A standard shot of Charminar, in many mainstream Telugu films, would indicate the arrival of the hero from a small town to the burgeoning metropolis. Now and then, there would be a glimpse of life in the Old City, either through rowdy sheeters or a sporadic character or two mouthing Dakhni dialect. Rarely has one found a Telugu filmmaker leading his audience into the underbelly of the Old City, beyond the glitter of Lad Bazaar and the Golconda Fort and Qutb Shahi tombs that one is habituated to watching as backdrops for romantic numbers.

Krishna Vamsi sets his madcap ride for money in a locality where young women are sold /married to aging sheikhs from the Middle East; a locality where hawala transactions, crime and politics are interlinked. Paisa has at its heart, a small-time model Prakash (Nani) who looks at the world through his garish tinted glasses and even outlandish shirts and firmly believes in the power of money. The opening sequence has him on a wild chase to make a rupee-laden kite his own. He even risks scaling an electric pole to lay his hands on the kite.

The tone of the film is set in the first 20 minutes. The emphasis on colour grading, playful background score and fast-paced frames promise a pulpy entertainer. Prakash’s happy-go-lucky character is offset with Noor (Catherine Tresa) who silently pines for Prakash but stares at the fate of being led away to do mujra to repay family debts. One gets a hint of the predictable path the story will take when money is involved.

In the larger picture is politician Sanyasi Raju (Charan Raj) plotting a hawala transaction to better his political prospects. A cocktail of crime, comedy and politics requires a solid plot, believable characters and racy storytelling. With Paisa, Krishna Vamsi tries to deliver a dizzying fun outing but tries to make do without a strong plot. The treatment of the film camouflages this considerably, though in some portions the director appears to be trying too hard to please. Far too many groups vying for bags of cash should have been a good opportunity for an edge-of-the-seat thriller comedy, but what we get to see falls short of becoming a memorable concoction. There are a few other irritants too; primarily the character played by the second lead Siddhika Sharma. She is made to speak with a forced accent that’s supposed to sound urban and cool but comes off as irritating. The episode involving her at Mehndi galli is pointless and in poor taste.

Nani holds the film together and proves his merit yet again. He shuns all the refinement he showed in his previous romantic characters and breathes life into the part of a smart alec threatening to hold up the shooting of a sherwani commercial for Rs. 200 more. The film’s highlight is the scene where he chances upon bags of cash and his reaction thereafter. Catherine Tresa and Tabar (as Nani’s friend) do well in the parts given to them. Cinematography and background score elevate the movie-watching experience.

Paisa has many things going for it by way of standing out from routine potboilers. There are witty lines, many well-conceived and well-executed scenes but on the whole, this isn’t Krishna Vamsi’s best.

PAISA

Cast: Nani and Catherine Tresa

Direction: Krishnavamsi

Music: Sai Karthik

Bottom line: A fun watch but falls short of being a riveting, madcap crime comedy.