From neo-noir thrillers to hilarious comedy capers, this list is an eclectic mix of titles belonging to the mystery genre.
Telugu cinema might be popular globally for its larger-than-life, opulent commercial films but keen film aficionados would also know that the industry is equally capable of producing nuanced, low-register genre films.
One particular genre that Telugu filmmakers have particularly thrived in is that of crime/mystery/thriller and luckily for us, Amazon Prime Video (India) houses several gems from this realm. Here are the five must-stream films if you are someone who knows the value of a well-made thriller. And even if you have already watched these titles, there's absolutely no harm in giving them another try!
Anukokunda Oka Roju (2005)
Chandra Shekar Yeleti made a sparking debut as a director in 2003 with ‘Aithe’, a supremely inventive thriller centred around an unassuming group of friends and a dreaded gangster. With ‘Anukonkunda Oka Roju’, Chandra Shekar Yeleti again flew under the radar but proved that he was among the most talented and unconventional filmmakers of his generation.
Moulded with neo-noir sensibilities, the film follows the sprightly college student/aspiring playback singer Sahasra (Charmy), who realises that she has no account or memory of an entire day in her life. Soon enough, things begin to turn eerily strange around her (including an assassination attempt) and an unusual investigation thus ensues to figure out Sahara’s whereabouts during those 24 hours and why she was being targeted by a certain group of people.
Charmy delivers arguably her finest performance to date in ‘Anukonkunda Oka Roju’ with Jagapathi Babu (as Inspector Suresh Reddy), Shashank, Pavan Malhotra, Harsha Vardhan and others, too, delivering fine performances.
Kshana Kshanam (1991)
There is a separate legion of fans that still reckons that the Ram Gopal Varma of the 1990s was a whole league of his own. Having made heads turn with his gritty debut film ‘Shiva’, RGV followed it up with an alluring mystery thriller that has aged incredibly well. In ‘Kshana Kshanam’, the inimitable Sridevi plays bank employee Satya, a coy and perpetual jittery young woman who somehow gets entangled in a bank robbery gone wrong. She then inadvertently lands the support of small-time conman Chandu (Venkatesh Daggubati) and together, the unlikely and misfitting duo must ward off the dreaded Nayar (Paresh Rawal) and gang’s threat.
‘Kshana Kshanam’ is a film that boasts several iconic cinematic moments that are sharply underlined by humour, pacing, tension and also M.M. Keeravani’s outstanding soundtrack. The film is bookended by two exceptional sequences, the first one being a bank heist that plays out with minimal lighting and complete silence and the second involving a train engine that seems in no mood to stop.
Megastar Chiranjeevi is renowned in the industry for his exceptional skills as a dancer, his ability to pull off tough action sequences and his general commanding presence on the screen, but ‘Chantabbai’ reveals just how good and precise his comic-timing is.
As the self-styled private eye ‘Panduranga Rao’ alias ‘James Paand’, Chiranjeevi delivers a compelling performance that is ably supported by writer-director Jandhyala’s trademark one-liners, quirky characters and superb staging. But, let’s not forget that as much as ‘Chantabbai’ is a comedy, it is also an intriguing mystery surrounding the titular character and his whereabouts.
Chiranjeevi is in top form here and so is the rest of the cast including Suhasini Mani Ratnam, Chandra Mohan, Sudhakar, Sri Lakshmi, Allu Ramalingaiah, Mucherla Aruna, Jaggayya and others.
Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya (2019)
Before ‘Jathi Rathnalu’ made him the next star-in-the-making, Naveen Polisetty impressed the Telugu audiences with his measured and equally effortless performance in ‘Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya’. One might see this comedy crime film as an ode to ‘Chantabbai’ and the likes, as the film uses the unexplored backdrop of cities like Nellore to lend a unique mood and personality to its story.
‘Agent Sai Srinivasa Athreya’ follows the titular character and his trusted assistant Sneha as they take on a convoluted murder case, which has the private detective himself as the prime suspect. Not only is he put in a position to acquit himself but the lure of the case is so strong that he wishes to go all the way to find the real killer.
Another instance to prove that Ram Gopal Varma had a great eye for storytelling during the ‘90s. Though he did not direct ‘Money’ and only produced it, the film has all the main RGV traits that one has come to love over the years.
Written and directed by Siva Nageswara Rao, the film follows two out-of-luck young men, Chakri (JD Chakravarthy) and Bose (Chinna), who go to extreme lengths to make money and decide to kidnap their neighbour Vijaya. The plan’s seemingly simple and involves Chakri and Bose demanding a heavy ransom from Vijaya’s husband Subba Rao (Paresh Rawal) so as to see through all their current troubles. However, when Subba Rao in turn offers the duo a bigger ransom and asks them to kill his wife, the plot thickens!