The Telugu film industry, popularly known as ‘Tollywood’, is the third largest film industry in India. The Telugu film industry is still in its infancy when it comes to making and accepting realistic, contemporary and unconventional cinema. Traditionally, Telugu audiences idolize their actors and like to see them in larger than life roles. This article is about the four most popular and still current actors in Telugu cinema.

Chiranjeevi: This ‘Megastar’ of Telugu cinema had a modest start to her career in 1977, acting in supporting and villain roles. He started playing leading roles in movies in 1982. Movies like Intlo Ramayya Veedhilo Krishnyya, Khaidi, Abhilasha and Rudraveena earned him awards and praise. And there was no going back after that. The ’90s further cemented him as a great hero, with movies like Jagadeka Veerudu Atiloka Sundari, Gang Leader, Gharana Mogudu, and Aapadbhandavudu winning the hearts of the class and mass audiences. After a few more blockbuster movies like Indra, Tagore and Shankar Dada Zindabad in the 2000s, Chiranjeevi is now more focused on his political career. He started an independent political party called Praja Rajyam (people’s government), which later merged with the Congress party. He is also active in social activities, running a blood bank named after the actor himself. Chiranjeevi is the most popular actor in Telugu cinema to date, loved by Telugu audiences all over the world for his versatility, dance style and charisma.

Balakrishna: ‘Yuvaratna’ (Young Diamond) Balakrishna is the son of legendary Telugu actor and former Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, NTRama Rao. Following in his father’s footsteps, he entered the film industry as a child actor in the film ‘Tatamma Kala’ in 1974. He debuted as the lead in the 1984 film ‘Sahasame Jeevitham’. ‘Mangamma Gari Manavadu’, released the same year, was a huge box office success. His popularity skyrocketed in the following years with several successful movies like Muddula Mavayya, Nari Nari Naduma Murari, Lorry Driver, Rowdy Inspector, and Aditya 369. The movies had Balakrishna in various interesting roles that appealed to class and mass audiences, and in particularly young people. . The 2000s saw Balakrisha acting in several factional background films such as Chenna Kesava Reddy, Narasimha Naidu, and Samara Simha Reddy. The last blockbuster movie of his was Simha in 2011. When we talk about Balakrisha, we cannot forget his mythological and socio-fantasy movies. Like his father, Balakrishna excels in such roles and it would not be an exaggeration to say that he is the only current hero who can do such films full justice. Some of the noteworthy performances of him in such roles were in the movies Bhairava Dweepam, Pandurangadu and Sri Krishnarjuna Vijayam. Another film ‘Sri Rama Rajyam’ based on the life of Lord Rama is currently in the post-production stage and will be released in August 2011. Balakrishna is also involved in social causes and runs the Indo American Basavatharakam cancer hospital which is a creation of his father and his mother’s name.

Nagarjuna – Widely regarded as one of Tollywood’s most stylish actors, Nagarjuna entered the world of cinema with high expectations. His father is Akkineni Nageswar Rao, one of the legendary actors of Telugu cinema. He is one of the few Tollywood heroes who excels in romantic roles. Although his first film was ‘Sudigundalu’ (1967) when he was only 8 years old, his debut film as a hero was Vikram in 1986. Two Nagarjuna films that were released in 1987, Geetanjali and Shiva, not only brought him commercial success, but also also critical acclaim, and remain among Nagarjuna’s best films to date. In the 1990s, Nagarjuna acted in several successful movies such as Killer, Varasudu, President Gari Pellam, Hello Brother, Criminal, and Gharana Bullodu. The roles he played in these films were a mixture of sophisticated, urban characters and rural, mass characters, and he did justice to both types of roles equally. In 1996, Nagarjuna produced and starred with Tabu in ‘Ninne Pelladutha’, one of the best Telugu romantic films ever made. Among his other romantic and cheerful entertainers are Santhosham and Manmadhudu. Another interesting Nagarjuna film was ‘Sisindri’ in which the story revolves around the life of a little boy who disappeared from his house. The role of the little boy was played by Akhil, the son of Nagarjuna. In the Annamayya and Sri Ramadasu movies, the audience got to see a different side of Nagarjuna’s acting skills. He played the role of an ardent devotee in both films and proved that he too is capable of excelling in a genre his father was known for. With a charming personality and matchless style, Nagarjuna has captivated Telugu audiences for more than two decades. Nagarjuna’s son from his first marriage, Naga Chaitanya, has also entered the Telugu film industry and is doing well with a recent hit ‘Ay Maya Chesave’. Nagarjuna is a co-founder of Blue Cross of Hyderabad, which is an animal welfare organization run by his wife Amala.

Venkatesh: ‘Victory’ Venkatesh, as he is popularly known, is the son of famous producer D.Ramanaidu. Venkatesh debuted in the movie ‘Kaliyuga Pandavulu’ in 1986. He then acted in the movie Swarnakamalam which is among the best Telugu movies ever made. Beginning with this film, Venkatesh has always striven to act in meaningful cinema. However, he also acted in some massive movies, which gained him a following in both mass and class audiences. The 90’s saw some interesting movies like Bobbili Raja, Kshana Kshanam, Chanti, China Rayudu, Dharma Chakram, Preminchukundam Raa, Premante Idera. Some of these were romantic artists, some socio-fantasies, while others were set in a rural setting. This versatility makes Venkatesh stand out among his contemporaries and the public expects something good and different from him every time. Another specialty of Venkatesh’s films is the scope they give actresses to play alongside the film’s hero. Examples of such movies include Malleeswari, Adavari Maatalu Arthale Verule, and Nagavalli. Venkatesh keeps a low profile and avoids media attention except for his movies. So not much is known about his other activities.

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