It is only a matter of time till we get an anthology each in all of the Indian languages. And Telugu has followed that practice with this anthology that has romantic relationship at its heart. A look at the trailer gives one the feel like it's just a more South Indian version of the Lust Stories. Believe me guys, it's definitely not. True, relationship between couples is at the heart of these stories. But there ends the similarity. Right from the conception, treatment to the stories, this is a very good mix and therefore a laudable attempt. Let's dive right in.
Director Tharun Bhascker of Pelli Choopulu and Ee Nagaraniku Emaindhi fame comes up with a brilliant narrative. This is my favourite of the lot. The music, the screenplay, the writing and the brilliant cinematography and editing make this one cracker of a film. For the given 40 minutes, this is the most satisfying of all the segments. This is a story about a couple where an irresponsible and impulsive man ( Abhey Bethiganti shines as Ram Chander in his debut lead role) is in love with Ramula (Saanve Megghana in an impressive debut) and another politician (Lakshmi Manchu as Swaroopakka) who is trying hard and is willing to do anything to make it in the man's world. The segment starts off on a light note but not without talking about how difficult it is for a woman to survive in a man's world. The segment doesn't waste anytime and directly goes into the story. The characters and their mindsets are established early on in the film. The break-up (or should I say Brakk up) scene is a laughter riot. The dialogues are surgically precise and the editing is refreshing. The background score is just perfect and lightens up the whole mood of a serious topic, even at the gory climax! My favourite scene is an edit of two shots where Ramula and Ram are in their respective houses, lying down on the bed. One of them is crying and the other is laughing. It's shots like these that make you want to watch more of such films. The whole treatment feels like a very Vignesh Shivn kind of film and is definitely a satisfying watch.
Amala Paul and Jagpathi Babu are the central characters in this BV Nandini Reddy directorial. This story revolves around a deteriorating marriage of a couple Meera (Paul) and Vishwa (Babu). This film has a brilliant conceit at the heart of it and the payoff in the end is a brilliant one. Amala Paul is visibly uncomfortable in the close-up shots especially where she had to mouth the Telugu dialogues. Jagpathi Babu does what he does best in such roles - growling and mouthing dialogues in the bass register. The poor acting is saved by the twist in the end. The elongated stretches where the character speak force-fit English dialogues are a drab. The aesthetics, complete with a painting and lavish drinking habits, is believable and convinces us that these are elite people. It lacks the groundedness of the characters, in performance and in writing and passes off as an unaffecting segment. Except for the twist in the end which makes us root for Meera, there's nothing remarkable about this segment and dangerously dips the momentum that was so brilliantly set by Ramula.
This is the most exciting and interesting segment of the whole anthology. Set in a dystopian (or Utopian) world where AR is the real world, this has a promising "What if" premise. Vik (Sanjith Hegde) is the owner of an AR company called xLife that sells its AR consoles to the public. The public gets addicted to the perfect world of dreams and is oblivious to what happens to the real world. The production design and the sound design are near perfect and take us to the milieu intended. All the "explanation" that happens is organic and not spoonfed. Vik's perspective of all of humanity being nothing more than "data points" is chilling as it raises an existential question in the mind. Nag Ashwin, the director, brings out the conflict right in the beginning with a tried and tested trope of an outlier. Sruthi Hassan (as Divya) is pretty impressive as the robotic employee, the damsel in distress and the cunning femme fatale. The dialogues are stagey after a point and Sanjith Hegde's matter-of-fact voice becomes too phony and artificial. The story is too predictable and the ending therefore, drab and dull.
This is the most experimental of the lot in terms of the screenplay. Sankalp Reddy in this film concentrates on an extramarital affair that gets revealed to their current spouses in the same way as it does for the viewers. Of course, at one point, we are a step ahead of the characters but that is for a very brief period. Eesha Rebba as Priyanka a.k.a Pinky is wonderful. The duality of the hopeful lover and the irritable wife are portrayed really well and in a believable manner. On the other hand, Satyadev Kancharana as Vivek hasn't got much to do in his character as all he does is look irritated, confused and angry. Srinivas Avasarala (Harsha) as the eager-to-please husband completely owns the character. The kind of relationship that Vivek has with Pinky and Indu (Ashima Narwal) is beautifully brought out in a few shots that shows how verbose dialogues and grandiose duets are redundant in portraying the intimacy of a couple. My favourite shots are in the beginning of the segment where Pinky knows everything about Vivek, right from the number combination to enter the house to the laptop password. Look out for the call back to this very same shot towards the end that also acts as a foreshadowing beat to the events that would follow. Minimal music and tight screenplay lift this segment to a height and salvage the lows brought about by Meera and xLife with their bland and predictable stories and their treatment.
Despite all the flaws and imperfections in each of these segments, this is an important step for the Southern Film Industry as a whole. Each of these directors has gone out of his/her comfort zone and has made commendable effort in making an engaging short within the time provided. Pitta Kathalu is not perfect, but at an important first step to content driven cinema in Telugu for the new future.