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Pitta Kathalu Review: A Mixed Bag that Yearns for Wild Swings

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Directors: Tharun Bhascker, BV Nandini Reddy, Nag Ashwin, Sankalp Reddy

Cast: Saanve Megghana, Abhay Bethiganti, Lakshmi Manchu, Amala Paul, Jagapathi Babu, Shruti Haasan, Eesha Rebba, Srinivas Avasarala

Death, taxes and Netflix anthologies as they break into original content for an Indian film industry. Netflix gathers four contemporary Telugu film directors at the top of their game for Pitta Kathalu. There isn’t one overarching theme to Pitta Kathalu, like Tamil’s Paava Kadhaigal. Women are central to it and themes of revenge, insecurity and comeuppance tie the short films directed by Tharun Bhascker, BV Nandini Reddy, Nag Ashwin and Sankalp Reddy. Privacy, control and consent are other uniting factors.

In Ramula, Tharun reverses the dynamics in the romance between Ramula (Saanve Megghana) and Ram Chander (Abhay Bethiganti). Ramula calls the shots and in Ram, who not only belongs to dominant caste but is also a former politician’s son, we see a meek young man pretending to be the alpha that he is not. My guess is that Ram’s hairstyle – his father makes it a point to comment on it – is not a coincidence, Ram does model himself after Arjun Reddy, but he is unable to muster that venomous masculinity he craves for. Ramula is chastised by her elder brother for posting TikTok videos. While she is very much present on TikTok, she must hide her face with her clothes in order to protect Ram from his family. And her own good. Her brother too orders him to wear the helmet, so they are not seen together in public. Tharun blocks the pair in public spaces – bus stand, inside a cinema theatre or outside in the parking lot. And the film they are watching? Tharun’s debut Pelli Choopulu in which Vijay Devarakonda played Prasanth like Ram, guided by his more enterprising girlfriend Chitra. Today, Devarakonda is more synonymous with Arjun Reddy than Prasanth.

Ramula takes beguiling but curious turns when the love story reaches Swaroopa (Lakshmi Manchu), a Woman’s Council President whose union is handy for political parties dominated by upper castes. She is written as the savarna feminist who might scoff at the token support she gets from political leaders but doesn’t flinch from using anyone for her social capital. Tharun plays with a lot of concepts here – caste, politics, feminism and who are the women it fronts, and privacy. Does it all come together? It’s difficult to say.

In contrast, Nandini Reddy’s Meera shoots too straight. More than mere age difference troubles Meera (Amala Paul) and Vishwa’s (Jagapathi Babu) marriage. Written by Radhika Anand, something is off about the staging and the performances here. Everything is so artificial, staged or performed without commitment, not to mention the exposition to give us the details about this marriage. Clearly, the short film format is challenging for even established filmmakers. The film stops being engaging early enough that it is difficult to get behind Meera and her perilous situation.

Vishwa is your garden variety misogynist, abuser and gaslighter. He demands security from Meera as if she is responsible for all the jealousy and insecurity that he’s feeling at the moment. There is a single shot that expresses more than tomes of dialogues. Meera is framed in a closeup, the background populated by her friend and confidante on the left, and Vishwa’s lawyers on the right, and further in the back, her children.

Artificiality is the crux of Nag Ashwin’s film xLife, the only one not named after its principal woman character. But in a way it is, as Divya (Shruti Haasan) is the only lifelike human in this story that takes on surveillance capitalism. It touches upon privacy in all its complex forms – from personal life to consent (Divya, a kitchen staff, is plainly informed “you are now a model”). It’s a neat if simplistic idea and the final product cries for some finesse in both look and feel. A dig at Facebook here, a bigger dig at Amazon there but xLife doesn’t work as a short film and lacks that visual appeal one has come to expect from Nag Ashwin. It’s all futuristic junk and gadgetry without any production value to speak of. xLife is a first draft that must have been filed away for rewrites.

Sankalp Reddy finishes Pitta Kathalu with a mild flourish. Pinky, written by Nanda Kishore Emani, has Eesha Rebba in the eponymous role. The film is so rigid with dispensing information that Meera could take notes from. An offhand detail about a bookshelf throws us off but makes sense later albeit differently. Two couples, two marriages. In one, the wife eats alone, and the husband can only caress her portrait on the wall. In the other, we know some troubling details but the husband – a writer – works the kitchen and wife attends the board meeting but both have dinner together. The film keeps teasing us that there’s more to these four characters than what we perceive and the way it unravels is a sight to behold. Srinivas Avasarala’s wig though isn’t.

****

The Pitta Kathalu review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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