A film like kadaseela biriyani may be difficult for the general Tamil audience to interact with. I understand the unnecessary extrapolation of that statement, were it not for the reasons to support my argument. kadaseela biriyani does not have the aesthetics of ‘art’ cinema, nor does it boast of the commercial sensibilities we have come to know and make peace with in tamil cinema. falls somewhere in the middle. and we have also given this middle-of-the-road cinema a name: ‘experiment’. this film is not a narrative experiment but one that relies heavily on the construction of events.
First-time filmmaker Nishanth Kalindindi takes the archaic theme of a murderous revenge plot and turns it into an explosive and original work. The idea for Nishanth’s film comes from the events that preceded the murder of the main characters. let us first consider the ‘plot’, although there is none and it matters little here.
three brothers periya pandi (a brilliant vasanth selvam), ilaya pandi (dinesh mani) and chikku pandi (vijay ram of super deluxe fame) plan to assassinate the owner of a rubber farm in kerala, to settle accounts for the death of his dad. think of any movie from the 80s. we actually have those colorful slides from that era in the opening credits and an ilaiyaraaja music track.
Nishanth could have ended up making a direct revenge movie, crossing timelines. in that case, it would have been a movie about murder. but in kadaseela biriyani, the orchestration of the assassination predicted by the director is the actual film that he wants us to see and participate in its proceedings. the result? we get a tremendously satisfying “genre” movie whose filmmaking standard is a+.
the film begins with the voiceover of chikku pandi, who is persuaded and beaten by his brothers to help plan the murder. this is what his father feared and that is why he takes chikku pandi from his brothers and maternal family because of his violent past, hoping that the shadow will not fall on him. in that sense, kadaseela biriyani has a classic setup: it has a protagonist in chikku pandi who is forcefully sucked into the system of violence, which he stayed away from in the first place.
If you consider the first half in its entirety, it’s about discovering the surface of the plot determined by the actions of its main characters, periya, illaya and chikku pandi. the point is that none of this is set by the filmmaker. we get a sense of the whole picture from the way the characters talk and behave. But the world they inhabit is all too familiar to fans of Lijo Jose Pellissery and Thiagarajan Kumararaja.
If the first half is where you’d find the raw, rage-filled male energy of Lijo Jose’s (angamaly diaries, jallikattu) work, the second half reminds you of Kumararaja’s Aaranya Kaandam. this meeting of the two worlds happens perfectly. being inspired by a filmmaker is one thing, but studying his craft and making it your own is another. nishanth seems to have done the latter.
in kadaseela biriyani, the subtext is the main text where the construction of said events is transformed into an allegory about the hunters being hunted. as in aaranya kaandam, there are no rules in nishant’s interpretation of this jungle, where the only rule is: survival.
We assume chikku pandi is the lamb that is tagged along with his cheetah brothers, until they run into a ruthless animal in hakkim shah. this seems to be the idea: the foxes are chasing a deer thinking it is prey but the animal turns out to be an ox and there is no turning back. but the whole of your first half is to get to this point; the escalation should have happened earlier, which would have made it even more interesting.
There is a change of tone that occurs in the second half where the black humor stems from chikku pandi’s helpless situation. part fits well, but the rest is a flop, like when chikku pandi and his brothers come up with a “disgusting” name for hakkim’s character. Another major problem with the film is the timing of the shots. there is a fantastic section where a character comes face to face with the devil; the set-up is great and it builds tension, but the result isn’t exactly satisfying.
the movie needed more pulp… you wish it hadn’t been too stiff in the middle. Nishanth attempts to achieve a “wholeness” in the movie universe by having Vijay Sethupathi as the narrator who also makes a cameo appearance. there is also a comment about the absurdity of life, which does not bring the desired effect, as, say, in super luxury.
but the making of the film corrects the narrative inconsistencies. nishanth understands the craft of filmmaking: every shot you see in kadaseela biriyani is straight out of film school. the cinematography is formal: we have the feeling of an old-school filmmaker who composes shots of himself without moving the camera much. we get variations of these three main planes: extreme, wide and medium planes. the cinematography, along with strong sound design, brings a certain vibrancy to the film.
I am aware that I enjoyed kadaseela biriyani a bit more than I should have, but I have my own reasons. I don’t remember recently coming across a film where its filmmaker stayed religiously committed to his original idea, even if it meant not making a full final product. by ‘fully’ I meant that it doesn’t give you a healthy feeling. however, if I can see that much commitment from a rookie filmmaker, I’m willing to give all my money.
kadaseela biriyani is presented in theaters.