The pork is succulent. The toddy is fresh, complimenting the spice of the pork chilli and washing it down effectively. Welcome to Angamaly, a town near Kochi, where all official deals, compromises, business decisions are sealed with a '10 ml' drink. It is a place full of 'teams' (gangs) in neighbouring localities, who will bully their way into a football trophy, play vigilante for harassed women, threaten local vendors who sell items under the prescribed market rate. Blood is shed, people are chased and dared, but not without the unifying elements among all 'teams' - food and alcohol.
In one of the first few scenes of the movie, we're shown a local gangster sitting inside a bus and chomping pork cutlets while sipping his rum in broad daylight. This is Kerala, there's no judgement here. He asks one of his younger colleagues to taste a piece of breadcrumb-coated cutlet while he drinks his toddy. The henchman impressed with the meaty cutlet asks what it is? Pork? Lamb? Cobra, he is told, and he spits it all out. The funniest twist in this gag comes in the form of an unsuspecting tight slap.
One of the reasons Lijo Jose Pellisery's more than delivers on its sordid, done-to-death premise is because of its brilliantly detailed regional elements. So even though the plot about a young boy growing and idolising the local goon, reminds us of Goodfellas, the film puts its stamp of authority by a superbly crafted scene of our protagonist's first fight. The veteran's brawling advice is street-smart and delivers laughs too.
The volatile teenager-turned-antagonist might remind some of City of God, but a few crude bombs add that indigenous touch to the narrative. Angamaly is a Wasseypur in its own right, but the local pork business and the bludgeoning of pigs add a very specific local flavour separating it from the other generic gangster dramas.
The film has a nice clumsiness to it. The Reservoir Dogs kinda' clumsy, where Tarantino gives us insight into the blood loss caused by a bullet wound. The Wasseypur kinda' clumsy where they end up shooting themselves in the foot, with locally made pistols. The rough edges of Angamaly Diaries, make it a better and a more original crime drama, firmly rooted in a land where blood is washed with a quarter of rum.
Prashant Pillai's fantastic soundtrack adds so much authenticity with its use of a brass-band and voices emanating from the soil. Interestingly there's also a Hindi song called Do Naina for a romance track in the film. Pillai was the man behind Bejoy Nambiar's Shaitan, probably sending out a reminder to Bollywood.
The unpredictable humour is another very strong asset for the film. Like our protagonist (Vincent Pepe) compares his first love affair as the inseparable combination of tapioca and eggs. And when he graduates to his next, he reasons saying the latter is tapioca and pork - successfully bringing out the Angamalian foodie within him. The food metaphors not withstanding, there's a laugh out loud funeral scene which involves a corpse which doesn't fit into its burial casket.
There's also the nonchalant humour where all of them dressed up for a religious procession are drinking in the bar, when a guy asks 'Jesus' to pass him a drink. An attempt to a rob a man promptly results into an epileptic fit, there's no escaping the film's ability to confound you with its dark humour.
It all boils down to a brilliantly shot 10-minute climax where the camera follows a bunch of the film's principal characters through a procession, to a drinking party behind the protagonist's house. Considering we see so many of these violent characters (most of them intoxicated) get together for a drink, the single take seems to be building up the dread of who will draw the first blood.
It all works so well, and somewhere you're happy that the film lives up to its hype. In a time when mediocrity is enshrined, it's a relief to see something so rooted and genuine win the world over. Even without the tag of a being a 1000-crore film. Or the excuse of being 'good enough for a Malayalam film'. This is a solid film, and it deserves all the adulation.