Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam | Director: Senna Hegde
Cast: Sunil C.K., Sajin Cherukayil, Suchithra Devi, Ebi Ganesh, Manoj K.U., Renji Kankol, Rajesh Madhavan, Unnimaya Nalappadam
Language: Malayalam | Run Time: 109 minutes | Rating: 3
Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam untangles in the backdrop of a town in North Kerala. Kuwait Vijayan’s second daughter (Manoj KU) is to be engaged and the entire village is there to partake in the celebrations. Director Senna Hegde, who has also written the film along with Sreeraj Raveendran (who is also the cinematographer), ushers you into the family, pulls up a chair, and invites you to watch the proceedings unhurriedly as he quietly builds up the narrative.
The one-liner is fairly uncomplicated—marriage has been fixed against the daughter’s wishes. For the father, this is the only way he can reclaim his pride that was badly bruised after his first daughter, Surabhi wed against his wishes. As for the bride, Suja, she would rather die than marry the man picked by her father. It’s a neatly tangled mess that gets scruffier as it progresses, splits open the misogyny, patriarchy, and social hypocrisies of society.
Hegde’s placement of the plot in a town in Kasaragod elevates the narrative. The focal point of the story is a shabby obsolete house, with flaking wall paint, dingy rooms, a dusty kitchen, and a front yard littered with weeds and ripped stone steps. It stands in the middle of a thick plantation with abundant trees, looks very lived-in, and echoes the economics and ethos of the family. It’s not just that Hegde gets the location right, the nuances of a community beautifully percolate the frames of the movie. From the musicality of their local slang, the routine, conventions, occupation, food, culture to their social conditioning. He captures the details with precision—the rooms with built-in cupboards, valuables stored in rusty steel almirahs, men in coloured mundus and shirts, young lads struggling to embrace modernity, women in nighties and polyester salwar kameez with their forehead lined in kumkum, the local Kudumbasree workers, temple jaunts, theyyam and the overwhelming familiarity of the neighbourhood. Not even a single character stands redundant in a frame.
Kuwait Vijayan is the quintessential ‘man of the house’—the rigid god-fearing patriarch who thinks he has the final word in the family. It’s a typical conventional middle-class family where the man takes the decisions, and the woman dons the role of the caregiver. And clearly, the mantle has been passed on to the daughters. The single biggest worry and ambition in the family remains their daughter’s wedding. It is transactional since the woman has no agency to make decisions. That’s why the eldest daughter’s ‘choice of her partner’ is still looked down upon by the father. In the extended family, the daughter’s decision to marry the person of her choice is a disgraceful tale. Hedge is subtle in how these social hypocrisies hit home. The humour is such that it elucidates a knowing smile or a gentle chuckle than a guffaw.
Despite falling in line with her husband’s plans, Kuwait Vijayan’s wife would rather stand by her daughters given a choice. But the daughters eventually get their way. The youngest daughter, though having agreed to the alliance to humour her father, has already made plans to elope. We feel a wave of sympathy for the son-in-law who aims to please the father-in-law, despite being constantly snubbed. Though the daughter doesn’t raise the issue with the father, she is vocal about her opposition to her mother. Though the father is very dictatorial, both the younger men (Surabhi’s husband and Suja’s lover) would rather comply with the women’s persistence than take matters into their own hands.
The writing is sharp, the dialogues flow organically. They also poke fun at the current political scenario. Very gently though. There is a hilarious scene featuring a conversation between the suitor and Suja where she tries to prick his sectarian sentiments by insisting that she is planning a trip to Sabarimala. As he sneakily tries to read out the list, he had scribbled to ask her, she looks at him with disdain, an aspect which is completely lost on him. He embodies the typical chauvinist male. Kuwait Vijayan’s dictatorship attitude is often ridiculed by his friend who reminds him about the power of democracy.
Some of the characters are smartly placed and linked to the family. Suja’s silent crush is a gullible lad who still carries a torch for her. The first daughter’s jilted suitor and family are still smarting under the rejection and try to pull down the husband at any given opportunity. Again, though the husband evades it, Surabhi isn’t as tolerant and makes her displeasure evident. The numerous aunts and uncles bring out their claws during the crucial junctures.
Hegde’s storytelling is very similar to Dileesh Pothan’s, perhaps less polished. Like Pothan, he is finicky about the details. Special points for how he encapsulates the essence of social media in our lives. The camera meticulously captures the milieu, the emotions, and idiosyncrasies of the characters, the rootedness of the terrain, the functionality of a middle-class family and community. That little stretch following the engagement announcement and the penultimate scenes were a hoot (maybe the son’s girlfriend’s entrance might have been a bit far-fetched). Also humorous was Suja’s poetically penned farewell letter which won over the cop who reads it out. Hegde hasn’t picked a single known actor in Malayalam cinema, but the casting is faultless. Then there are those little touches that elevate the narrative—an impromptu locally flavoured song and dance and a lilting melody that is echoed now and then. Definitely, Senna Hedge is a man to watch out for.