Director: Nishanth Kalidindi
Writers: Nishanth Kalidindi, Vivekanand Kalaivanan
Cast: Vasanth Selvam, Hakkim Shah, Vijay Ram
Cinematography: Azeem Mohammed, Hestin Jose Joseph, Jaison Jacob John
Editor: Ignaitious Aswin
Streaming on: Netflix India
This is the first in a series called Beyond Bollywood.
Kadaseela Biriyani is Tamil for: In The End, Biryani. Debutant director Nishanth Kalidindi delivers exactly what the title promises. After all the sound and fury, the lead character sits down to eat biryani. This revealing of the end in the title itself is part of the playfulness baked into this film. Kadaseela Biriyani is a straight-up revenge saga but Nishanth peppers it with wicked twists, deliciously dark humour and despite the violence, a sense of glee. The most shocking moments also double up as comedy.
Kadaseela Biriyani is whimsical. The speed at which the film switches from funny to brutal to dramatic echoes the work of Thiagarajan Kumararaja. The lead is played by Vijay Ram, who also played Gaaji in Thiagarajan's superb second film Super Deluxe. Like Thiagarajan, Nishanth nimbly hopscotches over the boundaries between masala and indie. The writing – by Nishanth and Vivekanand Kalaivanan – is sparkling. The film begins with a voice-over. The identity of the narrator is revealed at the end.
This is the story of three brothers who are goaded by their mother into seeking revenge after their father is murdered. The two older brothers are, in any case, bloodthirsty hoodlums. But the thorn in their side is the youngest one named Chikku Pandi. Chikku was raised by his father, away from his murderous clan. His father had dreams of him one day becoming a doctor. Chikku keeps saying that all he wants is a simple life. But now, like Michael Corleone, he has been sucked back into the family business. Chikku is such a reluctant participant that at one point, the bad guy almost gives up chasing him. He says: What can I do to a weeping wimp?
As it turns out, the weeping wimp is stronger than he looks. When circumstances push him against a wall, he finds his inner strength. But the film consistently slices the seriousness of Chikku's predicament with a generous dose of laughs. Nishanth never loses sight of the inherent absurdity of this particular situation and of life itself. Chaos reigns and upends the best laid plans. The biggest subversion comes midway through the film when it seems as though the brothers have succeeded in their plan and can now live with victoriously with the dubious honor of being murderers, but those who have avenged their father. A coffin plays a pivotal role. It's so funny that I laughed out loud.
Kadaseela Biriyani is very much a male world. There are barely any women onscreen. The men are either childish, bumbling or flat-out vicious. Some of the wit in the film comes from the nicknames the two elder brothers give their rivals – most of them involve feces or farting. It's like they are overgrown boys with weapons. Through the film, the narrator also weaves in larger philosophical questions. What, this film seems to ask, is the point? Perhaps it's that plate of biryani at the end.
The cast is a mix of actors from Tamil and Malayalam cinema. Vasanth Selvam is terrific as Periya Pandi, the older brother on a mission. The glare in his eyes is so steely that even his opponent recalls it with admiration. Malayalam actor Hakkim Shah plays Johan Arza, the terrifying nemesis the Pandi brothers must finally contend with. Johan is a psychopath given to musing on life in English. His brutality is chilling but it's all done with a touch of wit and style. Hakkim dives in with relish. And Vijay is bang-on as the hapless Chikku Pandi who is forced to be braver than he can imagine.
Interestingly, the film has three cinematographers – Hestin Jose Joseph and Azeem Mohammed are credited as the directors of photography and Jaison Jacob John as the co-cinematographer. The film includes gorgeous visuals of a rubber estate in Kerala and the dense forests that provide sanctuary to the fleeing men. Johan's sprawling house is often shot from a bird's eye view, which gives us, the viewers, a sense of being gods watching these fumbling human beings at play.
Kadaseela Biriyani has the spirit of a cartoon. The writing doesn't allow us to emotionally engage with the characters. But that doesn't prevent us from enjoying this ferocious and funny film.
You can watch Kadaseela Biriyani on Netflix India.