Kadaseela Biriyani Movie Review: In the prologue of Kadaseela Biriyani, a narrator (voiced by Vijay Sethupathi) gives us the brief history of the Pandi brothers. We learn that their maternal grandfather lived a life of violence and their mother (Stella) took after him. But their father (Arul) is a pacifist and moves away from her with their third son Chikku Pandi (Vijay Ram), who grows up hoping his life would be idyllic, like the village where his father has taken him to.
And then, the film drops us in the middle of a conversation between Chikku Pandi and his brothers. The eldest one, Periya Pandi (Vasanth Selvam, fantastic), is plotting a murder while his elder one, Ila Pandi (Dinesh Mani), is more interested in the nicknames (the more scatalogical the better!). Their target is an influential rubber estate owner (Vishaal Ram) in Kerala, who has murdered their peace-loving father. Their mother is adamant that her three sons avenge her husband, who she hardly cared for when he was alive!
The plan is to land up at the big shot’s (he is always referred to by his scatalogical nickname — Perutha P*chu Otta Pee) estate on a day when there are hardly any workers and murder him. Chikku Pandi, obviously, doesn’t want to be part of any of this, but is forced to tag along. Will they manage to succeed in this revenge mission, especially with their target’s psychopathic son (Hakkim Shahjahan, who plays this role with relish) deciding to show up unannounced?
Lijo Jose Pellissery meets Guy Ritchie in Nishanth Kalidindi’s Kadaseela Biriyani, which is full of cinematic vigour and keeps us hooked from start to finish. The film unfolds like a thriller with a darkly comic vibe and is filled with colourful characters. Despite Periya Pandi’s simmering rage, the Pandi Brothers come across as bumbling men who have gotten into something that is way out of their league. The antagonist is a man so violent that he at once feels terrifying and caricaturish.
The cinematography is kinetic (when the camera moves along with the characters, we feel as if we are moving along with them) and very raw (the visual tone that Hestin Jose Joseph and Aazeem Mohammad create isn’t glossy or shabby chic, but feels like someone had rubbed sandpaper over the film stock). Given that the characters are all rough edges, this approach feel just right. The minimalist score lends an air of mystery to the whole thing, especially in the scenes that happen in the rubber estate. Both the visuals and the music superbly complement the spareness of the narrative, which never spoonfeeds the audience, but lets us fill in the blanks (we are never shown how Chikku Pandi reconnected with his estranged mother and brothers following the death of his father) or reveals information in bits and pieces (like how it keep building up the psychopath’s character to make us anticipate the violence that he might unleash at any moment) to keep us glued.
The setting is a huge plus as the mist-clad mountains add their own eerie touch to the bizarre events unfolding on screen. The violence does make us squirm, but the director amps it up to the point where it becomes farcical, like when a character plunges a screwdriver into the head of an injured man and tops it up by taking a brick and hits on it further! And the black comedy keeps us entertained. A scene where a character who is in the run from cops waits for a painfully slow old lady to make lemon soda will surely rank among the funniest moments in cinema this year.
And yet, Kadaseela Biriyani just stops short of reaching greatness. Perhaps it is because this is a cold film with characters who are interesting, but hard to like. Even though Chikku Pandi is the one character who tries to be good and is trapped in a situation from which he cannot walk out, we do not really care for his survival. He comes across as too meek a presence for us to be invested in him, unlike a similar one in a similarly quirky film – Chappai in Aaranya Kaandam. And when he decides to fight back, it isn’t entirely convincing. The same is the case with a truck driver the trio encounters. In a film that refrains from being sentimental, this character sticks out.
The other issue is that while the setting is what gives the film its unique quality, it also forces the director to offer translation of the Malayalam lines that some characters speak in addition to providing subtitles (which, at times, are hard to read as they merge with the visuals). This is especially an issue in the scene when the brothers eavesdrop on the conversation between their target and his family. And in trying to go for a more realistic sound mix, the team seems to have sacrificed audibility when it comes to the dialogues. You have to really strain your ears to hear what’s being spoken, especially in the initial scenes. But Nishanth Kalidindi has a distinct filmmaking voice and the visuals register so strongly that the lack of clarity in the audio doesn’t prevent us from following what’s happening. The filmmaker announces his arrival loud and clear and we can’t wait to see where he goes from here.