Writer-Director: Bhargav Macharla
Cast: Rahul Ramakrishna, Avika Gor, Praneetha Patnaik, Vishwadev Rachakonda
Bhargav Macharla’s NET has many good ideas but they all work against each other. The film sets out to show what Lakshman’s (Rahul Ramakrishna) online voyeurism does to his relationship with his devoted wife Suchitra (Pranitha Patnaik). It also tries to be a tech thriller about how Laxman gets access to cameras in Priya’s house (Avika Gor). It gives that up for a sidestory about how Priya’s husband Ranjith (Vishwadev Rachakonda) is cheating on her. There’s a promising thread about how people are duped online but that’s quickly abandoned in the end for a melodrama about Lakshman’s guilt. None of the film’s threads come together and NET never becomes anything more than just random but passably watchable episodes held together only by an effective Rahul Ramakrishna.
Arbitrarily mixing up genres makes NET feel tackier than it actually is. A thriller around how Lakshman gains access to Priya — at first online and then offline — is slowed down by a melodrama about a conflict with his wife and her family members. A drama about Lakshman’s creeping guilt near the end rings hollow because the thriller makes his voyeurism look cool at many points. NET fails at both being a detailed portrait of a voyeur and a gripping account of his crime.
The film’s opening economically establishes the central idea: a private moment between a couple inside their homes could become a live-streaming video consumed by thousands around the world. But NET continues to use that image over and over in different ways until it wears down the initial shock we felt. It’s as the makers thought merely showing a man spy on a woman is enough plot to keep a film going for over ninety minutes.
Most of the film is Lakshman staring at Priya while she spends time with Ranjith through a camera in their home — and they’re always somehow conveniently placed. We then zoom into the actual scene between Priya and Ranjith where they speak generic romantic dialogues before we zoom back out to Lakshman staring at them — and zoom back in again, over and over again sometimes. To make up for the lack of plot that can keep the film going until the end, there’s filler about Ranjith’s affair with his ex-girlfriend that adds nothing to the film.
There are also episodes around how Lakshman is enticed and duped by an online service that he’s using to peep into other people’s homes, and how he’s always been known to be a bit of a pervert. But because the film gets lost between Lakshman’s personal drama and a tech thriller you come away neither empathizing with nor judging him — he just feels like a caricature. The reactions of Priya and Ranjith when they find that heir house is bugged seems exaggerated too. The technology depicted for spying is exaggerated to an absurd extent: you can practically type in the address and apartment number and gain access to cameras placed at perfect spots.
There’s a ‘twist’ at the climax that’s meant to reveal Laskhman’s true intentions for why he had to physically track Priya down. It feels like a hollow, desperate attempt to humanize him. NET is a trite melodrama with a moral lesson that voyeurism will ruin you, your wealth and your family. But it also tries to posture as a cool, amoral thriller about how your private data is a commodity online.