Best Of Tollywood 2023: These Telugu Films Not Only Made Good Business But Also Won The Hearts Of Audiences With Their Content

In 2023, the Telugu film industry did not have any monstrous successes on the scale of RRR (2022) but there are many decent hits like Hi NannaMiss Shetty Mr PolishettyBhagavanth Kesari, and Virupaksha headlined by stars and tier-2 actors.

Small-budget films like Writer Padmabhushan and Balagam also struck a chord with audiences and critics alike.

Further, in 2023, several new and unconventional themes have been explored in Tollywood.

For example, Balagam was a human drama set against the backdrop of a funeral in rural Telangana. The practices of a specific region were portrayed with authenticity and this majorly contributed to the audience’s connection with the film.

Writer Padmabhushan delves into the struggles of both an aspiring writer and the unfulfilled aspiration of a housewife who wanted to become a writer. This is again a theme that we don’t see in Telugu cinema.

Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty explored the concept of a young man falling in love with an older woman in the backdrop of sperm donation.

Hi Nanna is about the trials of a single father and a complex love story that ends happily. Both these films worked well with their target audiences.

The biggest surprise of 2023 though is the transition of Balakrishna from a macho hero to a father hero. In Bhagavanth Kesari, the actor played a foster father with a salt-and-pepper look that went with his age.

Lastly, Virupaksha was a paranormal thriller that raised some important points about the prejudices and superstitious beliefs set against the backdrop of a particular village.

Now, let us delve a little more into these Tollywood releases:

Hi Nanna

First-time director Shouryuv delivered a riveting emotional saga about a single father and his daughter, along with a mother who battles her inner demons. Hi Nanna moves at a slow pace and is definitely not for those who prefer high-octane entertainers.

A poster of the film Hi Nanna
A poster of the film ‘Hi Nanna’. (X)

The trio of Nani, Baby Kiara, and Mrunal Thakur were simply splendid in their respective parts. For Nani, the role of Viraj is a cakewalk. But still, the actor was a delight to watch — whether it was the boyishness of a young lover or a determined single father in the later stages.

Baby Kiara more than held her portraying innocence and vulnerability like a pro.

Mrunal Thakur as Yashna/Varsha delivered a performance that was a step ahead of last year’s Sita Ramam (2022) in many ways.

On many occasions, she conveyed various feelings with just her expressive eyes, proving yet again why she is a bundle of talent.

Overall, Hi Nanna proved to be a perfect balm for those traumatised by the violent father-and-son dynamics of Animal.

Another strong aspect of Hi Nanna is the mostly soothing soundtrack of Hesham Abdul Wahab. My favourite songs in the album are “Samayama”, “Gaaju Bomma”, and “Ammaadi.

The one song that sticks like a sore thumb though is “Odiyamma” featuring Shruti Haasan in an extended cameo, which the film could have easily done away with.

Sanu Varghese’s cinematography is icing on the cake, particularly the portions where Viraj talks about his wife in a fairy tale format.

Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty

P Mahesh Babu’s Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty is a romantic drama filled with many layers. On one hand, you have an older woman Anvitha (Anushka Shetty), who wants children but not through marriage. She wants to go for IVF, that too, by choosing her sperm donor.

Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty best telugu films 2023
A poster of ‘Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty’. (X)

On one level, the movie has a distinct hangover of Ayushmann Khurrana’s Vicky Donor (2012). But Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty is very much its beast.

A big strength of the film is how P Mahesh Babu has sketched his two protagonists.

Anvitha comes across as very stubborn, at times cold-hearted too, but having said that, the viewers also understand why she is the way she is. The inner trauma of Anvitha was both well-written and enacted.

The director was successful in creating an authentic middle-class milieu through the characters of Murali Sharma and Tulasi playing Siddhu’s (Naveen Polishetty’s) parents.

Miss Shetty Mr Polishetty benefitted immensely from its two primary actors — Anushka Shetty and Naveen Polishetty.

Anuskha fits perfectly into the part of an older woman who is scared of getting into relationships.

Naveen Polishetty was an absolute livewire. His real-life experience of doing standup comedy came very handy. However, he was equally good in the more dramatic portions.

Jayasudha had an extended cameo as Anvitha’s mother, and her fan act of Balakrishna raised some chuckles. A couple of flaws include the rushed transformation of Siddhu’s parents, particularly the father.

Also, the likes of Nassar could have been utilised better.

Bhagavanth Kesari

In Bhagavanth Kesari, director Anil Ravipudi successfully moved away from his regular style of filmmaking and delivered an emotional drama that showed a different side to Nandamuri Balakrishna. At the same time, he satisfied his hardcore fans.

Balakrishna in Bhagavanth Kesari
Balakrishna in ‘Bhagavanth Kesari’. (X)

Bhagavanth Kesari is primarily about an ex-police officer turned foster father to Vijji (Sreeleela).

As a young child, Vijji meets Bhagavanth in a jail where her father (R Sarathkumar) worked. Bhagavanth feels an emotional connection with the child from the beginning. After the sudden death of Vijji’s father, he takes over her responsibility.

The biggest USP of Bhagavanth Kesari is easily the emotional drama between Bhagavanth and Vijji. The thought processes of Bhagavanth and Vijji are vastly different from each other.

Vijji’s interests lie more in marrying the love of her life. Bhagavanth, on the other hand, wants to raise her like a lion. In that process, he pushes Vijji to do certain things.

In these portions, the attitude of Bhagavanth reminds the viewers of Aamir Khan’s Mahavir Singh Phogat in Dangal (2016).

Director Anil Ravipudi also made some important points about good and bad touch through a rousing monologue of Balakrishna.

Both Balakrishna and Sreeleela delivered powerful performances. Balakrishna’s command over the Telangana dialect was also commendable. Arjun Rampal made for a worthy opponent.

He brought in the right amount of swag and ruthlessness. It is not the most innovative character, but Arjun Rampal still made it work.

Virupaksha

Karthik Varma Dandu’s Virupaksha is a solid paranormal thriller that scores equally on both the atmosphere and the content.

The filmmaker proved to be a worthy successor to his master — the hugely successful filmmaker Sukumar, who is also the screenplay writer for this film.

best of tollywood 2023 telugu films virupaksha
Sai Dharam Tej’s ‘Virupaksha’. (X)

Virupaksha is one of those movies that instantly draws the viewers in with its ambience. It has some genuine jump scares; on more than one occasion, the viewers would want to close their eyes.

Sukumar’s screenplay is filled with many layers. He, along with his director, comes up with valid arguments against prejudices and superstitious beliefs that stem from ignorance.

They also deserve credit for not making their protagonist Surya (Sai Dharam Tej) larger than life. There are no unnecessary songs or comedy tracks that deviate the audience’s attention.

The twists and turns are engrossing till the end.

A special mention must be made of the climactic punch regarding the character of Samyukta Menon’s Nandini.

On the performance front, Sai Dharam Tej delivered a convincing performance. But it was Samyukta who stole the show with a complex character.

The supporting cast comprising Rajeev Kanakala, Ajay, and Sai Chand were also fine in their respective parts.

Hello Meera (Amazon Prime)

Hello Meera, directed by Srinivasu Kakarala, is a well-made experimental film.

The story revolves around a single character. Gargeyi Yellapragada played the titular role.

Meera is all set to marry a man called Kalyan and is busy finalising the last-minute formalities for her big day in Vijayawada.

A poster of the film Hello Meera
A poster of the film ‘Hello Meera’. (X)

She is on her way back home, but at that exact moment, a cop from Hyderabad calls her to report to a police station at the earliest. The reason is her ex-boyfriend had attempted suicide mentioning her name in the suicide note.

What follows is a story that is not just high on thrills but also dwells on the prejudices that a modern woman faces.

It is not an easy task for any filmmaker to write and engage the audience with a script with only a single actor at its centre. But Srinivasu Kakarala more than rose to the occasion. He ensured that the audience was invested in the plight of Meera. As viewers, you want her to come out safe from this ordeal.

Hello Meera has a series of voice conversations. At times, it does get monotonous, but these voice characters also have a variety.

For example, there is her conservative mother, a father who stands by his daughter, and a future partner who comes across as slightly insensitive.

Teja Paruchuri of Vismai Foods has given his voice to the future spouse.

Gargeyi Yellapragada as Meera is thoroughly impressive. Her reactions to different situations do not come across as staged at any point. She is supremely natural. Her character of a modern woman who is forthright and owns up to the mistakes she has made in the past is something that many modern women can relate to.

Saalar: Part 1-Ceasefire

Saalar: Part 1-Ceasefire directed by Prashanth Neel is an important movie for its leading man Prabhas. The Baahubali star has been struggling big time to maintain his image as a pan-India star.

Prabhas in Salaar
Prabhas in ‘Salaar’. (X)

Many thought that Om Raut’s Adipurush (2023) would bring back the lost glory, but nothing of that sort happened. In fact, the movie only added to Prabhas’ misery.

With Saalar: Part 1-Ceasefire, Prashanth Neel delivered a masala treat which should appeal to the fans of Prabhas.

The biggest strength of Saalar: Part 1-Ceasefire is the intense brotherhood showcased between Prabhas’ Deva and Prithviraj Sukumaran’s Vardha.

Deva’s intense affection for Vardha is visible right from the first scene, and this brotherhood only becomes stronger as the film goes on. Not surprisingly, Prabhas shares most sparks with Prithviraj.

Shruti Haasan played the role of Aadhya. She speaks in a heavily accented American accent, which is irritating, to say the least. Prabhas and Shruti do not have many scenes and aren’t romantically paired at least in this first part.

Prabhas doesn’t have many dialogues, but the actor is successful in portraying the raw aggression reminiscent of Chatrapathi (2005) days.

Prithviraj is also wonderful in portraying both the vulnerability and determination of a future successor caught in the power struggle.

The world of Saalar: Part 1-Ceasefire is similar to Game of Thrones in terms of drama and character dynamics.

Some of the themes explored by the film are the right to leadership and loyalty among others. Prashanth Neel has done a good job of depicting these themes.

Saalar: Part 1-Ceasefire ends with a cliffhanger that sets a good base for the second part.

Apart from an irritating Shruti Haasan, the KGF (2022) hangover does play a spoilsport. Also, the bloodshed in the second half gets too gory much like Animal which was also released in December.

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