The four stories offer nothing new when it comes to exploring lust and sexuality, sticking to conventional ideas.

Poster of Telugu film Pitta Kathalu showing the women characters
Flix Review Friday, February 19, 2021 - 14:49
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Netflix has launched its first Telugu anthology film, Pitta Kathalu, which loosely translates to ‘small stories’. The film was meant to be the Telugu version of Lust Stories, but though the four short films have the common theme of love and lust binding them, they are also marked by the bashfulness of the Telugu title that refuses to call a thing by its name.

Ramula directed by Tharun Bhascker, who made a wonderful debut with Pelli Choopulu, is about a young woman (Saanve Megghana) with a good-for-nothing boyfriend (Abhay Bethiganti). The boyfriend refuses to proclaim his love for her before others and we’re never told what about this floppy-haired man made Ramula fall for him. A woman politician (Lakshmi Manchu) who is denied her due makes use of this unlikely opportunity to level the playing field.

While the performances of the cast are impressive, the plot itself is rather disappointing. Ramula seems to have no sexual desire herself. Whenever her boyfriend attempts to initiate physical contact, she rebuffs him and even slaps him. When she decides to consent, however, it isn’t because she desires him. Tharun gives us an age-old representation of female sexuality; where the man is happy after sex but the woman is left weeping. The ending is even worse; with the close-up shot of red chillies and Ramula’s feet trampling them, I could almost hear the reliable neighbour aunty from every girl’s childhood say, “Girl, whether a leaf falls on a thorn or a thorn falls on a leaf, it’s the leaf that gets hurt”. Yawn.

Lakshmi Manchu’s character could have been interesting, but her arc is abrupt and unconvincing despite the soundtrack that she gets. Don’t we already have enough films that vilify an ambitious woman? The trite ending hammers in every stereotype about women, sexuality and chastity though Tharun tries to turn it into a black comedy.

Nandini Reddy’s Meera fares better but is not without its problems. Amala Paul plays Meera, an attractive writer and mother of two who is stuck in a toxic marriage. She knows the power of her sexuality and decides to manipulate her way out of the sticky situation. Her husband Vishwa (Jagapathy Babu) is an abusive, jealous man who is prone to bouts of violence, and Nandini paints a realistic picture of an outwardly successful and perfect couple – few suspect the ugliness that lies behind the facade.

Amala Paul is stunning as Meera and Jagapathy Babu plays the seething, simmering Vishwa to perfection. The writing shines in the volatile arguments that they have. However, the solution that Meera comes up with is bizarre, considering the risk to which she is subjecting herself, her children and other innocent bystanders.

Given that Vishwa is like a raging bull, there’s no way Meera could have known to what extent he would go when pushed... and yet, she persists with the dangerous plan of action, believing it to be foolproof. There’s also a woman police officer who smells a rat but her character is limited to looking deeply suspicious.

xLife, directed by Nag Ashwin, could have been an episode out of Black Mirror. A young man takes over the world with his alternate reality technology that has put a spell on billions of users. Singer Sanjith Hegde’s performance is really the highlight of xLife which is otherwise derivative.

As the nerdy, precocious techie with an unhealthy pallor, Sanjith owns a role that could have easily become irritating. Shruti Haasan plays a docile employee of the company — and though we keep hearing that she looks ‘ordinary’, Shruti looks anything but. Where does love/lust come in, you ask? Well, the premise is that technology has killed human emotions, including love, and the world is in desperate need of saving.

While the setting of this futuristic world looks sleek and believable, the film is simplistic in its imagination. It doesn’t delve into the possibilities of alternate realities and human relationships, but limits the idea to technology = bad. Considering the idea is borrowed, I was hoping Nag Ashwin would push the boundaries more. But xLife ends up being the kind of moral story that we’ve seen enough times in mainstream cinema.

Most of Pinky by Sankalp Reddy is set in the tacky drawing room of a romance writer (Satyadev Kancharana) who has a giant heart-shaped bookshelf and pink cushions all around. The film revolves around two couples — the writer and his wife, his ex-wife (Eesha Rebba) and her current spouse. This is a complicated quadrilateral but instead of a delicious mesh of human emotions, what we get is a half-hearted attempt with mediocre performances.

There’s the done-to-death trope of a suffering male writer genius, the ever-present nagging wife, and of course, the glamorous ‘other woman’ and her clueless husband. The only new aspect is that the current spouses are totally comfortable with the idea of engaging with their partner’s ex — but the casualness with which these scenes are treated makes it look unrealistic.

The unhappy characters do their best to make themselves unhappier. There is lust but it’s orchestrated in the manner of a juvenile teen romance. We don’t really understand the motivations of the characters and the twist in the end just leaves us hanging.

‘Pitta’ literally translates to ‘bird’ in Telugu and is to be read as ‘small’ in this context. Pitta Kathalu though, fails to take off, let alone soar.

Watch: Trailer of Pitta Kathalu

Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.

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