Pitta Kathalu Review: Only Good In Parts, But We’re Glad for More Stories About The Flawed Feminine
In colloquial Telugu, Pitta Kathalu translates to short stories about women. And lately, Netflix has proved it loves two things—anthologies and anthologies about women. The streaming platform has given us Lust Stories, Ghost Stories, and Paava Kadhaigal, which is its first Tamil anthology. It should be noted that all of these anthologies are produced by Ronnie Screwvala’s RSVP Movies and Ashi Dua Sara’s Flying Unicorn Entertainment. And now, with Pitta Kathalu, their collaboration brings us Netflix’s first Telugu anthology too. It features four roughly 30-minute shorts directed by Tharun Bhascker, Sankalp Reddy, Nandini Reddy, and Nag Ashwin, starring Lakshmi Manchu, Saanve Megghana, Amala Paul, Shruthi Haasan, Eesha Rebba, Ashwin Kakumanu, Jagapathi Babu, Sanjith Hegde, Naveen Kumar, Satya Dev, Srinivas Avasarala and Ashima Narwal.
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The thing about anthologies is, they’re tricky to make up your mind about. In some extremely rare cases, such as a Lust Stories or Unpaused (on Amazon Prime Video), you don’t have to think much, because each story makes an impression on you, and the anthology collectively has something novel to offer. However, some, like Ghost Stories, or in this case, even Pitta Kathalu, you cannot judge collectively, because some parts you absolutely love, while others feel a bit meh.
In Pitta Kathalu, we get the dark, twisted stories of love, lust, desire, jealously through the stories of four women. So let me tell you what I thought about them, one by one.
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Ramula – directed by Tharun Bhascker
The first story in the anthology is, IMO, the best that Pitta Kathalu has to offer. Ramula ( a convincing Saanve Megghana) is a girl straight out of rural India’s TikTok videos. She seems street smart in the way she manages to dodge her elder brother’s questions about the boy who he spotted in her TikTok duet. And she even manages to hold her own in her relationship with a former MLA’s good-for-nothing son, Ram Chander (a hilarious Naveen Kumar) who tries to score a makeup sesh with her by buying corner tickets for a movie. Unfortunately, the usual class and caste divide get in the way of her relationship, and the hard exterior crumbles to reveal someone who could take drastic measures if things don’t go her way.
Parallel to Ramula’s story runs that of Swaroopa (Lakshmi Manchu), a formidable politician who can’t get the respect of her party enough to become an MLA, because of her gender. But when a distraught Ramula’s paths cross with Swaroopa’s in all her wounded pride, she decides to initiate a dirty power play that won’t benefit anyone but her.
Can I say I had fun watching this story unfold? Everything from Ramula and her lover’s bickering to how slow-mo was used to downplay the chaos outside and the music accelerated to heighten the experience of it on the inside. The actors did a great job too. But my most favourite thing has to be Lakshmi Manchu as Swaroopa, who was an absolute delight on screen. The way she held herself, the style of eating paan, there was a sinister swagger in her demeanour that I relished! All of it came together to make quite the impression, and got my hopes high.
Meera – directed by Nandini Reddy
I won’t say Meera let me down from the beginning, because I was totally into the story, which though predictable, was managed by the performances of Jagapathi Babu and Amala Paul. I’d also like to add here that Amala Paul looked breathtaking in every frame, and I was visibly afraid of what Babu’s character Vikram would do next to harm his beautiful Meera, who was much younger to him, and whom he suspected of having an affair with every other guy, including his own cousin brother.
The husband is clearly a monster who is insecure, has anger issues and has both abused and raped his wife, who he treats like she’s his property. I’d like to assume there was even a subtle mention of stealthing (covertly removing the condom during intercourse), when Meera calls her husband out for his successful attempt at impregnating her. So you realise that the story’s outcome is predictable. If the unifying theme of Pitta Kathalu is women reclaiming their power through saam daam dand bhed, then this must end with Meera finding a way to get Vikram out of her life.
But I thought it went downhill when the police procedural began and with it the unravelling of how and why Meera did what she did. And the end result felt unconvincing, incomplete and unsatisfactory. I don’t want to reveal the plot, so I will let you see for yourself how this could easily be one of those plans that could have a million things go wrong before, during and after its execution, but we gloss over all of it.
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X-Life – directed by Nag Ashwin
X-Life, to me, felt in so many ways like déjà vu, mostly because Amazon’s pandemic anthology Unpaused also gave us this story of a dystopian futuristic world where real human connection was sparse and only the force of love could penetrate this veil of hopelessness. But I think it reminded me a lot of Wall-E, in that how all it took was love to redirect the course of the world going away from world.
I liked the premise of X-Life. I also thought both Sanjith Hegde as the endearing but seemingly heartless genius Vir, and Shruti Haasan as the naïve way to his heart but sinister foil to his plan, were interesting characters. But I still thought there was a lot of missed opportunity to do something with this world the writers had built, you know? A genius who understands algorithm couldn’t understand he was being manipulated into something? He steps out into the world for the first time and says, “Oh I didn’t know it was on fire!” Baba, was he not watching the news?
Honestly, to me, it all felt too simple and frivolous, which even the symmetry of the whole “You needed love to destroy the one who destroyed love” could not salvage.
Pinky – directed by Sankalp Reddy
This one, without mincing my words, felt the most ridiculous of them all. We meet Pinky who has just shopped a pretty designer outfit, is sporting solitaire jewellery, and driving a Jaguar, as she arrives at this swanky home of Vivek, a writer. You think he’s her husband because only a married man can be so uninterested in a woman trying to get kinky with him. Turns out, nope, she’s back in her own apartment and has a husband, a poor dude who brings her slightly less expensive gifts and thinks his wife’s disinterest in him is just moody tantrums of a rich spoilt brat. We also find out that Vivek has a wife, who is an overachiever, and who doesn’t think it prudent to discuss with her husband before deciding they both move to Germany so she can take up an exciting job.
After some friction, he agrees. They have sex, while his lover Pinky keeps calling his phone.
The reason I explain this to you, is because I want you to tell me if you figured out any of the following from this premise—Did you realise that Pinky is actually Vivek’s ex-wife? No? Same. Did you guess that Pinky was forced into marriage with her sweet husband, Harsha, by her parents? No? Same.
In the climax, four of them come face-to-face when Harsha surprises Pinky with his interest in buying a new house, the owners of which are Vivek and his wife. So naturally there are scenes where someone makes an excuse of using the washroom while sneaking into the house to confront the other person, while two more people are in the living room, not at all suspicious what these two exes are doing inside together! And then the film ends at a juncture so bizarre, I can’t even.
What is the point of this story? Why is so much crucial information not shared with us? Are Vivek and Pinky having an affair or not? If they are, why was he so rude and distant with her? And why is he cheating on his wife whom he clearly has no other issues with? And why did Pinky agree to marry someone else? Everything about this short felt uncooked and immature
Verdict: Pitta Kathalu takes off well, but can’t maintain its altitude.
Look, to be bare and honest, Pitta Kathalu has just one story that I truly enjoyed—‘Ramula’ and Lakshmi Manchu have my heart. And I’d also like to mention that the opening credits sequence is actually what kicks you off on an engaging note, with Ramula really setting your expectations at a decent level. But then it all slowly starts going into the predictable and unimaginative, ending with an uncomfortable and awkward thud.
That being said, I cannot fail to appreciate that we’re finally getting some interesting stories about women who own their flaws and reclaim their power. And for that, I am glad. But just because women-centric content is the buzzword right now, doesn’t mean we churn out stories without polishing them. Otherwise, the whole purpose of why we’re telling that story is lost. Like how Pitta Kathalu loses its raison d’etre.
Pitta Kathalu is currently streaming on Netflix.