The Malayalam film Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam is largely set in a house in Kerala. The title means: Monday Is The Engagement. The film focuses on the days leading up to the engagement of the family's younger daughter Suja, who is a reluctant participant As the arrangements for a feast are made and the house decorated, Suja is quietly making plans to elope with her boyfriend. Aunts and uncles start arriving. Conversations inevitably include casual stings that hint at old wounds and resentments. The men drink and are more voluble, the women cook and quietly assert themselves. There's song, dance, laughter, tears, screaming and even a physical fight. In short, it's the saga of every Indian family.
This sense of familiarity reminded me of Mira Nair's Monsoon Wedding. But director Senna Hegde's storytelling is firmly rooted in its milieu – the film begins with the title card Made in Kanhangad. Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam is constructed to hew close to life. At one point, Suja's parents have a conversation about kitchen utensils. The mother wants to buy extra plates but the father refuses because he deems it unnecessary. But this little detail comes back into focus later in the film when relatives arrive and must wait to eat because there aren't enough plates. Small moments like this establish the relationships in the family. Even when tempers and voices are raised, the film doesn't resort to melodrama. It's like watching life unfold but always with an affectionate gaze.
Senna finds humour in the mundane. Suja's groom-to-be is highly eligible because he has a job in the Middle East. He has flown in for a few days to find himself a bride. When Suja and he first meet, he surreptitiously consults a paper in his pocket on which he has written questions which must be asked. These include: Do you believe in God? Suja tells him that she does and in fact wants to visit the Sabarimala Temple next year. She hopes that by posing as a feminist, she can prompt him to say no to the match. But even before his family has driven away from the house, he says yes. The engagement must happen immediately because he has to return to his job.
Suja's father Vijayan doesn't bother to check with his daughter how she feels. His older daughter rebelled and married the man of her choice. With this one Vijayan feels that he must reassert his authority. Vijayan, played superbly by Manoj KU, is the patriarch of this lower middle-class family. He is obstinate and even a bully who will use his fists when he deems necessary. This is a man who admires monarchy – he thinks Kerala should follow the Gulf and be ruled by a king. But in interactions with his wife and daughter, we also see his tenderness and his longing to enable his family to flourish. Vijayan might loom large within his home but when a man who has loaned him money arrives, he runs away like a mouse. In a witty role reversal, his wife stands up to the guest.
These asides add sparkle to the film. Another thing that made me smile was a trampoline outside the house – when we first see it, Suja's mother is using it to dry chilies. There's also a lovely scene between Suja and her boyfriend as they hold hands through the bars of her bedroom window. Interestingly, Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam has been co-written by Sreeraj Raveendran who has also shot the film. I don't know of too many writer-cinematographers and Sreeraj's double duty is admirable. His camera skilfully renders the realistic textures of his script. Case in point, the opening sequence, which is set in the dark and captured in a wide shot. We don't see the character's faces, only their movements and we hear their dialogue. But after this, the camera is barely stationary, following characters in and around the contours of the house. The film is held together by its stellar ensemble cast – even the Bengali worker putting up decorations and a food supplier have a moment to shine.
The climax of Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam is one of the funniest I've seen in years. Vijayan's stumped expression is a sight. And do stick around for the post-credit sequence.
You can watch the film on Sony LIV.