‘Keedaa Cola’ movie review: A laugh riot, tempered with philosophical musings

There’s plenty to root for in Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam’s Telugu caper comedy ‘Keedaa Cola’, packed with oddball characters and unexpected situations

November 03, 2023 03:59 pm | Updated 03:59 pm IST

(Clockwise from top right) ‘Keedaa Cola’ stars Ravindra Vijay, Tharun Bhascker, Vishnu Oi, Chaitanya Rao Madadi, Raghu Ram, Brahmanandam, Rag Mayur and Jeevan Kumar

(Clockwise from top right) ‘Keedaa Cola’ stars Ravindra Vijay, Tharun Bhascker, Vishnu Oi, Chaitanya Rao Madadi, Raghu Ram, Brahmanandam, Rag Mayur and Jeevan Kumar

Minutes after intermission, we get a wide-angle shot featuring two groups, one at either end of the screen, in a deserted location. It’s the kind of situation we have seen in several mainstream films. Someone is kidnapped and there is a product that becomes a bone of contention. Most characters involved are driven by the desire or keeda to make quick money. Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam, who has directed and acted in this Telugu caper comedy, ensures that the hilarity of Keedaa Cola arises from situations and banter that we least expect. What happens when these two groups face off brings the house down; the comedy is silly, outrageous and is a delightful payoff for the situations and characters built in the comparatively sober first hour.

Comedy is familiar terrain for Tharun — his debut film Pelli Choopulu had an easy sprinkle of humour in a romance drama and his subsequent, Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi, was in the buddy comedy space. With Keedaa Cola, he ventures into the world of a crime comedy filled with quirky and borderline weird characters. It is a wacky comedy on the surface and within its framework, he weaves in philosophical musings about money, power and greed. He also takes a dig at the ways of the film industry.

We shall get to the story and its characters in a bit. In terms of narrative style, Tharun deviates from the safer zones of his earlier films and pays homage to Quentin Tarantino (particularly Pulp Fiction) and Guy Ritchie, and also places a few Easter eggs from his own universe, if we can call it that, to the cheer of avid movie buffs who have closely followed his work. When a key character’s real name is revealed as Kaushik, many in the hall cheered in recognition of the character from Pelli Choopulu, which is in turn, a reference to one of Tharun’s friends. When Geetha Bhascker’s voiceover adds, ‘is that clear?’ to the No Smoking disclaimer, it serves as a throwback to Ee Nagaraniki Emaindi

Keedaa Cola (Telugu)
Cast: Brahmanandam, Tharun Bhascker, Chaitanya Rao Madadi, Rag Mayur
Direction: Tharun Bhascker Dhaassyam
Music: Vivek Sagar
Storyline: A cockroach in a cola bottle can be the ticket for oddball characters to make big money but the company’s CEO will not take it lying down

What if you do not recognise these Easter eggs? Does it dampen the fun? Not quite. There’s plenty to root for, even if everything in this weird world of Keedaa Cola doesn’t add up to a brilliant film.  

As though factoring in the audience’s short attention span and the tendency to keep checking the mobile phone, Tharun and his team pack the two-hour film with swift cuts and ample fun lines and situations, occasionally mellowing it down to let a few characters introspect. It works to a large extent, but there are occasions where the narrative comes off as hasty. 

We are ushered into the world of Varadaraju thatha (Brahmanandam) and his grandson Vaasthu (Chaitanya Rao Madadi). Their story is narrated in a tragicomedy fashion. We laugh aloud when the words ‘mundu choopu’ (foresight) are uttered, even though what is happening is utterly tragic. Vaasthu has Tourette Syndrome and stutters, while thatha is a wheelchair user and has a urine bag. But there’s no room to wallow in sympathy as they subtly poke fun at each other’s handicap. Much later in the film, we meet another motley bunch of characters, each with a different physical limitation. There is plenty of humour but not at their expense. The writing (credited to Tharun and a team of writers) must have been like walking on a razor’s edge — to make the audience laugh at situations but not at the limitations of the characters. 

Things come to speed when Vaasthu’s childhood friend Lancham (Rag Mayur), a lawyer who is hopeless in the court but desperate to make money, hits upon the idea of suing a cola company when they find a cockroach in a bottle of cola. He thinks he is smart but in the world of Keedaa Cola, there are more twisted characters.

At the other end of the spectrum are Jeevan (Jeevan Kumar) who wants to become a corporator, his brother Naidu (Tharun) and their sidekick Sikku or Sikandar (Vishnu Oi). In this trio, we get a story of desperate aspiration for power and a contrasting arc of transformation. Jeevan wants power while Naidu, having just stepped out of prison, is on a transformative journey. Tharun gets the loudest cheers when he is introduced as Naidu. His heroic entry is followed by hilarious interactions between him and Sikandar, which constitute some of the best portions of the film. To reveal anything about their banter would amount to spoiling the fun.

All the characters are serious about what they think and do but the result is chaotic fun. As though the existing oddball characters aren’t enough, we are introduced to the CEO (Ravindra Vijay) and his conflict manager, Shots (Raghu Ram). Not every character or situation works. For instance, I thought Shots isn’t as deadly as he is projected to be. At least the CEO brings his conniving business nature into the mix, but Shots is just another glorified right-hand man, saved largely by Raghu Ram’s demeanour. 

The only female character in the film is Barbee, a simulation doll. When her character is leveraged for an unlikely romance, what begins on a silly note digs deep when she is used as a tool to make a comment on the film industry. Towards the end, Barbee also becomes a catalyst for Tharun to pay homage to masala films and their illogical but comforting turn of events.

My biggest gripe with the film is how it uses Brahmanandam, perhaps because I expected the veteran’s character to contribute to the humour. He not only moves away from the slapstick zone but also steps aside and lets the others deliver the laughs; he has a been-there-done-that look when he laments about the world and its wonky people. 

Chaitanya delivers a restrained performance as someone who is frustrated with not being able to talk his heart out, thanks to Tourette syndrome. Rag Mayur makes good use of the more boisterous part and fits the bill of a guy desperate to rise above his circumstances. Look out for what’s written on his tees through the film. The casting of Jeevan as the aspiring corporator is apt, too, and he delivers.

The showstealers are Tharun and Vishnu Oi. Tharun makes the Naidu character and its complexities appear effortless. The comedy between him and the innocent, poker-faced Vishnu is a riot as they effectively play off each other. After MAD, this is another fine performance from Vishnu. 

Keedaa Cola scores on the technical front. Cinematographer AJ Aaron gives us unusual and interesting angles when he films the characters from the point of view of the cola bottle or when he uses warm golden-yellow hues as light seeps into indoor settings. 

Tharun’s long-time collaborator music composer Vivek Sagar is on a different trip in this film. The music has not been strictly created from the standpoint of wanting the songs to top the charts, when plucked out of the context of the film. ‘Dipiri dipiri’ is a catchy number with Bollywood-ish vibes and with the other songs, he goes into an exploratory and experimental mode, blending street and rock-pop influences. The Chikkadpally song is an unlikely massy number from Vivek Sagar but is apt for the situation in which it is placed. The music often blends into the narrative and pushes it forward, complementing the zaniness of the characters. Varun Venugopal deserves a mention for the sound design, which further accentuates the narrative.

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