NET movie review: Rahul Ramakrishna shoulders a no-frills thriller
The Bhargav Macharla directorial is a tale of voyeurism masquerading as a surveillance thriller
Although the title NET is a derivative of the internet in the context of the film’s storyline, its physical counterpart, an actual net that’s used to capture animals, befits its larger ideas. The film’s two main characters, after all, find themselves seized in a net stitched with voyeurism; a state of captivity they both struggle to free themselves from. Laxman (Rahul Ramakrishna) is a small-towner, running a mobile retail store who seizes no opportunity to leer at any woman he comes across. His gaze is one of the residuals of his voyeuristic instincts. Laxman’s marriage with Suchita (Praneeta Patnaik) is loveless and even the sex is passionless. He doesn’t even make eye contact during the act while Suchitra pines for some degree of reciprocity. Instead, Laxman finds pleasure in watching moments of intimacy captured with secret cameras. The specificity of his desires cobbled with the repercussions make NET what it is: a wicked tale of voyeurism that’s weirdly funny when you think of how distasteful and nasty the protagonist’s intentions are.
Cast: Rahul Ramakrishna, Praneeta Patnaik, Avika Gor, Vishwadev Rachakonda
Direction: Bhargav Macharla
Streaming on: ZEE5
When Laxman finishes having sex with his wife early in the film and immediately goes to the washroom to watch pornography, I felt it was trying to mimic Joesph Gordon-Levitt’s Don Jon. But boy, the film has something else in store. Laxman’s inclination to peep into other people’s highly personal moments is not just creepy but also dark on multiple levels. As an individual too, he comes across more like a peeping tom, than a threat. The writing sets up his character effectively in the opening act and we never question the questionable choices he goes on to make later in the film - having understood how his mind works where his priorities lie.
As he goes on with his routine, he comes across a website that allows him to watch live streaming from homes with people going on about their lives unaware of the surveillance and immediately begins his fling with Priya (Avika Gor), who recently moved in with her boyfriend Ranjith (Vishwadev Rachakonda). Laxman quickly becomes obsessed with Priya and things, as expected, start to escalate. His efforts to meet Priya in person cost him dearly: he is cheated by the website for a lump sum amount and his marriage hits rock-bottom. Yet, it’s Priya who has to bear the brunt of the scandal. Laxman is a mere spectator or a person we would call an ‘enabler’.
The film, however, never tries to milk the melodrama out of Priya’s plight when all hell breaks loose. Nor does it propound a social message or try to preach to us about respecting others’ privacy, despite having every means to do so. Even Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan’s Tamil film Lens, which deals with the same theme, was guilty of a social message. I particularly liked NET’s no-frills treatment. There is barely any embellishment to the plot. It brilliantly builds up tension with minimal sound when Laxman gawks at the couple through his phone. Moreover, digressing from the proclivity that has come to be in the OTT age, the sex scenes, be it between Laxman and Suchitra or the intimacy between Priya and Rajith, are not used to evoke a titillating effect.
Rahul Ramakrishna embodies Laxman by keeping all the vulnerabilities intact. He is a character who can be easily mistaken for a caricature thirsting for sex in the hands of a lesser actor and director. The way Rahul plays it though, makes you feel sympathetic towards a hapless dimwit who is subsisting on a life that’s far from what he envisioned, while also invoking a sense of disgust, especially when he mistreats his well-meaning wife. Praneeta Patnaik’s Suchitra, despite the lack of agency, is not a stereotype either. The presence of characters like Suchitra and Ranjith makes this thriller an examination of flawed relationships as well. On the other hand, Avika Gor’s Priya comes with superficiality and is more cinematic - which starts to glare when placed beside the rather life-like portrayal of Laxman and Suchitra.
The background score, however, left me perplexed at times. A melodious theme recurs every time we see Laxman peeping at the couple through his phone. The same piece of music, which I imagine, will nicely suit a proposal scene or a montage in a rom-com, feels out of place when it is over imposed on a creep waiting to watch a couple make love.
On the whole, NET is a self-aware attempt that works more as a drama than a thriller. A brilliant performance from Rahul Ramakrishna and the straightforward treatment makes it one of the better films of the year.