Telugu film: Bhale Dongalu (India 2008)

Tarun and Ileana as Ramu and Jyoti

There are around seven or eight significant film industries in India. Although Hindi Cinema (i.e. Bollywood) has the highest profile, the most prolific industry may well be the Telugu industry from Andhra Pradesh with around 200 productions claimed per year. Outside India Telugu films don’t have the profile of other so-called ‘regional’ industries such as Tamil or Bengali films. For this reason, they are difficult to see and I was glad to get the chance on an Emirates flight to view a recent Telugu film. Checking up on the film afterwards, I realise that it was severely cut to fit a two hour video screening. Amazingly, taking 35-40 mins out didn’t really affect the narrative from what I could see!

Bhale Dongalu is a ‘version’ of a hit Bollywood film Banti aur Babli with Abhishek Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee. Remakes and ‘borrowings’ between different language cinemas in India are quite common. I haven’t seen the Bollywood film, but if the plot is similar I would think that the overal feel is different as Abhishek and Rani are that much older.

The key references her are Bonnie and Clyde and Romeo and Juliet. Ramu and Jyoti are young people who should now, according to their families, be respectively starting a proper job and thinking of getting married. They both decide to leave home and meet by accident on a train – where they are robbed of their luggage via the oft-quoted con artist’s trick of offering spiked food and stealing the bags whilst the victim sleeps. Faced with penury and the prospect of returning home with their tails between their legs the couple instead turn to petty crime, proving very adept at making money. The twist is that they are still good middle-class kids at heart so that they give up the money for a good cause. The other major plot element sees them chased by both a police officer and a bunch of gangsters from whom they have unwittingly stolen money.

The film seems to have done reasonably well at the box office, but fared badly with critics. I enjoyed the film for a number of reasons. First, I found the two young stars to be attractive and engaging and second I enjoyed the sense of a different social milieu (i.e. compared to much of Bollywood). The film begins with a discussion of rising food prices – a real issue in contemporary India. The young woman does think of going to Mumbai but the script exposes the exploitation of would-be models (who need to pay Rs/- 10,000 to be ‘trained’) and the action settles on Hyderabad-Secunderabad.

I’m not sure why but I prefer South Indian films to Bollywood – the stories seem more grounded and the characters less objectionable, even if the stereotypes are quite similar.

3 responses to “Telugu film: Bhale Dongalu (India 2008)

  1. Surprised to find this film here… One significant thing separates Bollywood and other industry-driven cinemas in India – That the television has never been able to replace the theater… Unlike B’wood, whose films hit the TV almost within a month, more people down south seem to be preferring to go to the halls. This may be because, the reality TV culture has not been able to invade south India (maybe because people prefer watching the Hindi ones). As long as TV plays second fiddle here, there si hope for good cinema…

    • Interesting point that you make. On my last two visits to India I tried to analyse the offers on the multichannel TV services offered in my hotels and the various restaurants we visited, as well as following coverage of TV in the English language press. I think I need some time to reflect on this, but it would be good to write something on Indian TV. In the North, it seemed to me that the main Southern material on offer was Malayalam films on Asianet, although I was intrigued by Tom and Jerry seemingly dubbed into Telugu (I think, but I don’t have a linguist’s ear and spotting different languages is different). I also read something in the business press that suggested that Chennai-based media companies were fairly conservative in thinking about trying to sell their content outside the South – so much so that FICCI (Federation of Chambers of Commerce in India) had decided to hold a separate media conference in Chennai (Business Standard Kolkata, 24/11/09)

  2. Have you seen Paheli yet? I think you would like it. If you do not already know, Paheli means “The Riddle”. It is a short fairy tale that was released a few years ago. It is one of my favorite films. Click here if you’d like to check out my site. Cheers!

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