telugu has its own thriving film industry known as Tollywood (Tollywood can also refer to Tamil or Bengali cinema, but for the purposes of this article, I'll be specifically talking about Telugu movies).
Telugu films have a long and acclaimed history. In 1921, Raghupathi Venkaiah Naidu produced what is considered to be the first Telugu feature film, "Bhishma Pratigna." In 1933, "Sati Savitri" was the recipient of an honorary diploma at the second annual Venice International Film Festival. Several movies produced during the early days of Telugu cinema remain iconic to this day. In fact, many films in the early to mid-1900s were ranked on CNN-IBN’s 100 Best Indian Films of All Time.
Since that period, Tollywood began to grow exponentially and huge stars like Chiranjeevi (a staple of my dad’s generation), Pawan Kalyan and everyone’s favorite comedic relief Brahmanandam, who starred in box office hits like "Gang Leader" and "Jalsa," began to emerge."
These films helped Tollywood gain more fans and gross higher numbers at the box office. Eventually, a newer wave of stars began to make a name for themselves and they continue to bring Tollywood to reach new heights. "RRR" in particular stars the popular N. T. Rama Rao Jr. as well as Ram Charan, both excellent examples of Telugu talent currently succeeding in the industry.
I grew up watching films like "Pokiri," "Eega" and "Arya," relishing in the cheesy fight scenes and the song/dance numbers. People like Mahesh Babu and Allu Arjun were and still are big in Andhra Pradesh, India, and now they are taking over the rest of India.
Arjun’s latest film, "Pushpa: The Rise" made a killing at box offices across the country. The song "Oo Antava Oo Oo Antava" was one of the biggest hits of the year in India and propelled Arjun into stardom previously unattainable for Tollywood stars.
The recent southern storm arguably started when "Baahubali: The Beginning" was released. It broke box office records and charmed audiences across the globe. I remember seeing it with my parents a few weeks after it was released. The theater was almost sold out, and it felt like I was back in India watching a movie.
People cheered at every exciting scene and exclaimed when something satisfying happened. Even after the pandemic, South Indian movies swept the box office, with these films earning far greater than their Hindi counterparts in 2021.
Many internet users are familiar with S.S. Rajamouli’s action films "RRR" and "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion," with scenes from these movies making their rounds on Reddit and Twitter due to the sheer insanity of the stunts.
"RRR" and "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion" are the fourth- and second-highest-grossing Indian films of all time respectively. They shocked the world with excellent reviews and the ability to strike a chord with international audiences. Many of my friends have told me they thoroughly enjoyed watching either of these movies and hoped to watch more of a similar caliber.
The success of "RRR" internationally is something that has been of interest to many film critics and movie aficionados. Despite its hefty 187-minute runtime, the movie was immediately met with domestic and international success and acclaim from audiences, critics and the box office/streaming alike.
In a time of decreased subscription rates, "RRR" was trending as No. 1 on Netflix internationally in its non-English language section for two consecutive weeks. It also quickly became the most popular Indian film ever on the platform globally.
On Rotten Tomatoes, the movie currently has a 95 percent positive rating collected from 91 critics and 94 percent positive rating audience score. Commercially, "RRR" earned more than $154 million worldwide since its release.
While some may recognize Bollywood movies for their distinct style of song, plot and overall character, Tollywood is slightly different. Aside from the language differences, Tollywood is distinctly more dramatic.
Almost every movie I have watched has been packed to the brim with unrealistic fight scenes, explosions and heart-pounding chases (all complete with a small romance side-quest). If one is experiencing Tollywood for the first time, "RRR," "Pushpa: The Rise" and "Baahubali 2: The Conclusion" are all perfect glimpses into what Tollywood has morphed into.
As international media enjoys its turn in the spotlight with shows like "Squid Game," "Lupin" and "Extraordinary Attorney Woo." It has truly been a joy to see the culture I grew up with make a name for itself in the film industry.
Other South Indian film industries like Mollywood (Malayalam film) or Kollywood (Tamil film) have some of the most interesting and deeply introspective stories in Indian film. And with the rise of Tollywood means that the rest of Indian cinema will soon find a place in the hearts and minds of people around the globe.