The trailer of Pitta Kathalu set off a buzz in the Telugu film fraternity for its bold, unconventional scenes. This is the first anthology in Telugu with direct-to-OTT release — it streams on Netflix from February 19. Directors Tharun Bhascker, Nandini Reddy, Nag Ashwin and Sankalp Reddy come up with striking stories of love and betrayal of four different women, dealing with a common notion to dismantle patriarchy.
Pitta Kathalu is the kind of work one would rarely encounter in mainstream Telugu cinema. Each film is unique and experimental. When you heard the script, did you feel you were offered something exciting yet different from the usual?
Amala Paul: Yes, Absolutely. Meera, the character that I play, is completely different from what I have played so far or what I would put myself through, given the situations Meera is in.
Shruti Haasan: For me, the exciting thing was the modernity of the story and how relatable it is to all of us. Fortunately I've been offered different roles, but how relatable is it to be living in an all-encompassing technological world? No one has approached this topic, and it's amazing that Nagi (Nag Ashwin) came up with the idea, because it's so relevant.
Saanve Megghana: I've been in the industry for a very short time, and getting an opportunity for a Netflix anthology directed by Tharun Bhascker, known for his unconventional style, and to play a character like Ramula, has been wonderful. My character is very different from what I am, and that's what I liked about it.
Does the OTT space give you access to stories and roles that are unlikely to come your way in the mainstream? And, do you consider OTT a space for experimentation?
Shruti Haasan: In the beginning of my career, for whatever reasons, I lacked the courage to take up different kinds of roles. However, I'm doing that now. This kind of a medium gives you that freedom to experiment some more. I am excited about this time and space. What's amazing about working on platforms such as Netflix, with talent from all fields, is that there is a new energy. Everyone's approaching a project with a sense of excitement because the rules are bending — how you tell a story, the length, the content, the perception. You're also around a knife's edge, because the viewer can actually pause.
Amala Paul: A word I'd like to use is 'liberation'. There's so much freedom to just be. For the character I play, the kind of scenes or narrative that's in there, I don't think I would have done it if they had approached me for a feature film. This is because there are certain 'greys' and a certain way to do a story. I think that treatment is best for an anthology on an OTT. You can stick to the main crux or soul of the story that you are trying to narrate.
The kind of audience that Netflix has is not for everyone. For instance, Aadai was a disaster in theatres, but it did well on OTT. Change is very near when everyone accepts content without bias. Also, good content produces good actors. It's the best time for the industry. Some directors would not touch certain stories earlier; now, there is so much scope for good content. For creative people, I think there is so much freedom to explore.
Saanve, you are staring off as an actor with an anthology on Netflix. Do you have a different approach for OTT and theatrical releases or is it all the same?
First of all, OTT, more than being a happening place, is a 'happy place'. It's employing a lot of talent. For a beginner, it really doesn't matter whether it is an OTT or a theatrical project. I am blessed because taking off with Netflix is a big thing. There is evolution in writing, and it welcomes filmmakers and artistes. It is diversifying the creative zone.
In post-COVID times, how difficult is it to know whether a project you choose would be a theatrical or OTT release?
Eesha Rebba: Now that there are so many opportunities, one can shoot for series or web films releasing on OTT, and feature films. It is very good right now for actors. Previously, we only had feature films and OTT was not considered, but thanks to the lockdown, people are waiting to watch good content from wherever possible.
Shruti Haasan: I agree with Eesha. Netflix took a lot of people through the lockdown. Personally, the pandemic has taught me to be more open and humble in terms of creativity, because of the value it holds. It's less complicated for someone like me as I can compartmentalise things in a very positive way and explore more. We are creating more art, without the giant rule of what works and what doesn't.
Saanve Megghana: The concept of OTT would have anyway happened. The pandemic accelerated that process, I think.
Amala Paul: There is so much work happening. I am doing auditions for some Bollywood series. During the pandemic, I did anthologies for two good directors and they said they couldn't think of anyone else who could pull this off. Even the big directors are coming out and doing things they really want to do. Purely based on creative expression and work experience, I have more affinity for OTT now.
How much would this transition to OTT change Telugu cinema in the long run? Will it polarise the audience or will it become more evolved?
Shruti Haasan: More than anything, this transition has allowed people to see original content in the original language, before it gets remade by someone else. All industries like Malayalam or Bengali cinema are making that effort to bring in their local milieu. It's great that people get to watch these films in their true form.
Amala Paul: When Netflix came with Lust Stories and received the kind of recognition it did, I was waiting for the same to happen down South. OTT platforms are more welcoming than theatres. It will take some more time for theatres to get there. I hope this kind of content will be received widely, which will pave the way, especially for women. There are so many talented female actors. To be able to use their full potential will be great.
Share with us your one amazing discovery during lockdown and one comfort watch that you went back to.
Eesha Rebba: Queen's Gambit, Schitt Creek and Money Heist.
Shruti Haasan: I was obsessed about the new season of Crown. I always liked Stranger Things, so I went back to that.
Saanve Megghana: The Queen's Gambit is amazing. I also watched a lot of Indian cinema.
Amala Paul: I did not watch much during lockdown. Black Mirror blew my mind. I am a huge fan of Game of Thrones, and am not out of it. Recently I saw Basic Instinct and Undone and I loved them!