Addham On Aha Movie Review: A Telugu Anthology That Suffers From Over-Philosophising, Under-thought Characters

The stench of an entitled male gaze populates this story that is meant to make you think deeper about the good-bad binary.
Addham On Aha Movie Review: A Telugu Anthology That Suffers From Over-Philosophising, Under-thought Characters

Directors: Sarjun KM, Barath Neelakantan and Siva Ananth

Writer: Siva Ananth

Cast: Varalaxmi Sarathkumar, Kishore, Prasanna, Pavithrah, Jayprakash, Rohini, Praveen

Streaming Platform: Aha

There is something off about this triptych. At first glance, I thought it was, perhaps, the over-serious, moping philosophy that undergirds it. Each of the three 20-minute films begins with an epigraph, "Morality is a moving goal post" and each film tackles, very superficially, the thin hazy line differentiating the good from the bad. 

The first film has a therapist (Varalaxmi Sarathkumar) whose entitled client (Kishore), she finds out, is a murderer. The second film has a husband (Prasanna) who plans to cheat on his wife with whom he thinks is a call girl (Pavithrah). The third film is about a truck driver (Jayaprakash) giving a desperate child (Praveen) a lift to the city. 

Each film then serves as a swerve — you start off thinking a character is "moral" or "immoral", and the film is an attempt to contradict that, and convince you otherwise. It's a smart idea, well produced, and adequately acted, but really, it is the writing that is shockingly juvenile. There's a very entitled male gaze to the stories, and this is very apparent in the second film. Women in this series are either saintly figures (the therapist is called a "saviour"), projections of one's fantasy, or victims of their husband's deeds. 

In each of the film's it is the man's claim to the moral-immoral binary that is challenged —  women are mere spectators or catalysts. It's too tiring  to watch a woman try to convince a middle-aged man that he is handsome and should she sleep with someone else, she would have no compunctions thinking of him. 

Addham means mirror, and I am assuming this was meant to be a metaphor for this anthology being a mirror to our times — where we stick our guns out to fortify our first impressions of people without attempting to swerve the story to see their side. It's a good point, very Atticus Finch, but so burdened with itself it forgets to tell a good story. 

Hereon, there are spoilers. 

In the first film frustratingly titled "The Unwhisperable Secret", when the therapist finds out her client has hit-and-run a girl in his past, and this has definitively caused his insomnia, she is livid that he murdered. She decides to turn him into the police by recording him confessing to it without him knowing, doctor-patient confidentiality be damned. She's as frigid as they come, and I don't understand why it is so hard to have a believable therapist, someone who has the capacity for warmth and sternness, who doesn't go back and blurt every detail to her husband in their house, which for some reason is bathed in this uncomfortable hazy orange lighting. 

What irked me is that this pretense is played side-by-side with very naturalistic flourishes, like when she looks at a painting her daughter made and says it's a beautiful painting of aliens and her daughter corrects her indignantly, insisting that it is a family portrait. So, you can see an effort has been made to make this world seem lived in, but clearly, not enough, and it is the not-enough-ness that is the undoing here. 

For a second I wondered how differently the screenplay would have been written had the  therapist been a man and the one seeking therapy, a woman. This question was rendered redundant as the next film rolled, showcasing a complete inability to write in women of enduring characterisation. 

Crossroads has a man who is stuck among his cussing wife, a girl he meets at a bar who is smitten, and a call girl he had called for. This was where my frustration was at full-boil. The conversation stuck in the cynic-romantic binary is so uniformly pathetic, the woman feels like a vessel to hold all of this man's insecurities. She's supposed to be the long island iced tea to his single malt, and this is mirrored in their respective orders at the bar. 

It was the last film that redeemed the idea of the anthology, somewhat. A pedophile on the loose picks up a hitchhiking boy, his kindness masking his sinister intention, until he dies of a heart attack. The child feels guilt because he stole the wads of cash the truck driver had. He stole money — that's bad. But he stole it from a bad guy — shouldn't that soften the badness, make it palpably human? It's a wonderful question. I just wish the makers didn't have such a ready answer.

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