‘Panchathantram’ movie review: This anthology is a potpourri and the women make it watchable 

With Brahmanandam as a storyteller, the Telugu anthology film ‘Panchathantram’ looks at memories through sensory experiences and a couple of stories hit the sweet spot

December 09, 2022 03:12 pm | Updated 03:12 pm IST

Brahmanandam, Swathi Reddy and others in the Telugu anthology film ‘Panchatantram’

Brahmanandam, Swathi Reddy and others in the Telugu anthology film ‘Panchatantram’

The Telugu anthology film Panchathantram, written and directed by Harsha Pulipaka, puts forth the idea of looking at life as a bag of memories and linking those memories to the five senses. Panchathantram is anchored by veteran actor Brahmanandam in a rare non-comic role; he is shown as the writer and narrator of five stories, each one alluding to one sensorial experience. The stories range from everyday situations to life-altering ones; life takes a new turn for the narrator as well. A few stories hit the sweet spot.

Veda Vyas (Brahmanandam) informs his daughter Roshni (Swathi Reddy) that he is joining a storytelling contest, in which the winner will bag a publishing contract. Roshni responds with disdain and asks why he cannot sit back and enjoy his retired life. Vyas is the odd one out among the young aspiring writers, but believes that it is not late to follow his passion. There is an earnestness with which this father-daughter drama begins and we are eager to see if the elderly man is indeed a good storyteller. 

Chasing the blues

‘The Postcard’ is a slice-of-life story that working professionals who look forward to weekend getaways can relate to. IT professional Vihari (Naresh Agastya) has never been to the beach. There is a prospect of a team outing and when he finally sets foot on a tranquil beach, with the help of his colleague (Sri Vidya Maharshi), he gets his low-budget Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara moment and visual memory for a lifetime. Consider ‘The Postcard’ as a one-page story in a magazine and it might work but as a film, there isn’t enough to keep us invested. Naresh Agastya is adequate as an IT professional desperately wanting a break and Sri Vidya stands out effortlessly in her brief role. 

Sugar-laced memories

The second feel-good story in this anthology is Subha-Lekha, in which taste becomes a catalyst for romance. Subhash (Rahul Vijay) tells his parents that he is tired of meeting girls who are unsure of what they want from a marriage and hopes to meet a woman. But is he as mature as he thinks he is? Unknowingly, he is nudged into a journey of self-discovery when he meets Lekha (Shivathmika Rajasekhar), a level-headed and cheerful woman. The conversational story has a touch of nostalgia with memories of adolescent romance. A honey-tinged cake, an impromptu road trip and glasses of badam milk help the two open up and talk. The story packs in enough to keep us engaged. Shivathmika has a graceful and charming screen presence with which she portrays the part of a young woman who can see the sunny side of life.

Panchathantram (Telugu anthology)
Cast: Brahmanandam, Swathi Reddy, Shivathmika Rajashekar and Divya Sripada
Direction: Harsha Pulipaka Music: Prashanth R Vihari and Shravan Bharadwaj

Scent of fear

Panchathantram takes on an eerie mood with ‘The Scent of Red’, a psychological thriller starring Samuthirakani. What happens when a bitter memory invokes fear and drives a person, and eventually the family, up the wall? The story explores this through Ramanathan (Samuthirakani), who increasingly smells blood and compulsively goes about cleaning his surroundings. His olfactory hallucinations progressively heighten the tension and Samuthirakani makes us want to know what happens next as well as empathise with his trauma. His portrayal of a nervous wreck is spot on.

Desperately seeking hope

In ‘The Kick’, Devi (Divya Sripada) and Shekar (Vikas)’s life takes a bleak turn when they discover that the much-pregnant Devi is battling a terminal illness. Their strained finances allow them limited medical care and their only assurance is the kick of the foetus. It is a heavy, emotional story that uses contrived tropes to elicit tears. A lot rests on the mettle of the actors and Divya Sripada does a fine job. Anyone who has tracked the Telugu OTT space during the pandemic would know her as a reliable actor and her performance made me empathise with the character’s plight, though I wasn’t taken in by the story. Vikas is also effective in his portrayal.

Silver lining

The most heartwarming story is the finale titled ‘Leia - the purple-caped superhero’, starring Swathi Reddy as Chitra, a storyteller and entrepreneur. Vyas likens the protagonist to his daughter, perhaps hinting at how both of them can benefit with reassurance that the universe can open up new doors when we least expect it to. Chitra lends her voice to a female superhero character in a children’s audio series that is struggling to get a wider reach. Chitra and her partner (Aadarsh Balakrishna) have some tough choices to make and hope comes in the form of a drawing done by a girl named Roopa (child actor Praanya Rao). The entire segment in which the girl’s father (Uttej) tries to meet Chitra follows a predictable arc but the payoff happens when Chitra and Roopa meet. It is a sensitively narrated story that gives hope to both Chitra and Roopa, and to the father-daughter bond between Vyas and Roshni that opens up new perspectives.

Panchathantram is anchored by Prashanth Vihari and Shravan Bharadwaj’s music and B H Garry’s editing. Certain portions of the anthology call for patient viewing while other portions can leave us with a smile.

(Panchathantram is now showing in theatres)

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