Comedy has been an integral part of Indian cinema right from the time the first talkie hit the screens and comedians have always been in great demand in south Indian cinema as well. Comedy of course is a serious business and unless one really has the talent and flair for it success could well prove elusive.
Tollywood has had a long tryst with comedy and a name like Kasturi Siva Rao was popular among the audiences even during the silent cinema days. The early 50s witnessed the emergence of the talented comedian Relangi Venkata Ramaiah who in tandem with another funster Ramana Reddy earned name and fame by portraying comic roles. They were also referred as the Laurel and Hardy of Telugu cinema with the rather portly Relangi earning the sobriquet Oliver Hardy and the thin Ramana Reddy hailed as Stan Laurel. Films like Gunasundari, Missamma and Maya Bazaar, which starred the duo, were huge hits with their comic interludes contributing greatly to the success.
Another pair that rocked Telugu cinema in the 60s and 70s and added new dimensions to Telugu film comedy was Allu Ramalingaiah (Chiranjeeviâ€™s father-in-law) and Padmanabham. They too captivated audiences with their brand of comedy and had separate tracks written for them. Raja Babu, famous for his quirky mannerisms, dressing style and dialogue delivery, ruled the roost in Tollywood for quite some time and producers queued up to sign him for their films. Later he went on to turn hero and his fans appreciated his performances, though with his facial contortions he was always seemed a little over the top. Raja Babu also went on to produce and direct films before his untimely death at the age of 45.
The stocky Babu Mohan and Kota Srinivasa Rao, the latter seen as a scheming villain in Kollywood, also made the rounds of Telugu cinema as a comic pair and a few films featuring them were well-received. Two other actors who also started their careers as comedians but later drifted to playing hero roles were Rajendra Prasad and Sunil Varma. Both of them had excellent timing sense and even after turning heroes, producers often cast them in social comedies revolving around family themes.
MS Narayana was another comedian who struck a good rapport with audiences. But the actor who has epitomised comedy in Tollywood for well over three decades is undoubtedly Brahmanandam. He made his debut in 1985 courtesy director Jandhyala and has had an uninterrupted run with well over a thousand films to his credit. The former Telugu lecturer first gave glimpses of his talent in Rama Naiduâ€™s Aha Naa Pellanta and went on to become a household name in no time. His set of stock mannerisms and facial expressions notwithstanding, Brahmanandam has been able to invest his roles with elan and flourish with his unique style of dialogue delivery.
Money, Anna, Anaganaga Oka Roju, Vinodham, Ready, Boss, Hitler, Race Gurram, Manmadhudu, Koncham Ishtam Koncham Kashtam, Dookudu and Baadshah are a few films that banked heavily on Brahmanandam to deliver the goods. The role of Khan Dada in the film Money is easily one of his best so far. In collaboration with fellow comedian Ali too, Brahmanandamâ€™s comedy tracks have been outstanding. The actorâ€™s cameos in Tamil films like Mozhi and Saroja were impressive. Of late, however, a few of his films have crashed at the box office raising speculation that the ace comedian might be losing his Midas touch. The industry nevertheless can hardly give him short shrift considering his immense popularity with audiences of all ages.
Ali, an illustrious contemporary of Brahmanandam, started out as a child actor. He too has been extremely prolific and directors like Krishna Reddy, Puri Jagannath and actor Pawan Kalyan have cast him in almost all their films. Generally cast as a friend of the hero, Ali has always found enough scope to mouth his one-liners and punch lines to good effect. His comic flair was to the fore in films like Super (Kannada), Race Gurram, S/O Sathyamurthy, Gabbar Singh, Amma Nanna O Tamil Ammayi and Narasimha Raju. The actor continues to be in great demand and has a packed calendar ahead of him.
Although not in the same league as Brahmanandam or even Ali, mimicry artist turned comedian Venu Madhav too has the capacity to raise a good laugh. Films like Master, Tholi Prema and Hungama provided him an opportunity to prove his talent. These days, however, the comedian has turned choosy and has been in hibernation having turned down roles that required him to indulge in low brow comedy laced with double entendre. But he has at least three films awaiting release. Among other comedians who are in the reckoning are Jayaprakash Reddy, Raghu Babu, Prudhvi Raj and Allari Naresh and a few recent entrants like Vennela Kishore, Priyadarshi and Shakalaka Shankar.
Comediennes, however, have always been in short supply. While Tamil cinemaâ€™s greatest comedienne Manorama has done Telugu films, it was the likes of actors Geetanjali, Sri Lakshmi and Ramaprabha who were considered for comedy characters, which at times were reduced to blink-and-you-miss roles. Kovai Sarala, another Kollywood veteran, and young Vidya Raman are now in demand for comedy roles and they have been acquitting themselves well.
Comedy films have been doing fairly well in Tollywood, if the success of some of the recent films are any indication. But there is plenty of room for improvement where this genre is concerned.