Director: Siddharth Gautham
Actors: Krishna Teja, Moin, Pawon Ramesh, Krishna Prasad
Telugu filmmakers love engineering colleges. They also love the students who go there. This has been the case ever since Sekhar Kammula's Happy Days (2007) became a runaway hit. When you think of a college, your mind immediately travels to a sprawling campus. You think of hundreds of students, enmity amongst two gangs, cultural events, etc. You don't think of a hostel room which houses just four men. Even if the story focuses on a particular group, your eyes tend to zoom in on the extras and the so-called fair-weather friends.
When it's a thinly populated show, however, you won't be able to taste the flavors of college life. But if it's extremely zeitgeisty, then you might be inclined to give it a shot. Unfortunately, the latest Zee5 series Room No. 54 doesn't wear any of those badges on its chest. It moves back and forth between two time periods – and they're both equally unappealing. If you want to forgive the makers for their lack of inventiveness, in 2021, that's on you. We don't have to expect fireworks all the time. But we can at least expect some stars to shine, right?
Babai (Krishna Teja), Venkat Rao (Moin), Prasanna (Pawon Ramesh), and Yuvaraj (Krishna Prasad) are roommates who occupy the room number 54 in a hostel. They are never seen in their classrooms, and, given the landscape of the show, you won't see them on their nightly walks either. Do they even get out of their claustrophobic setting? Ah, yes, they go to a place where they get tea. And if they're accompanied by women, they trek to a café where they get milkshakes.
It's absolutely okay to set a ten-episode series in a single room if there are exciting conversations. Sidney Lumet's talky, courtroom drama 12 Angry Men (1957) was after all set in a room. Well, Room No. 54 isn't a thriller. And the twenty-somethings aren't discussing a murder mystery either. It's a comedy where the jokes don't land. Teja and Moin had a lot of freedom to run around and make quirkiness their USP in Pelli Gola. But, here, they are chained to their spots. And their chit-chats are restricted to dinners, birthday parties, lathe machines, and Goa trips.
Since you're not obligated to watch subpar content on a streaming platform, it will take you an episode or two to shift your energy to another show that's perhaps less of a drab and more of a date.
Each episode of Room No. 54 centers on a theme in which the roommates have freewheeling debates. While Prasanna, Yuvaraj, and Venkat Rao follow the herd, Babai tries to squeeze a pint of philosophical juice out of every situation. He's an aspiring screenwriter who wishes to cook up plots for erotic feature films. And he even makes a veiled reference to Ram Gopal Varma once. If there's anything at all in the series that's worth mentioning, it's his idea of rationality. Though he speaks like a spiritual guru, it'll be hard for you to take him at face value. Had this been a bingeable series, he would have become the center of attraction.
According to the warden of the hostel, room number 54 is special because the students who used to stay there keep coming back to dole out advice to the fresh batch of engineers. And this creates an artificial space for actors such as Priyadarshi, Satyadev, and Tanikella Bharani to make cameo appearances. Although it's interesting to watch them, they don't get any meat to chew on. They walk into the room as if it's their second home and ask for cigarettes and liquor from Venkat Rao and Co.
Be that as it may, their shared sense of bonhomie doesn't translate into awesome chemistry. At the end of the day, it still comes across as a lethargically made show. Even with a limited setting, the makers could have extracted wonders from the actors if they had spent some more time on manufacturing humor. Venkat Rao, Prasanna, and Yuvaraj play cricket in their room. Why can't they go out? It's a college for heaven's sake. They can play a game of bat and ball anywhere they like.
This is the result of roping in a handful of actors for a show that requires a larger canvas. Maybe, it's just the alumni who are required to pay a customary visit to Room No. 54. That rule isn't meant for us.