Cast: Chaitanya Rao Madadi, Brahmanandam, Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam, Rag Mayur
Writer and Director: Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam
Available in: Theatres
Duration: 2 hours
Had any other filmmaker directed Keedaa Cola, I might have considered it to be a fine crime comedy, and it's highly likely that the glimpses of brilliance in it would have compelled me to look beyond the inner flaws. But Tharun Bhascker, with his delightful Pelli Choopulu (2016) and the hilarious yet philosophical Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi (2018) proved that his observational writing is capable of turning the most simple and mundane actions into remarkable and cherishable events. His films were never about high stakes, deadly situations, ticking time bomb missions, and lives at risk.
Sure, the characters of Pelli Choopulu and Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi had goals to reach and obstacles to overcome but the focus was more on how relatable their personalities and challenges were. In Keedaa Cola, he cautiously exits his 'zone' and forays into a more dramatic and high-octane crime comedy genre which allows him to heighten everything on display —from the wackiness in characterisations to the stakes in the situations and the energy in staging. If Ee Nagaraniki Emaindhi had just one super bombastic event in the form of a car wreck captured in slow motion, Keedaa Cola is filled with such immense, theatrical events. Everything is on steroids here. And there's also a flip side to it. It feels derivative of crime-comedies we have seen in the past in many instances. The innate quirk in Tharun Bhascker's writing and the playful, eccentric staging keep eliciting some big laughs at regular intervals, but the predictability issue persists.
Balancing Originality with Inspirations
This is the first time a Tharun Bhascker film felt predictable, and that's mostly attributed to the constraints of the crime-comedy genre and its structure. His earlier films are a closer reflection of Tharun's personality and his style of filmmaking. On the other hand, in Keedaa Cola, he aspires to blend his writing style with the emulation of Guy Ritchie and Edgar Wright's visual aesthetics. This is a fascinating mix that creates many enjoyable moments in the film — the match cuts charting the upbringing of Vaanthi, err, Vaasthu (Chaitanya Rao Madadi) by his Thatha Varadha Raju (Brahmanandam), early in the film — comes to mind instantly.
When Vaasthu, Lancham, and Thatha find a cockroach inside a soft drink bottle, they think exactly what anybody thinks of doing. Hatch a plan to earn crores of rupees by using consumer laws. But the bottle has more to it. Enter Naidu (Tharun Bhascker), who is back in the real world after serving a 20-year-long jail sentence, his younger brother Jeevan, who is "desperate" to rise to power in local politics, and their dimwitted aide, Sikandar (Vishnu Oi, playing the funniest character in the film).
A Mad Treatment For A Mad Adventure
What follows is a mad adventure that keeps trying to amuse us by placing these outlandish characters in absurd situations, and it mostly succeeds on the humour front, despite being rough around the edges.
There are numerous instances in Keedaa Cola where the eccentricity in writing complements the equally quirky visuals, all heightened by Vivek Sagar's spirited music. When these three facets come together, there's no stopping Keedaa Cola, and all you see is a filmmaker having all the fun he can, with his characters, ideas, framing, editing, and music. I particularly loved the sequence in the second half that is crafted like a Western. Everything about this sequence is a blast — from the weird, deadpan exchange between Naidu, Jeevan, and Sikandar about their footwear to the latter doubling up as a messenger, only to mispronounce 'surrender' as 'Surender'.
It feels delightful to see a filmmaker commit himself to the absurdity and craft these moments of silliness with a passion that's evident on screen. And there's a hilarious shot of Lancham (Rag Mayur) being kidnapped. All you see is the man walking towards the camera in slow-motion while smoking a cigarette, and an Omni (the official kidnap vehicle) cruises by. The man is no longer in the frame and we just see the cigarette falling on the ground. But the weaker links also emerge from a similar choice to create a Guy Ritchie-esque over-the-top villains in the form of a CEO (Ravindra Vijay) of a soft drink manufacturer and his fixer, Shotts (Raghu Ram). Every scene centered on the duo reeks of artificiality, and the intended comical effect feels incredibly jaded. It's during these moments in the second half Keedaa Cola becomes as lifeless as a mannequin.
And speaking of mannequins, the film uses 'Barbee', a patient simulator as a stand-in for a Telugu film heroine, quite literally. It's an unbelievably outlandish idea that's executed in an equally eccentric way. "She won't move, and her make-up remains untouched, just like a heroine," Naidu says. The sheer idea of including Barbee in what is otherwise an out-and-out boys film and making it actually a part of the story is such a clever and humorous idea.
How Much Quirk Is Too Much Quirk?
Even minor characters in the film add to its quirk. Take the sniper with an eye condition (even his POV shots, which indicate a progressive tunnel vision, add to the madness) or the other members of the assassin team we are introduced to in the pre-climax, they all are a hilarious addition to the bandwagon. There's so much fun to be had in Keedaa Cola if you believe in its absurd ideas. For the most part, it's funny even if it's not convincing.
Keedaa Cola does try to break some conventions. It barely wastes any time setting up characters and inciting the incident. There's also no attempt to create an emotional connection with the characters, and neither do the characters undergo a coming-of-age. But it does keep the characters at some distance and we never truly get to know them in depth. I'm not sure whether it's the writing or the editing that's always in a rush but perhaps for the first time in many months, I felt that a film needed to breathe a little. The ending feels curt and it not only dilutes the impact of the philosophy it was trying to communicate through Naidu's character but also feels incomplete. A character that says “Violence is not the solution” resorts to violence at the end. Even the moral compass of two characters who are trying to capitalise on a bigger problem for self-gain is confounding. I really wish the film spent a little more time charting the change of the characters and offering better closures, instead of investing in a painfully long and joyless set-piece featuring Getup Srinu that builds up to the intro of Shotts.
A Bit Of Low-Bro Humour?
Another qualm that I have with the film is that Tharun Bhascker has never sourced his humour from characters being slapped or mucked. The fun was always in the simple retorts and banter between characters that emerged from the character's lived-in experiences, at times even revealing something about their past. "Sayantham kallajodu esukunte gudlu petti kottetollam gurthundha?" from Ee Nagaraniki Emaindhi comes to mind. Seeing him resort to getting characters slapped and made fun of their appearances feels a little lowbrow for a writer who is known for effortlesness with comedy. That doesn’t mean the dialogues in Keedaa Cola aren't funny. The retorts and the deadpan exchanges are all there (even if references to Tharun's previous films feel indulgent) but there is a significant amount of histrionics involved too and it does go overboard at times.
But some writing touches still remain strong. Be it the parallels between a cockroach and a man, who are both seeking freedom, and oddly enough, have to emerge out of liquid to find freedom, or the fact that it registers that mundhu choopu (looking ahead with caution) can do more harm than good if you place your future over the present. It’s these minute and carefully curated things that make Keedaa Cola, with all its flaws, better than so many films I have seen this year.