Anger Tales Is A Mixed Bag Of The Truly Great And The Truly Shoddy

Even if its resolutions leave a sour taste, there is a lot of promise, and a lot of real craft from first time filmmakers and actors spearheading the anthology
Anger Tales Is A Mixed Bag Of The Truly Great And The Truly Shoddy

Director: Prabhala Tilak

Cast: Venkatesh Maha, Suhas, Ravindra Vijay, Bindu Madhavi, Phani Acharya, Tharun Bhascker, Madonna Sebastian

The trouble with Anger Tales, Disney+ Hotstar’s new anthology, is that it contains some of the finest filmmaking to come out of the Telugu film industry in recent years, but it muddies this greatness with some astoundingly shoddy plot resolutions—endings that would perhaps be serviceable for more mediocre work, but here, serve only to coagulate as a gaping, wide hole at the bottom of a luxury-class cruise ship. The resolutions feel tacked on, to resolve the four films using the eponymous theme of “anger”—and yet, these films didn’t need the shoddy, tenuous, throughline, because they are tightly linked by their singular attention to the lives of a diverse group of people living in the Telugu states.

The first, and undeniably the best among these, is the Venkatesh Maha-starrer “Benefit Show”, whose terrific conceit is that it is a thriller built around the toxic fan culture that accompanies the release of Telugu star-vehicles. The persistent threat of violence hangs in the air at a small single-screen movie theater where Ranga (Venkatesh Maha) and a group of fans of a major star have promised to screen a “benefit show”, a term for a common practice of a special release of a star-vehicle the night before its official release for fans. While there is some didacticism about the toxic relationship between fans and the stars they idolize, where the film soars is in its suggestion that fandom is a vessel for the toxic masculine urges of its protagonist and its antagonist, (the latter played by a deliciously menacing Suhas). It is difficult to separate the themes of the film from Maha’s recent comments about the problematic aspects of mass films—that these films and the culture they propagate should be scrutinized for the kind of sentiments they tend to mobilize fans around.

The second film, “Food Festival” is really about the subjugation of a woman to community-specific norms via patriarchy—in this case, vegetarianism. Madonna Sebastian is unsurprisingly great in it, so is Tharun Bhascker who plays her husband—his character is notable for the way he isn’t openly antagonistic to the freedoms of his wife, but surreptitiously so.The conversations between husband and wife have the veneer of mutual consent due to their mellow tone, but end up negating her individuality and freedoms. This film is undone by its ending—an act of “angry” rebellion that seems insufficient in the face of the patriarchal fabric that the rest of the film has unraveled.

This is also the case with the third film, “An Afternoon Nap”—another great lead performance by Bindhu Madhavi in a careful, intricate, artful exploration of the particularities of the life of a homemaker who has to put up with her husband’s casual misogyny and his patriarchal demand of domestic labor from her as well as the intrusive, insensitive landlady and her guests. Here too, the ending is odd, as intrusive as the heroine’s landlady and her friends—a jarring, dissonant chord that abruptly ends a lilting symphony.

But perhaps no ending is as puzzling as that of the final entry, “Helmet Head”. A film about a balding man’s insecurities and his intricately sketched relationship with his peddamma, ends with (spoilers!) a bizarre rebellion against the mandatory helmet regulations for two wheelers. If the point of these endings was that anger makes people resort to irrational acts, this is an affront to the themes that have come before, and the craft on display, from the actors as well as the writer-directors (Smaran Sai’s music is also excellent).

There is enough in Anger Tales to recommend it, even if the resolutions leave a sour taste, because there is a lot of promise, a lot of real craft from first time filmmakers, as well as the actors spearheading these films. One is tempted to think this was the point—to leave you angry after getting you to invest in these films. On the extra-textual level, then, the title is a resounding success.

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