Keedaa Cola Movie Review: This tempest in a teapot fizzes more than it flows
Keedaa Cola's path of quirks offers more confusion than joy
Headlines have long paid witness to the controversies surrounding cola. Be it the water shortages in Kerala brought on by cold drink factories or viral videos of the drink being used as a toilet cleaner or the outrage over Kendall Jenner's Pepsi ad trying to appropriate activism — a humble bottle of sugary, caffeinated drink has found itself amidst unlikely tales of capitalism running amok. Inspired by the absurdity of that fact, comes Keedaa Cola, a crime comedy. The film's one-liner, about a motley group of individuals deciding to sue a cola company for crores over a roach in the bottle, does not sound like your average crime. And it isn't.
Director - Tharun Bhascker
Cast - Chaitanya Rao, Tharun Bhascker, Rag Mayur, Brahmanandam, Vishnu Oi, Jeevan, Ravindra Vijay, Raghu Ram
We are first introduced to Vaasthu (Chaitanya Rao) and Lancham (Rag Mayur) in a court, regarding the mistreatment of a medical simulator. The triad also includes Vaasthu's thatha Varadharaju (Brahmanandam). A dark joke about how Vaasthu's parents died sets the tone for Keedaa Cola at large. Throughout the film, men from different walks of life keep putting their lives in jeopardy because they are trying to move ahead while looking in the wrong direction. The film's second triad features a wannabe corporator (Jeevan), his minion (Vishnu Oi) and his parolee half-brother (Tharun Bhascker). If the first group wants money and freedom, the second wants power and prestige. Both parties are swiftly characterised by a prickly interpersonal dynamic. The third group, which includes the CEO of a cola company and his conflict manager (a white-collar goonda, basically), are brokers and breakers masquerading as movers and shakers. What happens when all three groups meet? Who really wins? Yeh duniya agar mil bhi jaaye toh kya hai? Some of these and more form the heart of Keedaa Cola.
Make no mistake, the film brims with style. The world of Keedaa Cola is technically not different from the one we live in but cinematographer AJ Aaron and DI colourist Avinash Shukla paint it lock, stock and barrel with a frenzied audacity, creating a whole new world. The penultimate scene, set on a bridge, is a delight to watch, emulsifying the surreal in the real. Adding to Keeda Cola's vibrancy is Vivek Sagar's fiery background score. The music director brings his best to the table, tracing the outlines of the story with his majestic score. The music and the cinematography of Keedaa Cola are indeed memorable, but sadly, stuck alone in the category of merits while the shortcomings are stacked noticeably higher.
The theatrical cut of Keedaa Cola is two hours long, which is unusually short for an Indian film. However, the welcome change is quickly derailed by the interval, which drops in at a rather anticlimactic moment, one that feels like an afterthought. Till then, Tharun Bhascker takes time to establish the worlds of Vaastu and Jeevan. The strange litigations, impromptu English classes and a murder in the guise of an urban legend are all foreshadowed. Brahmanandam draws laughs. The lack of momentum in Vaasthu's life (who suffers from Tourette's syndrome) and Jeevan's hubris are displayed with a microscopic gaze. However, hopes of the initial premise involving the cola bottle feeding into the larger narrative, are never realised. For a crime comedy, where the pay-off is extremely crucial, Keedaa Cola hardly has any. The payoff never feels like a bottle of cola being opened dramatically, the makers play spin-the-bottle instead. When the bottle faces Vaasthu, we get a grandfather bonding with his grandson, a lawyer who is more village idiot than audience surrogate. When the bottle turns to Jeevan, we see backstabbing and a love story between unusual suspects. Finally, the bottle turns to you, the viewer, and you are confused. After the bottle and the plot of the film, it is your head's turn to spin. The comedy is a hit-and-miss assortment of gags. The sequences where Shots (Raghu Ram) and Naidu (Tharun Bhascker) are slapping people for comic effect, stick out like a sore thumb.
A story can either align itself with its characters or plot. With Keeda…, you see neither happen. Why initiate a dialogue on the long-term value of chasing wealth if the film ends in a wild and conveniently successful blackmail situation? It almost rivals the convenience with which Naidu's experiments with a cola bottle meet Lancham's legal lottery hunts. Coming to the characters, they could and should have stuck around for longer. The story leaves no breathing room, with the characters fretting more than feeling, convoluting more than connecting to the viewer. This ultimately leads to the style overtaking the substance, disconnecting the audience from the story.
However, the biggest disappointment comes from director Tharun Bhascker himself. Over the years, and rightfully so, the man has risen to fame with stories plucked from reality and spun into evocative new-age magic. With Keeda Cola, there is not only a disconnect between what he has set out to make and what the film ultimately turned out to be, but there is also a jarring difference between the marketing of the film and what it actually is. The director mentions in his pre-release speech that he has taken great pains to make an original film when he could have franchised Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi or done a remake, but how original is a film that claps back to lines from his previous films (Naa sav nen sastha, thaagudham). It is silly and fun I suppose, to see Kaushik get a third avatar in the director's latest, but what good does it do to pluck the low-hanging fruit of one's own references? Does it not defeat the integrity that went into the worldbuilding of Keedaa Cola? Also, for a film marketed as one with no "hero", why does Naidu's character walk away with the clapbacks, the one-liners, the innate wisdom, the hallowed backstory, the measured swagger and an epic jolt from death to life? There are a lot more questions but suffice it to say, the critic in question might just be the thankless cockroach in this cola bottle of a film.