Whatever criticism there is to be made, you can’t knock Angamaly Diaries for having energy. That much is certain. That it manages to still maintain control over its own (thin) narrative while being completely balls-to-the-walls in every visual and audial aspect is no mere feat. Intersplicing between gang wars, pork carving business rivalries, Christian rituals, a dash of a love story (I think?), and trumpets and drums ringing, the movie aims to completely drown you in whatever the hell goes on in the lives of Angamaly’s proud young gundas (read, street thugs). Sifting through this bubbling pot of pork curry to makes sense of it all is up to you… good luck.
The story takes place in a Kerala village town called Angamaly, predominantly populated by Christian Indians, most likely descendants of those converted by St. Thomas the Apostate, supposedly around AD 52… note the names of the characters: Vincent Pepe, Lilly Davis, Thomas, Marty, Alice. Even the film’s director’s name, Lijo Jose Pelissery, isn’t one anybody unfamiliar with India’s colonization history would expect to hear in the country. This is important, as the movie’s affixation on the food culture of Angamaly tied to the plotline of Vincent Pepe, the main character’s delve into the pork butchery business, becomes Pelissery’s main way of defining his setting as unique. India, a predominantly Hindu nation with a sizeable Muslim population, has strict laws on the treatment of cows and has de-facto-shunned pork from being sold in most places, yet here in this town, pork and beef are an indispensable part of the economy and everyday life.
The genuineness of Pelissery’s directing of action sequences comes through in the frenetic camera movement and the unrelenting editing that cuts and follows between different actors, constantly switching. It illustrates the complete chaotic nature of gang-fights, a stark removal from the Indian film tradition of showing fights in a composed ballet. The main character, Pepe, many a time isn’t even in the center of the action, he’s just a cog in the muddled mess of arms and legs flailing at each other. If you find yourself not knowing what the hell is going on or who the hell is ‘winning’ in many of these sequences, well, that’s precisely the point.
This being said, what stops Angamaly Diaries from reaching its intended heights is that it doesn’t have many interesting things to say about its setting or characters other than they like pork a whole lot. It’s unfortunate for a film trying to follow the likes of Rajiv Ravi’s gargantuan Kammatipaadam, a film which doused itself with the culture of its region and featured characters who’s insides boiled with the pride of their home, to not put much effort into making us care about Angamaly as much as its central characters care about it. Where Kammatipaadam’s setting managed to still attain a vibrancy through its fleshed out characters and a rollicking story despite not being unique from the rest of India in its own history or culture, Pelissery’s Angamaly has to constantly rely on its shots of food and chopped up pig and cow parts to continually remind us that this doesn’t take place anywhere else in India. This is while not even mentioning how much more of a gripping presence Dulqer Salmaan is in Kaamatipaadam than Antony Varghese in Angamaly Diaries, who’s pretty boy looks (like a greasier Jake Gyllenhaal) don’t do much to elevate his completely forgettable, stoic as a tree character.
Admirable in its zaniness and energy, and featuring a much-talked-about 12 minute continuous single shot towards the film’s end, I could see clearly the aim of Pelissery to define himself with this film as a “showman”, but you can’t put on a show populated with people the audience has no reason to care about.