Although dismissed offhand as one of those ‘Southern’ frivolities—think, the much-queried ‘h’ that appends not a few ‘t’s and ‘d’s—the ‘i’ at the heart of the spelt-as-spoken biriyani is hardly superfluous. Allowances for geo-linguistic variances notwithstanding, some posit that it is a metaphor for the intensely personal relationship between sub-continental palates and the closest we have to a consensus on soul food. It’s not for nothing that biriyanis regularly pip pizzas for top spot on annual consumer food-behaviour surveys.
While this passion has long informed and whetted mostly good-natured dinner-table debates, a decidedly unsavoury manifestation has been ‘biriyani baiting’—as evinced most recently by the vitriol directed toward protestors in Shaheen Bagh, among others. To counter this appropriation, a group of cinephiles in Kerala set out in 2017 to reclaim the biriyani by adopting it as muse, motif and remuneration for their nascent production venture. In effect, turning the pièce de résistance itself into a means of resistance.