Bros, Booze and a whole lot of growing up
There are a lot of pareshaniya here, in both its internal (aagam) and external (lolli) renditions.
There is something rather beautifully uncomplicated about young, male camaraderie — at least the cinema versions of it, though I am inclined to believe there is some verisimilitude to it all. A kind that is less likely to display their emotions, lest they risk being left out and ridiculed, are shown in a lighter mien with unbridled joy and empathy. Despite the enduring presence of a kind of cinema that likes to tell stories of how men transform into beacons of warmth and emotional intelligence after they meet a woman or become a father, we also see how men possess the ability to be less inhibited and more in touch with their true(r) selves in the company of fellow men. Though buddy comedies are not new, this genre’s jugalbandi with a deliberate and incisive pop-anthropology lens into the culture of Telangana, is a real time journey of delights.
Unlike last week’s Mem Famous, which shares some on-the-nose similarities with Pareshan (in a strictly categorical sense), the latter is jagged and unhinged, flowing free and hitting hard like the inexpensive alcohol that features so prominently throughout the film. Pareshan makes you tipsy, but it is also followed by hangovers, as moments of painful reflection lend a cutting contrast to its visuals of intoxication and madness.
Though one is tempted to drop film-bro jargon like mumblecore and cinema verite, Pareshan, really, is stylised chaos masquerading as realism. It is not a story about a singular character. However, it pivots around Isaac (Thiruveer, in a top-notch performance), who triggers the chain of, and resultantly, endures the most pareshani here. Nor is it a story about his quirk-by-the-bucketload buddy brundam RGV, Pasha, Sathi and Maidak. It is a story of everything within and around these people, betraying form and pace to showcase these men sans a key element Telugu cinema loves so much — glorification. There are a lot of pareshaniya here, in both its internal (aagam) and external (lolli) renditions. If the “Naa saavu nenu sastha, neekenduku” dialogue from Pelli Choopulu was stretched for two hours and wrapped around a motley bunch of individuals and one town, that film would be Pareshan. It takes a village to raise a child, or in this case, a band of idiots.
For starters, these men do not share the “mustafa mustafa” or a “yeh dosti hum nahi todenge” kind of friendship. There is that, for sure, albeit with the sobering reminder that these men do not think twice before treating each other terribly. There is some manipulation that sets the tone right in the beginning, as Isaac uses the money his father got for arranging a job, to get his friend Pasha out on bail. That one, ill-thought act of charity morphs into multiple money problems, as a sold bike, another stolen bike, a demanding girlfriend, another pregnant girlfriend, and a father hell-bent on reforming his wayward son complicate things, as brawls and mandhu sittings, and sometimes both together, relentlessly ensue. There is no polite way of saying this, but the relationships between Sireesha and Isaac, and Sathi and Rajitha are a pitch-perfect representation of those young couples you saw on pre-pandemic tiktoks, whose utter naivete is a source of cruel humour for their more urbane, westernised counterparts. That said, beyond the packaging, these relationships do have conflicts any city-bred couple could also have (a girl talking about the difference between lip gloss and lip balm had me in splits).
With more and more films highlighting the Telangana milieu at large, beyond the discourse of representation and the increased bankability of these stories, there is a pronounced tone of weltanschauung making its presence here in Pareshan, vis-a-vis its cultural representation. It is easy to dismiss people drinking here as an endorsement of unchecked debauchery, but Pareshan’s Rupak Ronaldson has succeeded at scratching the surface to contextualise the whys, whats, and the hows behind the way people of a certain demographic belonging to a certain region behave.
How often do we run away when we are faced with a problem at hand? The flight or fight response of one’s garden-variety anxiety takes literal dimensions here, with alcohol and brawls always coming in the way of Isaac taking charge of his own life. The biggest depiction of ‘youth culture’ is not in Pareshan’s display of binge drinking, but in Isaac’s key conflict which is relatable to many young folks. We don’t know what to make of our lives but we are also not ready to listen to someone, most likely our parents dictating our future. There is constant friction between our expectations of who we want to be, clashing head first with what our parents want for us. Sometimes, the kids win. Other times, the parents do. Pareshan does not give you closure in that regard, though Isaac emerges from the film with some clarity and due maturity, finally learning to practise healthy boundaries.
The weltanschauung continues to reflect in moments that do not even factor themselves into the larger proceedings of the film. Between a stray shot of a chicken made to drink some booze seconds before slaughter, groups of people making choreographed content for a local cable channel, poignant shots of folks going into a coal mine via a cable chair, a boy continuously asking for a sanna-pinisu charger, a Telugu evangelist with his English interpreter and some delightfully colloquial intro, interval and exit credits — the film crafts a beautiful love letter to Mancherial and its people — warts and all.
The cinematography by Vasu Pendem is audacious, in the way it frames its leads in certain scenes at the centre of the frame, alongside some cool frame-within-a-frame shots. The unchoreographed-yet-choreographed fight scenes (the male equivalent of the no-makeup makeup look), shot with tactile handheld camera movements practically make you feel sweat and gashes forming on your arms, as you watch the film from your cushy seat. The music is another major winning factor in the film.
It is hard to wrap your thoughts on a film that has really just opened a world for you, that begs to be explored even after the end credits have rolled. But if Spaghetti Westerns gets the first part of its name due to the sheer number of Italian filmmakers directing such movies, then it would be fair to anoint this emerging sub-genre of Telangana cinema as Mutton Curry Southerns.
Cast: Thiruveer, Pavani Karanam, Bunny Abhiran, Sai Prasanna, Arjun Krishna
Director: Rupak Ronaldson