Early on in writer-director Rupak Ronaldson’s Telugu film Pareshan, a group of villagers in Mancherial, Telangana, try to film a video. A girl who is part of the cast is miffed with her boyfriend for not getting her the appropriate ‘lip blossom’ (lip gloss) and ‘googles’ (goggles) that will make her look glamorous on screen. This scene, the actors who bring alive the milieu and the humour hint at an indie-style entertainer. But soon, Pareshan opts for an indulgent depiction of alcohol-guzzling and meat-eating lifestyle of rural Telangana, which is becoming a stereotype. Buried under that depiction is a coming-of-age story of Isaac (Thiruveer), who goes from being a wastrel to finding purpose in life, and also wins the trust of his lady love Sirisha (Pavani).
The principal characters of Pareshan are individualistic and wacky as they come. Isaac’s father (Muralidhar Goud), after toiling for decades in the Singareni coal mines, wants an early retirement so that he can assist a local pastor in gospel sessions. He hopes that Isaac will take over his job as a miner. Isaac, however, has no such interest. Not that he has any other interest. He spends time with his friends Pasha, Satthi and a hairstylist who calls himself RGV since he is a huge fan of maverick filmmaker Ram Gopal Varma. Isaac’s father entrusts his son with the task of handing over a considerable sum of money to a friend.
Cast: Thiruveer, Pavani Karanam, Bunny Abiran
Direction: Rupak Ronaldson
Music: Yashwanth Nag
Storyline: A comedy of errors involving four friends and their desperate need for money to tide over financial woes.
Everything that can go wrong does and a comedy of errors ensues. Several subplots involving each of the friends’ lives invariably add to the chaos and their mounting financial woes. The best thing about Pareshan is its indie style of filmmaking with actors who seem like they belong to the Mancherial village. The production design is without any cinematic frills, the dialect is on point and cinematographer Vasu Pendem does not gloss over the rural landscape. Several segments appear as though candidly filmed, with people talking and behaving like they would in real life.
The portions involving the pastor, with Muralidhar Goud confidently translating his lines to grammatically incorrect English, are fun and endearing to watch. This is an aspect of rural Telangana that has rarely been portrayed in mainstream Telugu cinema.
There are several threads to the main story that Pareshan could have explored — the son not wanting to do anything with the teaching of the gospel, the difference in faiths coming in between Isaac and Sirisha, and the police being hand-in-glove with those who threaten young lovers in the village, and so on.
Pareshan keeps its focus on the friends and particularly Isaac’s hunt for the money he had lost. As the hunt gathers steam, there are occasional segments of hilarity. A particular incident involves a missing thumb. But mostly we see one beer- or alcohol-guzzling scene leading to another, which made me wonder how the friends had money for the indulgence.
Thiruveer’s performance is convincing as a man caught in a mess. Pavani, who had appeared in a brief character as a cop in HIT 2, goes for a close-to-real portrayal of an innocent young rural woman and does it well. The friends, too, befit their parts. Muralidhar Goud who has become a staple in Telangana stories does a fine job once again.
Yashwanth Nag’s score accentuates the rural lifestyle with all its quirkiness. The biggest letdown is the lack of a story that can make us stay invested in the plight of the characters. Two other significant Telugu films this year, Balagam and Dasara, also portrayed the rural Telangana lifestyle with alcohol and meat. Along with cultural specificity, those films used the booze and food as part of storylines with strong emotional heft, which is sorely missing in Pareshan.