French Biriyani

Director: Pannaga Bharana

Cast: Danish Sait, Disha Madan

Of the few good things to have happened during this lockdown, it is Danish Sait’s CORONAtion as India’s self-deprecatory conscience that has been most satisfying. Like the characters of Sasha Cohen Baron (a poster of The Dictator hangs next to The Godfather in the film), Sait’s exaggerated personalities have reflected back to us people we know whilst exposing ourselves to our own everyday hypocrisies (Jaya, you must stay with us!). The protagonist in his latest, French Biriyani, fleshes out one of these characters to give us Asgar, a Muslim auto-driver from Bangalore’s Shivaji Nagar.

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Inspired by a long auto-rickshaw ride around Chennai experienced by the film’s director Pannaga Bharana, the film uses the character of a Frenchman named Simon (or “foreigner” as he is called) to give us an outsider’s gaze into the madness of a city like Bengaluru. But the narrative propelling this auto rickshaw into a city of quirks cannot be measured in kilometres per hour…it’s only about the LOLs/Hr.

Which means that there’s no limit to how far you can push the absurdities to elicit a chuckle. Some of these are pure comedic gold. In the lair of a “dreaded” don named Muscle Mani, one of his most painful punishments involve tying up his victims, as his cronies scrape chalk on a blackboard right next to their ears. In another case, a telemarketer selling water purifiers is kidnapped by Mani only for his head to get inserted into his own purifier. And when a lady named Malini calls, he asks, “is it Hema Malini? She will help me, she is our brand ambassador.”

Even the cliches you expect in a film that makes fun of our innate Indianness gets a fresh treatment. So when a cow swallows the Frenchman’s mobile phone, the jokes, even politically-charged ones, just make themselves up. Just like the genius wordplay that results in a police officer assuming ‘racist’ is a synonym for…racer.

But the film’s main comedic device is a mix-up and the case of mistaken identity that follows. Two people arrive at the Bangalore airport carrying two types of drugs. One of these is the Columbian kind with our man Pablo Escobar himself operating in the background, and the other, Simon’s package, which contains samples of a drug that helps men with their own, cough, package.

But it’s what falls in between these moments of wild laughter that becomes the problem. With a plot so thin, there’s bound to be stretches in the middle where we’re just waiting for the next big laugh to happen, forgetting the “what nexts” that take the plot forward. With little in terms of a connective tissue holding these scenes together, it becomes easy for us to realise that not a lot is at stake for these characters.

Now this is a problem that could have been ignored had the laughs just kept on coming. But like most comedies within the genre, it’s all about the actors playing these OTT characters. What French Biriyani’s screenplay tries to do is to keep introducing us to newer, weirder characters each time we feel things slipping and our interest levels in those portions are dependent entirely on how well such a character works out. So while Asgar’s brother-in-law arrives with a hilarious subplot about him shooting blanks, we also get a wacky magician who tries too hard but can only manage to leave our faces blank.

But in a film that’s witty enough to set it’s climax in a movie theatre called Climax Theatre (get the double meaning?), there’s always a ROFL around the corner. Like Sait’s own brand of humour, French Biriyani works best as comic relief on a really depressing day.

 

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