Writer-director Rajasekhar Sudmoon’s genre-bender flips stereotypes smartly
Kumar and his mother Suramma return to their hometown, only to witness the death of a family member the same day. Even before he gets over the tragedy, Kumar falls for Krishna, a local doctor’s daughter. Meanwhile, a villager Rosham’s repeated attempts to eat chicken are thwarted due to trivial reasons. Soon, village heads organise a jatara to please their deity. What connects these stray incidents?
Commercial film tropes aren’t always a hindrance to storytelling. They gift the filmmaker a bigger playground to showcase their strengths, ensure relatability and reach out to a wider audience base. However, in the case of Rayalaseema’s representation in mainstream cinema - mostly reduced to tales of bloodshed, faction wars over the years - they’ve done more harm than good.
So, with Sagileti Katha, an insider breaks all conventions and rewrites the Rayalaseema story in his own style. Director Rajasekhar Sudmoon celebrates his roots and seamlessly integrates his plot with the right commercial flavour and loads of humour. The morose premise doesn’t come in the way of his playful narrative style. The film is absurd, funny and shocking - sometimes, all at once.
When his grandma is about to breathe her last, Kumar is busy wooing a neighbour. Her death comes right after she breaks a pumpkin to ward off bad eyes. Another villager sets his eyes on the chicken delicacies after the post-death rituals and loves them more than his wife. A money lender is ready to loan money if this foodie plucks two hair strands from his moustache.
The conflicts in the film are jaw-droppingly unconventional and the treatment leaves you amused. The mood in the film changes at the drop of a hat and the narrative is delightfully unpredictable - you’re so consumed by the inventive execution that the plot ceases to matter after a point. The first hour focuses more on the love story, establishing the characters that populate this world.
Only after you digest the suddenness of the pre-intermission sequence, do you finally get a sense of the director’s style. He neither dilutes the intense moments nor forces humour into the film and still creates a profound impact with the brilliant dialogues. While the film is packed with satires, it never mocks the characters for their absurdities - their flaws only add sheen to the film.
Sagileti Katha comes from a true food connoisseur; the picturisation of ‘chicken song’ in the second hour is solid proof of it. Rosham’s characterisation and the earnestness with which Narasimha Prasad Panthagani plays a foodie is definitely a reason you should watch it. In another situation, the director also uses food as a metaphor to showcase the plight of a murderer’s family and that of the victim.
The climax further exemplifies how food is so integral to the film’s story. The use of the burra katha, leading to the ending, is another masterstroke. Despite limitations, from the cinematography to the music, the dialogues and the editing, the director takes unconventional decisions with conviction while translating his vision onto the screen.
The ambience is replete with flavour, detailing and is vibrant - it feels like the director’s love letter to his soil. At just under two hours, the film’s runtime is ideal and crisp. However, the love story in the first hour is among its weaker threads. It’s high time filmmakers stopped romanticising a man pinching a woman’s waistline and later justify it as a sign of love.
Ravi Mahadasyam effortlessly blends into the role of a wayward, confused youngster while Vishika Kota reflects the hidden courage of Krishna Kumari to the fore effectively. Narasimha Prasad Panthagani is the star of the show with a easy going, liberated performance, portraying how far a foodie can go to fulfil his desires. Rajasekhar Aningi plays the hot-blooded village head with assurance.
The casting decisions with the supporting characters are exemplary and the relatively unknown faces hold the film together with their screen presence. Ramani as Suramma does full justice in bringing a colourful character to life while Sudarshan, Sai Mohan, Ramesh and Sri Mani make their mark in a handful of sequences.
The peculiarities of the slang is indeed music to the senses. Besides Jashwanth Pasupuleti’s impressive album, the sound design and the art direction team deserve credit for their attention to detail.
Sagileti Katha is a pathbreaking attempt at an absurdist comedy in a Rayalaseema backdrop. Not all creative choices of the filmmaker work, but it doesn’t take away from the originality in debutant Rajasekhar Sudmoon’s writing, the technical finesse (despite the limitations) and the sparkling performances. The film is an unlikely blend of food, love, vengeance and humour. Be prepared for a wild yet entertaining ride.