‘Kadaseela Biriyani’ movie review: A first-rate cinema experience. You wish it had a little more pulp


Debutant filmmaker Nishanth Kalidindi takes the archaic theme of a murderous revenge plot and makes it an explosive, original work — one that screams of style, substance and passion

The Tamil mainstream audience might find it difficult to engage with a film like Kadaseela Biriyani. I understand the needless extrapolation of that statement, if 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 have made peace with in Tamil cinema. It falls somewhere in the middle. And we also have given a name to this middle-ground cinema: ‘experiment’. This film is not a narrative experiment but one that relies heavily on the construction of the events.

Debutant filmmaker Nishanth Kalidindi takes the archaic theme of a murderous revenge plot and makes it an explosive, original work. The idea for Nishanth’s film comes from the events preceding the murder involving the primary characters. Let us consider the ‘plot’ first, although there isn’t any 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) are planning to murder a rubber estate owner in Kerala, to settle scores for their father’s death. Think of any film from the ‘80s. We, in fact, get those colourful slides from that era in the opening credits and an Ilaiyaraaja track music.

Nishanth could have ended up making a straightforward revenge film, cut across timelines. In that case, it would have been a film about the murder. But in Kadaseela Biriyani, the orchestration of the murder foretold by the director is the actual film that he wants us to see and partake in its proceedings. The result? We get a wildly satisfying ‘genre’ film whose film-making standard is A+.

The film opens with a voice-over by Chikku Pandi who is coaxed and beaten by his brothers to help plan the murder. This is what their father feared and this is why he takes Chikku Pandi away from his brothers and maternal family because of their violent background, hoping that the shadow doesn’t fall on him. In that sense, Kadaseela Biriyani has a classic set-up: it has a protagonist in Chikku Pandi getting forcefully sucked into the system of violence, which he stayed clear of in the first place.

Kadaseela Biriyani

  • Cast: Vasanth Selvam, Hakkim Shah, Dinesh Mani and Arun Ram
  • Director: Nishanth Kalidindi
  • Storyline: A murder at the centre accentuates the drama where it brings out the animalistic nature of the primary characters.

If you consider the first half in its entirety, it is all about discovering the surface of the plot determined by the actions of its primary characters, Periya, Illaya and Chikku Pandi. The point is none of this is established by the film-maker. We get a sense of the whole picture from the way the characters speak and behave. But the world inhabited by them is all-too familiar for the fans of Lijo Jose Pellissery and Thiagarajan Kumararaja.

If the first half is where you would find the raw, masculine energy teeming with rage from Lijo Jose’s work (Angamaly Diaries, Jallikattu), the second half reminds you of Kumararaja’s Aaranya Kaandam. This meeting of the two worlds happens seamlessly. Being inspired by a filmmaker is one thing, but studying their 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 the said events morphs into an allegory on hunters being hunted. Like in Aaranya Kaandam, there are no rules in Nishanth’s interpretation of this jungle, where the only rule is: survival.

We assume that Chikku Pandi is the lamb who gets tagged along with his cheetah-brothers, until they chance upon a ruthless animal in Hakkim Shah. This seems to be the idea: foxes go chasing a deer thinking it is prey but the animal turns out to be an ox and now, there is no turning back. But the whole of its first half is to arrive at this point; the escalation should have happened earlier, which would have made it all the more interesting.

There is a tonal shift that happens in the second half where black humour is derived from Chikku Pandi’s helpless situation. Some of it lands well, but the rest is a dud, like when Chikku Pandi and his brothers come up with a ‘disgusting’ name for Hakkim’s character. Another major issue with the film is the pacing of the shots. There is a fantastic stretch 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 satisfactory.

The film needed more pulp…you wish it hadn’t been too rigid in the middle parts. Nishanth tries to bring about a ‘wholeness’ to the film’s universe by having Vijay Sethupathi as the narrator who also plays a cameo. There is also a comment on the absurdity of life, which doesn’t produce the desired effect, like, say in a Super Deluxe.

But the filmmaking irons out the narrative inconsistencies. Nishanth understands the craft of filmmaking — all the shots you see in Kadaseela Biriyani are straight out of film school. The cinematography is formal: we get a sense of an old-school film-maker who composes his shots without moving the camera much. We get variations of these three main shots: extreme wide, wide and mid shot. The cinematography, coupled with a solid sound design, brings about a certain vividness to the film.

I’m aware that I enjoyed Kadaseela Biriyani a little more than I should — but, I have my own reasons. Not inrecent memory have I come across a film where its filmmaker stayed religiously committed to his original idea, even if that meant not making a full-fledged final product. By ‘full-fledged’ I meant to say it doesn’t give you a wholesome feeling. Yet, if I can see this much commitment from a debutant filmmaker, I’m willing to give all my money.

Kadaseela Biriyani is running in theatres.

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