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Review Malayalam

Biriyaani review: Raw portrayal of social realities of the oppressed

Release Date: 11 Apr 2021 / 01hr 34min

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Vidyasree Bindu

Sajin Baabu’s third directorial venture is a multi-layered and powerful social critique.

Food has been a major tool and motif in Malayalam mainstream cinema, with the trend being set by movies like Salt And Pepper (2011) and Usthad Hotel (2012). Various dimensions of food, cooking and the kitchen have also been explored through films like Freedom At Midnight (2018) and The Great Indian Kitchen (2021). Biriyaani, as the name suggests, uses food as a powerful tool.

Sajin Baabu’s third directorial venture, subtitled Flavours Of The Flesh, is a multi-layered and powerful social critique. This woman-centric film talks about the life of Khadeeja (Kani Kusruti), a married Muslim woman, and her self-discovery. Reeling from various forms of oppression, Khadeeja liberates herself by doing things she wanted to do the most after a series of catastrophes leaves her desolate and broken.

Khadeeja’s missing brother is identified by the state as an ISIS militant. From then on, the already miserable life of Khadeeja accelerates to new agonies. Her indifferent husband and in-laws take her only son away from her while she is ousted from the community and forced to leave her home along with her mother who is diagnosed with serious mental health issues.

After the death of her mother Suhara Beevi (Shailaja Jala), Khadeeja feels like an orphan, at once a painful and liberating moment for her. Khadeeja starts living a life that breaks all the barriers that society places on women in general and Muslim women in particular.

Biriyaani’s cast is remarkable and the character of Khadeeja won Kusruti a Kerala State Film award for Best Actress. An equally powerful performance is delivered by Shailaja Jala as Khadeeja’s mother. Surjith, who renders the role of Mohammad Bijili, has delivered a commendable performance as well. The direction and writing, both done by Sajin Baabu, reflect the artist with a social purpose in him. 

The message that Biriyaani puts forth is daring and radical. It is a fitting reply to the injustice perpetrated by state, religion, men and society at large.

The director has not flinched from portraying realities pertaining to body and violence and has filmed things the way they are. The intricate issues of sex, religion, gender issues, body and social oppression that certain sections face are effectively captured in the movie. Things as ordinary yet important as debates on television news channels and the way media narrations frame reality are shed light upon.

The beauty of the plot lies in the way Khadeeja reacts to the tragedies in her life. Instead of self-pity or quitting life, she decides to lead it as per her wishes. The deed she does in the well-framed climax is also as per the justification she has formed out of her harrowing experiences. The audience is sure to be confounded about the rights and wrongs of what she does towards the end.

Biriyaani is not for those who turn their face away from explicit portrayals of social realities. With a raw, rough and powerful portrayal of social reality, it is indeed the movie of our times. Here, art ceases to be for art’s sake.

Biriyaani was screened at the 25th edition of the International Film Festival of Kerala.

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