Hyderabad’s Tollywood: Inside the world’s biggest film-studio complex

Outstripping Bollywood, it’s the biggest film-studio complex in the world and one of India’s most popular tourist attractions. Photographer Kalpesh Lathigra went to Hyderabad to explore behind the scenes

Andrew Buncombe

Everyone knows Bollywood. The Hindi film industry in Mumbai, long famed for its lavish song-and-dance routines and unlikely plot lines, is not only beloved in India but has also been embraced by audiences and film-makers all over the world. It is, however, just one of many centres of Indian film.

Numerous cities, including Chennai, Calcutta and Bangalore, all have their own cinematic traditions. There is the Malayalam film industry known as Mollywood, based in Kerala; the Kannada film industry known as Sandalwood, based in Bangalore, and the Tamil film industry in Chennai, known as Kollywood.

Hyderabad is the centre of the Telugu language movie industry, also known as Tollywood. It is also home to the largest film studio complex in the world, at least according to Guinness World Records. With 1,666 acres of back lots, streetscapes, 47 sound stages, warehouses, post-production facilities, hotels, restaurants and a theme park, Ramoji Film City is also one of India’s most > popular tourist destinations. Every year it receives up to one-and-a-half million visitors, but most foreign tourists have probably never heard of it.

The facility was started in 1996 by Ramoji Rao, a media baron. Very soon it was welcoming hundreds of production companies, who would use its facilities for productions in Telugu, Hindi, Tamil, Bengali as well as English.

Harvey Keitel’s 2002 crime thriller Beeper, about a doctor who embarks on a dangerous hunt for his missing son, and Quicksand, a 2002 military drama starring Michael Dudikoff, were made there. The remnants of the Quicksand shoot, a warehouse with “United States Marine Corps” stencilled on the side, can still be seen.

The studio’s Indian films include Krrish, a science fiction hit which was written and produced by Hrithik Roshan and starred him as an Indian superhero.

Tollywood is a one-stop movie factory. All a producer needs is a script. A film can then be shot, edited, mixed and made ready for release. Should you need extras, catering, lights or generators, all are available and there is no end of scenery and props, from temples to horses – real and plastic – and photographs of India’s prime ministers in the prop shop.

Tourists are ferried around in old-style red buses. There is an airport terminal, a London Street, a hospital set, prisons and lush Japanese gardens for dance scenes. And if anyone is so inclined, you can even get married there, with all the movie razzle dazzle thrown in.


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