Screwball comedies when done right can be utterly delightful. Now streaming on Amazon Prime Video, French Biriyani, directed by Pannaga Bharana and written by Avinash Balekkala, has a quirky premise that promises to entertain. What better way to showcase the chaos that is Bengaluru – with its many languages, traffic problems, and protests – than through the eyes of a harried outsider?
A French man named Simon (Sal Yusuf) lands in a soup only because his name sounds like 'saaman' (and the possible innuendos that can be conjured out of this have a place in the narrative too). He's hoping to attend a conference in Bengaluru but ends up with auto driver Asgar (Danish Sait) who takes him for a ride through the city that he never asked for.
Danish Sait has a special place in the hearts of Bengalureans for nailing the essence of the city in his comedy. The actor's talent to slip in and out of languages and dialects serves him well as he plays Asgar, speaking in one tongue with his family, another to the local people and yet another to Simon.
In fact, the funniest moments in the film have to do with language confusion. It's all slapstick, sure, but hilarious if you understand both languages. Mixing up 'prawns' and 'France' may not sound like such a great joke on paper, but Sal Yusuf's bewildered expressions do make one laugh. Danish, as always, is likeable on screen, his comic timing triggering mirth even if the joke is only so-so.
However, French Biriyani starts to get stale when it meanders all around the place, trying to squeeze humour out of every moment. There are two other storylines in the film – one has to do with Asgar's sister Rahila and her husband Purushottam who has low sperm count, and the other is about don Mani, who must procure the 'saaman' that his father had asked him to get on his deathbed.
The writing is plain awful when it comes to the criminal gang. Not only are they caricatured to an extent that they're annoying, the characterisation is terribly racist. One person is called 'Blacky' while another is referred to as 'Chris Gayle' (the Jamaican cricketer). They sport afros and hairstyles that we're supposed to find funny, but this sort of humour is insensitive, overdone and outdated.
The gaze of the camera is also quite cringe-inducing whenever it rests on minor women characters. Early on, a woman comes to pay respects to the dead body of the old don and as she bends, the pallu of her saree slips to reveal her cleavage. What is the point of this shot? It's neither funny nor erotic, and only serves to prove the kind of immaturity that passes for creativity in our cinema. In another scene, a woman bangs her car into Asgar's auto, and a man in the crowd is shown letching at her backside. The camera helpfully rests on her body and we're supposed to think that his intention to sexually harass her is funny. Sigh.
TikTok star and actor Disha Madan plays a news reporter but she doesn't have much to do other than get gawked at by whichever male character is sharing screen space with her. Sindhu Sreenivasa Murthy, however, has a slightly better role as the assertive Rahila.
Danish fans will be happy to see his Nograj character back briefly in French Biriyani, and the film also has enough references to keep fans of Kannada cinema (and Shivajinagar) entertained. Director Pannaga Bharana makes an appearance as a random customer at a bar who bursts into the peppy 'Yen Madodu Swamy'. The song, which has been sung by Puneeth Rajkumar, is already a hit with the audience as is 'The Bengaluru Song'.
Vasuki Vaibhav's contemporary music with its light-hearted lyrics are a big plus for the film. The picturisation of these songs also explores the city, its busy roads and the gullies.
Though the film is less than two hours, it feels interminably long as the comedy becomes repetitive and conflicts in the three storylines stay laughably shallow.
French Biriyani was supposedly named thus because there's a French man involved and the film has layers. The first part is true and I wish I could say the same for the second.
Disclaimer: This review was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the series/film. TNM Editorial is independent of any business relationship the organisation may have with producers or any other members of its cast or crew.