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Released amidst hype for being Netflix’s first Telugu original film, Pitta Kathalu (Short Stories) is all about women taking control of their narratives.
My best friend once sent me a song by Blue Kid called ‘The Dismemberment Song’. A particular line from that song stood out to me – “So I’m taking your narrative and I’m making it mine!”
It is of that line, that Pitta Kathalu reminded me. All four films have women who take charge of the situations they find themselves in (or in some cases, willingly enter). And none of the women fit society’s mould of what an ‘ideal woman’ should be like.
In Ramula, Swaroopakka is angry at not being treated as an equal to the male politicians, and she decides to change her situation by hook or by crook. And it gave me great satisfaction to watch her succeed, however unethically.
Meera, the only film out of the four to be helmed by women was my personal favourite. What really stood out to me in this film was a quote that translates to, “You can change his strength into weakness” (here, ‘strength’ refers to the oppressor’s power over you). It feels empowering to know that you have power even if your oppressor seemingly has no weaknesses. This is the film that best suits the line from the song I quoted earlier, “So I’m taking your narrative and I’m making it mine!” The protagonist is a writer, and she quite literally, takes control of her abusive husband’s narrative.
Unlike the other short films, xLife is told from the perspective of a male character. However, the last few minutes of the film change the perspective of the film entirely, and we learn who was really in control all this time. Divya’s monologue while taking down Vik’s capitalistic, virtual empire is absolutely brilliant!
In Pinky, Pinky/Priyanka is a delightfully unapologetic character, and she does not let anyone’s idea of how a married woman should act, stop her from writing her own story.
While Pitta Kathalu is less judgemental than the average film, of morally grey women, it is not completely free of judgement.
For example, I genuinely wonder why the choice was made to have Ramula face such a gruesome consequence as a result of Swaroopakka’s actions. Even assuming the goal was to show how privileged women are not always understanding of women who do not have the same privileges, I think it could have been done in a better way than to make the privileged woman seem worse than a privileged, sexist, fair skin-obsessed man.
As for xLife, while Divya’s epic destruction of Vik’s virtual empire was satisfying to watch, we do not get to see inside Divya’s head. The choice to narrate most of the film from Vik’s perspective hurts the film. Divya remains a two-dimensional character. Would it have hurt to have fleshed out Divya’s character a little more? While we know that her character’s actions are justified, we could have understood them even better if we knew her story.
And in the case of Pinky, the main character could have done with more layers. We do not get a taste of why she is the way she is. This, combined with the unresolved feeling the film leaves you with, does not produce the desired effect of a non-judgemental point of view. The fact that her husband is portrayed sympathetically makes it worse.
In my opinion, Meera is the only film that does complete justice to the aim of portraying complex women whose actions are not always ‘moral’. We see Meera’s story, and we understand and support her fully even though she is not an ‘angel’.
Promoted as being a film that focuses on women, it is unfortunate that only one of the four short films that are part of Pitta Kathalu, has been written and directed by women. The effect of this is visible because three out of four of the films do not entirely succeed in portraying their women characters in a satisfactory way. However, the film does get a lot right as well. The powerful ensemble cast also helps – with names like Amala Paul, Shruti Haasan, Laxmi Manchu, Ashima Narwal, Eesha Rebba.
It is truly pathbreaking for Telugu cinema because it lets women take control of the non-traditional relationship paths they are treading. This is in stark contrast to the average Telugu film. For example, even the much-celebrated C/o Kancharapalem (a Telugu anthology film released in 2018) was entirely the narrative of a man, despite positively portraying unconventional women and relationships.
Despite its problems, Pitta Kathalu is a bold step in the right direction. It does a good job of allowing women to take control of narratives and is not afraid of showing the darker sides of relationships. However, we have miles to go before we sleep!
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