There have been enough and more discussions on whether Hindi cinema lost the plot in 2022 and if films from the four southern languages came up with better stories and therefore, box office successes. Telugu films such as Pushpa – the Rise, RRR and Sita Ramam figured prominently in many of these discussions. It is a different story in the digital space though. The new seasons of Gullak, Panchayat and Delhi Crime, Guilty Minds and Rocket Boys stood out in presenting interesting stories across genres in Hindi, while in Telugu, we are still on the lookout for a truly knockout series.
There have been very few Telugu series worth recalling since the boom of the digital space. Think of binge-worthy series and anthologies in India and titles such as The Family Man, Scam 1992, Paatal Lok in Hindi and Paava Kadhaigal and Suzhal in Tamil are among the first that come to mind. One could argue that the Hindi digital entertainment space has been steadily growing since the days of Sacred Games (2018), while this is a relatively new arena for those in the Telugu entertainment industry. Fair enough. But take a look at the Telugu series that premiered in 2022 and you will notice that while there was plenty to watch, very few managed to hold attention till the end. Discussing merits and demerits comes later.
Here are a few Telugu series that were worth cheering for in 2022, listed in the order of their streaming dates.
Loser 2 (Zee 5)
The second season of the sports drama Loser, directed by Abhilash Reddy and Shravan Madala who also wrote the series along with Sai Bharadwaj, was an emotional saga. The narrative shifts between the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s to show us the crushing reality of air rifle shooter Suri (Priyadarshi) who is now pushing files in a government office, the plight of badminton player (Kalpika Ganesh) trying to regain her confidence and life after enduring an abusive marriage, and cricketer Wilson (Shashank) who finds a renewed sense of purpose when his teenage son (Harshith) takes to the sport. Loser 2 was a worthy addition to the Telugu digital space.
9 Hours (Disney+ Hotstar)
The mid-1980s hostage drama in a bank is based on Malladi Venkata Krishnamurthy’s Telugu novel Thommidhi Gantalu (9 hours), adapted by filmmaker Krish Jagarlamudi. Prison inmates are tasked with robbing three branches of a bank and returning within nine hours, in time for their roll call. Directed by Niranjan Kaushik and Jacob Verghese, 9 Hours features characters in different age groups and of varied moral standings. Greed, power games and relationship issues come into play through the characters played by Taraka Ratna, Ajay, Madhu Shalini, and others. There are episodes in which 9 Hours feels overdrawn. But when it focuses on the hostage drama, it has our attention.
Anya’s Tutorial (Aha)
In this Telugu-Tamil horror drama series, the eeriness comes from the isolation of the COVID-19 lockdown and fractured familial ties. Nivedhithaa Satish and Regina Cassandra star in Anya’s Tutorial directed by Pavani Gangireddy, with a story and screenplay by Sowmya Sharma. The story moves back and forth to recall the childhood of the sisters who are left to fend for themselves by their single mother who is exhausted and frustrated with trying to make ends meet. The younger child feels the presence of strangers at home and the older sister is frustrated at having to attend to a hallucinating sibling. Things turn awry as they grow up. Anya’s Tutorial throws social media anxiety and validation into the horror mix and keeps viewers on their toes as it moves forward.
Modern Love Hyderabad (Amazon Prime Video)
When Nagesh Kukunoor, the OG Hyderabadi indie filmmaker, spearheads a series that aims to capture the essence of Hyderabad and its changing perceptions of love, there was curiosity. The six stories of Modern Love, adapted from the New York Times columns by Kukunoor, Bahaish Kapoor and Shashi Sudigala, were bound by the theme of healing, intended to be a metaphorical balm after the successive lockdowns. The episodes were directed by Kukunoor, Venkatesh Maha, Uday Gurrala and Devika Bahudhanam. The anthology touched upon timeless Telugu comedies directed by Jandhyala while exploring a story on stand-up comedy shows in the city, paid a hearty ode to Hyderabadi lingo and cuisine (watching the episode featuring Nithya Menen and Revathy will make you hungry), among other things. Not all stories hit the mark, but the anthology had an easy and cheerful vibe, more or less like Hyderabad.
Parampara – Season 2 (Disney+ Hotstar)
Season two of this political family drama was a marked improvement from Season one. Directors L Krishna Vijay, Vishwanath Arigela and Hari Yelleti ensured that the revenge got darker as the battle for political inheritance raged on. Some of the tropes in this political family drama belong to the cliched mould of mainstream cinema and there were overtly indulgent segments replete with slow-motion shots. Starring Naveen Chandra, Sarath Kumar, Jagapathi Babu and Aakanksha Singh, Parampara 2 was a watchable, even if not riveting series.
Meet Cute (Sony Liv)
This anthology of five feel-good, conversational urban stories written and directed by debutant Deepthi Ganta came as a pleasant surprise. Starring several well-known names from Telugu cinema, Meet Cute does more than document meet-cute moments in boy-meets-girl stories. It begins with a relatable story of a young woman who is tired of matrimonial meetings, and goes on to explore stories of unlikely meetings that help strengthen bonds — a chance meeting with an elderly man at the consulate helps a young woman iron out recurring frictions with her husband, a mother who discovers unknown facets of her son forges a bond with her prospective daughter in law, a former girlfriend becomes a catalyst to mend a souring relationship, an actress discovers an ally in a doctor who is far from starstruck, and so on. Deepthi’s writing explores relationships with sensitivity and makes you feel that the world isn’t so bad after all. A couple of stories might come across as too simple, but the sunshine vibe is hard to not root for.
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