Sometimes the most relatable stories aren’t the most complicated. This is the key to writer/director Abhilash Shetty’s Koli Taal (The Chicken Curry), a warm and humorous whodunnit involving a missing rooster essential to the titular dish. You read that correctly. The film is about a lost chicken. The simplicity of this narrative brings to mind the work of Italian Neorealists nearly a century ago.
Of course, said rooster is crucially important to Mahabala (Prabhakar Kunder) and his wife, Vanaja (Radha Ramachandra). Why? Because their successful grandson Sumanth (Abhilash Shetty), working and studying in the city, is finally coming to visit his grandparents in their rural town. This news prompts Mahabala and Vanaja to rush to provide the most memorable experience for their worldly descendant. For seemingly every culture worldwide, these experiences are frequently centered around the dinner table. The married couple plans to make their specialty: chicken curry. A crucial problem arises when the special rooster they had picked out to sacrifice for the meal is lost, prompting an Agatha Christie-esque search for the phantom protein. Are the workers on the property to blame, or is something else at play?
“…the special rooster they had picked out to sacrifice for the meal is lost, prompting an Agatha Christie-esque search…”
Koli Taal is a beautiful film. It’s not often that we see rural India in a modern context on the big screen, and it’s refreshing. The vivid colors of the jungle pop, and the natural soundtrack of birds and other wildlife provide an enticing atmosphere for viewers. Shetty does an excellent job bringing the audience into the rhythm of the rural environment and away from the hustle-bustle of urban settings. The film focuses on Mahabala and his wife as they go about their daily processes of preparing and then searching. It’s fun, and most filmmakers would shift the perspective to that of the young grandson. The filmmaker is wise to switch it up.
Kunder as the patriarch of the family, is the highlight. He is hilarious, and his reliance on Old World wisdom to solve the crime provides endless enjoyment. Whether it’s consulting with the village astronomer to find the culprit or having suspects swear upon a coconut deity as they deny the crime, there’s never a lull in his antics. Yet we never get the sense that Shetty is making light of tradition. On the contrary, reverence for traditional values and beliefs lies in the face of the more common preference toward modernity in the cinema.
I had a lot of fun watching Koli Taal, and I think most viewers will as well. It tells a quaint story of grandparents willing to do anything for their prized grandchildren. I’m sure this will ring true for all of us who have strong bonds with grandparents, regardless of the political or cultural differences that we may encounter in an increasingly polarized world. Foodies, too, will get a kick out of this as we’re given a front-row seat to some mouth-watering sequences. And frankly, who doesn’t love a good chicken curry?
"…will ring true for all of us who have strong bonds with grandparents..."