Pitta Kathalu movie review: Netflix’s Telugu anthology is partially engaging despite being equally real and ambitious
Directed by Nag Ashwin, Tharun Bhascker, Nandini Reddy, and Sankalp Reddy, Pitta Kathalu delves into the lives of four women and how their decisions in dire circumstances change their lives.
castShruti Haasan, Amala Paul, Lakshmi Manchu, Saanve Meghana, Satyadev, Jagapathi Babu
directorNag Ashwin, Tharun Bhascker, Nandini Reddy, Sankalp Reddy
*Minor Spoilers Ahead*
Most men in Telugu films have a superpower. Call it clairvoyance or the fact that they are just men, they tell the women in their lives how they are supposed to feel and be. It’s little wonder that we don’t quite get an insight into what the women’s stream of consciousness is or for that matter, if they have one because even that too is clogged with thoughts of men. This is exactly why Netflix’s Telugu anthology, Pitta Kathalu, feels refreshing. The anthology sees women through unfiltered eyes and what we get is a kaleidoscopic world where women are in charge of their lives. They seek power, love, and control over their own lives. They don’t hesitate to even manipulate people around them to reach their goals and as each of the stories in the anthology unfold, the lives of women emanate a wider spectrum of their innermost desires and conflicts, to make their life a little better.
The four stories in Pitta Kathalu aren’t interconnected and there’s no common theme which binds them all together. The landscape of the stories swings from hinterlands of Telangana to a metropolis in the near future where one company rules the world. What really shines the most is a scenario where stories are narrated with women at the centre of the storytelling, and how their choices bring a dramatic change in their lives.
The first of these short stories is Ramula, written and directed by Tharun Bhascker, where a young woman, Ramula (Saanve Meghana) is caught in a political storm. Ramula is in love with Ramchander (Naveen Kumar), son of an ex-MLA, but the latter is still a man-child who doesn’t know what he really wants in his life. She wonders if he even loves her, but Ramchander doesn’t even care about what she expects from him. Elsewhere, Swaroopakka (Lakshmi Manchu) is fighting a battle of her own as a politician and wants her party to recognise her efforts, but not only do they fail to acknowledge her, most of the time the men in her party have to be reminded of her existence. Tharun Bhascker knows the landscape of his story really well, right from the dialect people speak to how politics play out in rural areas. The first glimpse of this comes from Ramula’s brother who reprimands her for recording a TikTok duet because it’ll get people talking in their village. He reminds her that she is still living in a place where every action of hers is going to be judged. Saanve Meghana is brilliant in her role and she channelizes Ramula’s frustration into her performance quite well. As Swaroopakka, Lakshmi Manchu delivers one of her best performances in her career, and the role and her performance itself feels like a clarion call to take her more seriously. Naveen is a wonderful casting choice and the actor slips into his role effortlessly.
In Nandini Reddy’s Meera, a young woman struggles to break free from the suspicious and jealous eyes of her husband, who’s much older than her. Meera (Amala Paul) is a writer and her strikingly beautiful looks make her the cynosure of all eyes at parties, much to the chagrin of her husband (Jagapathi Babu), who believes that she’ll leave him for a much younger man at any moment. Nandini Reddy doesn’t hold back her punches and gives us a clear picture of how disturbing Meera’s life has turned out to be when she’s constantly under her husband’s glare of suspicion that she has been cheating on him. This segment further delves into sexual abuse in marriage and how women don’t have control over their bodies. Amala Paul leaves you at a loss of words in a difficult role and that she achieves all that in a short story speaks volumes of how good her performance and the writing is. Jagapathi Babu is equally good as a frustrated husband, whose mind is clogged with worst-case scenarios and it goes to an extent that it destroys his sanity. This segment is unarguably the best of the lot and full credit to Nandini Reddy for turning it into a thriller of sorts, where every minute counts. She understands the medium well and by the time the story ends, the anger of Meera is as palpable as her relief in the end.
Pitta Kathalu feels both real and ambitious in equal measure, but it isn’t consistently engaging. While the four directors bring their own artistic style and approach to defining the characters and the world in their own way, a lot of times it also feels inadequate and vague. A case in point being Pinky, which has been written and directed by Sankalp Reddy. In the story, Pinky (Eesha Rebba) is in an unhappy marriage, although her husband (Srinivas Avasarala) tries his best to understand her and provide a good life to her. But her heart lies elsewhere and she continues to see her ex-boyfriend (Satyadev), even though he’s married to another woman (Ashima). But then, the problem with Pinky is that the drama itself is hardly engaging. A lot of times, it leaves you confused about what exactly is the story trying to tell and even the conversations between the characters don’t quite make an impression. It holds back what it truly wants to say and leaves it to our interpretation, but the sense of awkwardness between the characters leaves you wondering if it is underwritten and made hastily.
If the ambiguity of Pinky leaves you wondering what the drama is all about, Nag Ashwin’s xLife leaves you entirely underwhelmed, despite its ambitious idea. The segment, starring Shruti Haasan and Sanjith Hegde, is set in the near future where a tech company xLife has taken over the world. Its founder (Sanjith Hegde) has no time for feelings or love, and sees people all over the world as consumers whose data can be sold and traded without any hesitation. He lives in a world where everything seems possible at the click of a button, even though he rarely leaves his office. And then, his life changes when he falls in love with a young woman working in his company. It’s partly sci-fi and presents a dystopian future, and Nag Ashwin wants us to wake up from our slumber and take control of her lives. While all these ideas sound fascinating, the world of xLife feels too staged and stranded somewhere between reality and virtual reality. Everything about it feels like an early draft of a much bigger project which Nag Ashwin would like to make in future, if he had more budget and time. Both Shruti Haasan and Sanjith find themselves in a strange place where the environment around them doesn’t really compliment the strong desire brewing inside them. The ending itself is bland and doesn’t quite stir your emotions the way Nag Ashwin intends to.
On the whole, Pitta Kathalu is a mixed bag and not all short stories find their rhythm and clarity of thought to say what they want to. But it’s also a step in the right direction in many ways. Pitta Kathalu exists in a Telugu cinematic universe and in this world, women are largely in control of their own lives and more than anything, they hate to be mansplained. Thank God, they aren’t treated like deities with pure thoughts and leading pious lives. Their shades of grey is what adds colour to Pitta Kathalu.
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