The stunts in most of the first-generation Telugu movies are based on native martial arts like a sword fight, stick fight, musti, khusti, or casual street fights. The actors well versed in sword fights used to play the roles of kings. The legendary actor Kanta Rao has been considered the best actor to perform horse rides and sword fights for decades. However, stunts in Telugu movies have evolved.
Stunts in early days
Stick fights are a norm in Telugu movies set in villages. Most of the actors are trained in stick fights, so the action choreography used to be an eye feast. The musti is similar to boxing where the protagonist punches the villains until they run away or collapse on the ground. It is still used in Telugu movies but has been exaggerated over time.
Influence of Hollywood movies
The influence of Hollywood movies is profound in the 70s when lead actors have to attempt complex stunts which required dupes. This is the time when most people jumping off the buildings, shooting from cars while chasing, bike stunts, jumping into ponds and wells to rescue others, etc has become a norm and the audience started encouraging such movies. The influence of Bruce Lee is significant in the 80s. It made filmmakers choreograph stunts based on Karate and Kung Fu. The actors with martial arts backgrounds like Suman, Arjun Sarja, Bhanuchander, etc were encouraged to showcase their skills.
Stunts in Chiranjeevi Era
Later Chiranjeevi started performing risky stunts on his own without the need of a dupe, which helped action choreography to explore new avenues. While the dupes have restricted some shots to extreme long shots, back shots, and jump cuts, doing real stunts has given a feel of stunts. It is no wonder at some point, the movies of Chiranjeevi started collecting more because repeat audiences have grown just for the dances and fights. This forced many filmmakers to choreograph the majority of the stunts without dupes and this led to the fall of many actors after the 80s. There used to be a trend of adding comedy to climax fights through supporting characters which didn’t last for long, and it is almost non-existent in the current generation.
Realistic stunts in Telugu movies
The debut movie of Ram Gopal Varma, ‘Shiva’ has done something unexpected, that is realistic stunts that appear like casual street fights and without any sound effects. The Steadicam gave a feel of scenes happening in front of the audience, instead of on-screen. Most of the audience was disturbed by the interval episode which was gruesome considering the contemporary movies. This was not encouraged by the industry at that time but has influenced many films later on. What many people didn’t understand about the stunts in Shiva is that they have enhanced the realistic feel of the movie, while the same cannot be said for every movie. Many filmmakers mindlessly copied the same techniques in the hopes of attracting the audience but when the story is not realistic, the realistic stunts look cheap. This failed many movies later on.
Martial arts in Telugu movies
Later Sri Hari became popular for realistic stunts but that didn’t last long. His fights became monotonous and adulterated with regular commercial elements. The dubbed Kannada movies of Thriller Manju were quite popular among a section of the audience just for the sake of stunts. He eventually faded out as his movies became monotonous. Pawan Kalyan joined the league of actors with martial arts skills with his very first movie ‘Akkada ammayi ikkada abbayi’. The movies like ‘Thammudu’, ‘Khushi’ and ‘Jhonny’ show his dedication. But his larger-than-life image restricted him to routine commercial stunts.
He choreographed simple yet effective stunts himself for many of his movies. Among the youngsters, Ram Pothineni has very good skills in martial arts but he only performed it once in his debut movie ‘Devadasu’. He used it for the namesake or comedy in his subsequent movies.
Faction dramas and violence
The faction dramas have paved the way for extreme gore and violence. The protagonist slaughtering the goons or villains has been well received by the mass audience. The overwhelming response has led to many such movies and scenes. Yet again the filmmakers mindlessly copied the stunts even when there is no scope for extreme violence. Many such films failed at the box office, and permanently scarred the careers of some actors.
Fights in current generation Telugu movies
The commercial movies started appreciating hero-worship, elevation, larger than life image. This has ruined everything stunts are known for. There is no excitement while watching stunts nowadays, except for a few punch dialogues. We already know that hero is going to bash all the baddies without even flexing his muscles. Some senior actors who can barely run are portrayed as crushing tens of goons. The stunts nowadays are nothing but swinging hands and legs while the bad guys fly away. The story, tension, and conflict during fight scenes are long gone. We need a fresh batch of filmmakers who have at least tried street fights once in their life and understand what it takes to beat someone. Otherwise, the stunts remain a break in engaging movies without offering anything of importance.