Director: Nishanth Kalidindi
Cast: Vasanth Selvam, Vijay Ram, Hakkim Shah, Dinesh Mani
Nishanth Kalidindi’s Kadaseela Biriyani is perhaps the first ever Tamil movie since the beginning of time with a protagonist who actually wants to become an engineer. Chikku Pandi is no rebel and he doesn’t want to become the kind of engineer who will end up running a cryptocurrency startup. Instead, what he aspires for is so ordinarily five-to-seven that Kadaseela Biriyani can also be read as a subversion of the career crisis movie.
At the surface, the film repurposes a standard issue revenge plot, involving three brothers who come together to avenge their father’s murder. It does this by making one of the three brothers a meek pacifist who yearns for world peace and middle-class bliss. The film then does something even cleverer by doubling down on this template by introducing a second revenge plot. Which means that it isn’t simply about the brothers killing their father’s murderer. It’s also about another family and another son seeking his revenge, but not in the least because he loves his father.
Yet what drew me closer to this film is how it’s also about a boy who is being forced into a particular path by his family. If you replace familial revenge with a bank job or a family business, Chikku Pandi’s fate is almost exactly that of Ranbir Kapoor’s in his earlier films (Wake Up Sid, Rocket Singh, Tamasha). But when placed in a setting that’s as far away from South Bombay as one can imagine, Kadaseela Biriyani is able to create the kind of urgency (and fear) a regular career crisis movie can no longer elicit.
We see this in one of the earlier shots that sets up the movie for us. In the aforementioned films, this shot would feature the protagonist (usually sporting a tie) sitting emotionless in one of the many cubicles in his grey office block. But in Kadaseela Biriyani, we see the same emotionless face staring right as us, even as the camera pulls back through a conversation where a murder being plotted. This plotting is treated like it’s a mundane everyday activity (intentionally), as though two people are discussing how much money they lost in cryptocurrency. But the effect is that of a film where the protagonist doesn’t have to wait till the end to realise the futility of revenge.
This makes the film a little more interesting and a lot more funny. Instead of investing in the emotions of revenge, we’re able to see how absurd it looks for an outsider who is being forced to become an insider. It also allows for the film to really dig deeper into the nitty gritties of the plotting, which includes a long list of nicknames (Panni kusu roast is one) for everyone that needs to be dealt with.
The filmmaker remains in control, even when the actual act of revenge turns into a midpoint rather than the final destination. Characters disappear too only for them to be replaced by even more fascinating ones. We then get a third father and son, adding a third dimension to its layers. In a hilarious moment right before the murder, we get a line where the brother threatens Chikku Pandi (he’s the only one in wearing white) by saying he will call up their mother. This mother too, who we hardly see, manages to leave behind the impression of a ghost who haunts without actually having to do anything. When you add to this a seriously reckless villain (made more sinister by the good boy looks of Hakkim Shah), the film evolves into a Kala-like duel between prey and predator.
Barring a few lines that feel unnatural because it’s in English, Kadaseela Biriyani is a strange mix of genres that takes us to places family dramas would never dare to. Whoever thought the blood-soaked rubber forests of Kerala could house a Dharmaesque movie about a confused teenager looking for the life he dreamt of. It’s all about killing your parents?