When described in a sentence, Senna Hegde’s Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam (The Engagement On Monday) is pretty much a single-location comedy that follows the events of one confusing weekend. The place is ‘Kuwait’ Vijayan’s (Manoj KU) crumbling old house in North Kerala and we enter here on the weekend leading up to his second daughter Suja’s (Anagha Narayanan) engagement. The prospective groom needs to return to the Gulf in two days and the engagement needs to be conducted in a hurry, just a day after he meets Suja (her siblings are Sujith and Surabhi) for the first time.
Like time, money is also extremely precious. Among the first scenes is Vijayan running away from a moneylender, giving us a fair idea that his Gulf-returnee credentials haven’t quite translated to life-long financial bliss. But there’s an admirable amount of love he shares for the Middle East. In an earlier conversation, we see how he prefers a benevolent Monarch to a dysfunctional democracy like India’s. As we go along, we also notice that’s exactly how he wants to run his household, playing the King (plastic chairs piled on top of each other becomes his throne) with a set of subjects toeing his line.
This admiration extends to the groom he has found for Suja too. What she feels is not important and it’s obvious that several qualities (or the lack of it) are being overlooked because the groom is an NRI, including his unreasonable demand of a two-day window to get engaged.
All of this might give you the impression that the movie is intense, but Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam takes this plot and fills it with a series of extremely funny moments that keep reminding us to not take the film too seriously. And because the film is set in one place over one day, we get to zoom in on a set of lovely details that would rarely seem important enough in another movie. Which means that the ripples of something banal like Vijayan being asked to buy milk can be felt multiple times later on. This is the case with inanimate objects too. A trampoline, an erotic sketchbook, a broken chair, bitter gourd and even a well gets treated like tiny characters with even tinier sub-plots assigned to them. Bitter gourd, for instance, shows both Vijayan’s dominance over the family’s choices apart from his inability to accept dissent. And when a helpless Suja says she feels like jumping into a well, we get a clever segue showing her reflection in the water.
It’s the detailing in the music that worked even better. Although set in one house, the sound design is done so perfectly that we feel the presence of a temple festival happening next door, even without a single shot establishing the geography. Instead of simply using this as atmosphere, the choice of songs being played at the festival behaves like running commentary. So, when Suja worries about not being able to get through to her lover, we hear the ‘Pandoru Mukkuvan’ stanza from Chemmeen. A scene later, the commentary becomes more ironic and we hear a song from Sharjah To Sharjah (the groom is from Sharjah). Finally, when we listen to Vijayan’s phone ring, we hear an Arabic ringtone with the words ‘Habibi’ repeating—another marker of his love for the Gulf.
Even funnier is how classics like ‘Moovanthi Thazhvarayil’ and ‘Azhalinte Azhangalil’ show up unannounced at the absolute last place you’d ever expect to hear it. What all of this adds is a moment of relief that can accommodate even the wildest of genre switches. Small jokes lead to major fights and potentially sentimental scenes feel surprisingly moving when they hit you.
Apart from the writing that brings alive a seemingly simple plot, we also get an ensemble of brilliant actors that give you the joy of discovery. Even actors you see for seconds (like the rickshaw driver with high BP) feel author-backed with an inner life to them. Manoj, who plays Vijayan, is a discovery in itself when you notice his ability to switch from comedy to intense in a second.
With hat-tips to Dileesh Pothan’s Maheshinte Prathikaraam seeping into dialogues, we see its inspiration bearing fruit in the most organic way, in the most refreshing setting. Add the musicality of the Kasargod dialect and the beauty of its landscape, we get the kind of film we’ve always wanted to see. Call it another hat-tip to Pothan when I call this film Hegde’s brilliance.