For over two decades until the mid 2000s, Telugu cinema had been synonymous with the kind of films that its top four actors had been making. Chiranjeevi, Balakrishna, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh were the four pillars of the industry and in a lot of ways, they helped shaped the conscience of movie goers in the 80s and 90s. While Chiranjeevi and Balakrishna went on to act in a string of mass commercial films, the latter two dabbled with family dramas, comedies and even devotional films, with an occasional action film thrown in between. And then, the equation changed in 2007 when Chiranjeevi decided to take a plunge into politics. It was no longer about the 'Top 4'. The younger lot had taken over the reigns from the previous generation and the discussion shifted towards the likes of Pawan Kalyan, Mahesh Babu, Ram Charan, Prabhas, NTR, Allu Arjun and their ilk.
It's been a decade since Chiranjeevi acted in a full-fledged role in a Telugu film and that was also the last time when all four of them had a release each in a single year. Back in 2007, when Chiranjeevi acted in Shankardada Zindabad, the Telugu remake of Lage Raho Munnabhai, Tollywood hadn't witnessed its first ever Rs 70 crore (share) blockbuster (Magadheera) or the first ever $1 million grossing film in the US (Dookudu). Back then, the concept of releasing a film in more than 1000 theatres on the first day didn't exist and moreover, the notion that some of the top stars in the industry would charge more than Rs 15 crores as remuneration didn't even seem possible. Cut to 2017 : the top 4 are back and how! While Chiranjeevi is all set to make his comeback, in a full-fledged role, with Khaidi No 150, the other three actors are on top of their game as well. Balakrishna's 100th film Gautamiputra Satakarni has been the talk of the town; Nagarjuna is back with Om Namo Venkatesaya and Raju Gari Gadhi 2, and Venkatesh has Guru, the remake of Irudhi Suttru, and Adavallu Meeku Joharlu to his credit this year.
It's not without a reason why several Telugu movie buffs have been saying 'Our childhood is back' while talking about the line up of films which these actors have in 2017. Nostalgia is the running theme of the year and people talk about the past with a certain fondness. Perhaps, we lived in much simpler times back then when we couldn't care less about judging a film, because the sight of a favourite actor was more than enough. We lived in an era which was left unadulterated - the devotion to movie stars was complete. There were no filters to love and admiration. Maybe, we didn't question what the film industry was offering us as much. Life was a lot simpler when we didn't have social media.
For Chiranjeevi's fans, in particular, his comeback brings back truck loads of memories about his glorious days. Some days ago, when the songs of Khaidi No 150 had released, several people took to Twitter with messages like - "If you want to know the reason why people admire Chiranjeevi so much, ask your uncle or your dad" or "Khaidi No 150 will showcase the true meaning of 'mass' to the younger generation" or even stuff like "The one true King of Tollywood is back." The hysteria surrounding the film is proof enough that no matter how many years pass, somethings never change. You know that the decibel level inside the cinema hall when Chiranjeevi gets grooving for 'Ratthalu', a mass number from Khaidi No 150, will be deafening.
In Chiranjeevi's case, every time people get nostalgic about his films, they begin talking about the serpentine queues outside the theatres screening films like Indra, Tagore, Hitler, Jagadeka Veerudu Athiloka Sundari among many others, and how he went on deliver multiple hits in a single year. The same discourse takes a different tone when it comes to talking about Balakrishna, whose roaring hits like Simha and Legend have kept him in the game in the past few years. As the memories of films like Samarasimha Reddy, Narasimha Naidu and Chennakesava Reddy surface once again, the adrenaline pumping action sequences and dialogues have become a mainstream topic. Thus, his decision to act in a period drama like Gautamiputra Satakarni, as his 100th film, seems all the more calculated because it gives him the scope to bring everything that the masses love about him, to the table.
For the longest time, Nagarjuna and Venkatesh have had the reputation for experimenting with their image and never being afraid of taking risks to offer something new to the audiences. After the success of Soggade Chinni Nayana and Oopiri in 2016, Nagarjuna has once again shifted gears and this time, he's back with a devotional film titled Om Namo Venkatesaya. The film is based on the life of Hathiram Baba (an ardent devotee of Lord Venkateswara), his fourth devotional film and that too with director K Raghavendra Rao. The two had previously collaborated for Annamayya, Sriramadasu and Shirdi Sai which were all critically acclaimed. And then, there's Venkatesh, whose macho avatar in Guru, where he has played the role of a boxing coach, has become a talking point. He hasn't shied away from playing his age and his upcoming films too reinforce his image as a star who's always ready to take a chance.
2017 promises to pay tribute to a bygone era of Telugu cinema which had such a huge influence on people that every tea-shop in the hinterlands of the two states had a bunch of youngsters flipping through pages of Superhit or Santosham film magazines and fighting over the collections of any given film. Apart from the films of the top four actors, almost every other major star in the industry has a film to his credit in 2017 including the likes of Prabhas, Mahesh Babu, Pawan Kalyan, NTR, Ram Charan etc, and that's a rarity.