In an era where most films are content scraping the surface and not triggering the subconscious, it’s refreshing to see a storyteller leave something to the imagination of the audience. Karuna Kumar, who made the compelling rural drama Palasa earlier this year, makes his OTT debut with Metro Kathalu and shows immense maturity in understanding the complexity of interpersonal relationships in a metropolis. Four stories spanning across 75 minutes in this anthology touch upon a gamut of issues in urban relationships, from repressed sexuality to financial independence to changing priorities and dealing with unhealed wounds of the past.
All the four short stories end at a juncture where we wish to have known more about the world of the protagonists, but that’s where the director offers the space for a viewer to interpret and doesn’t settle for an easily digestible solution. In the first segment, even as Chandu expresses interest to marry his colleague Abhirami and the latter offers him a peek into her world, her past and need for financial independence, the director ends this story when we’re unsure about the future of their relationship. Is their marriage on the cards?
There are similar situations across the other stories. A frustrated middle-aged woman Manjula, whose drunkard husband has just met with an accident, vents out her trauma of surviving an unhappy marriage in a conversation with Varun, a car owner who was responsible for the mishap and even makes love with him later. She’s neither regretful nor happy about it and instructs him to not meet her ever again. What’s the fate of her marriage though? There’s another story of a much-in-love couple’s relationship going sour owing to monetary greed and how it only changes after a partner is detected with cancer. The show ends with a nostalgic tear-jerker of a short, where a middle-aged father Abbas looks back at his colourful childhood through food.
The stories have a breezy quality to them and the characterisations are open-ended on purpose, owing to which the viewing experience feels fresh and one-of-a-kind. This is probably the difference that a strong literary foundation can bring to a series, given it’s adapted from a short story series by the same name (written by Mohammed Khadeer Babu who’s penned the dialogues for the show too). Director Karuna Kumar and his team comprising the cinematographer Venkat Prasad, art director Dilip John and production designer Kumar Sriramaneni understand the significance of several visual cues that add greater meaning to this world, be it the walls, the artworks, the colours or the props or the panoramic montages of Hyderabad.
It’s not that Metro Kathalu is completely free of hiccups; the third story about Supriya’s husband who keeps moving from city to city in quest of greater financial packages for his job doesn’t have the free-flowing quality as the other stories. Despite Rajeev Kanakala’s standout performance in the final act and the reaction he triggers by looking at his childhood and the little time he had spent with his father, Abbas’ story deserved a stronger context. Yet, it’s the grounded, unhurried treatment that gives an edge to Metro Kathalu. When was the last time that a Telugu show let you imagine beyond the obvious?
The actors are cast well for their parts and have absorbed the conflicts of their characters subtly through their gestures and histrionics. Nakshatra and Thiruveer fit the bill for a young couple waiting to officialise their relationship. Ali Reza slips into the shoes of a confused youngster comfortably too, but its Sana who steals the show. She channelises all the frustration and anxieties experienced by a 40s something woman living a compromised life in a superb act. Nandini Rai surrenders to her part sincerely, and so do the likes of Rajeev Kanakala, Gayathri Bhargavi and Ram Maddukuri. Jayasri Rachakonda makes her presence felt in a blink-and-a-miss appearance. Writer Mohammed Khadeer Babu does a fine job in adapting his novellas for the digital medium. Metro Kathalu should hopefully usher in many anthologies in the Telugu digital space that’s brimming with potential.
(Metro Kathalu is streaming on Aha)