One-line review: Engagements are meant to be broken, but not homes.

Thinkalazhcha nischayam (The engagement’s on Monday) proudly proclaims it’s made in Kanjanghad, a small town in north Kerala, India. Kanjanghad has a distinct dialect and very few actors working in the Malayalam film industry. The film is an original Kanjhangad product because of its ensemble of local actors, most of them on-screen rookies, speaking the local dialect and, in general, having an infectiously good time. Although the film is local its theme of family dynamics is universal. Add to this some biting humor, and you have a winner, literally, because the film was picked as the best Malayalam feature in the Indian national film awards. This generated enough buzz to give the film a second life on streaming platforms, where it soon became a fan favorite.  

The film, directed by local Senna Hegde (he co-wrote it with cinematographer Sreeraj Raveendran), takes place entirely in and around a small house. Director Hedge credits Raveendran’s deft camera work for never making the audience realize this fact. Raveendran says shooting in the tight spaces inside the house was challenging, and he wanted to shoot the indoors elsewhere, but director Hegde wouldn’t budge. As a result, we are transplanted right into the midst of the action in the Kuwait Vijayan family.

The father of the house is called Kuwait Vijayan because he is a Kuwaiti ex-pat. His long stint in Kuwait has also made Vijayan a believer in the power of dictators because they can get things done, unlike in red tape ridden democracies like India. Therefore, Vijayan tries to run his house like a dictator, but events don’t go as planned. In Kerala, a father’s ultimate expression of power is getting his daughter married off to someone of “his” choice. He had to bite the dust once when his older daughter broke off her engagement to marry a man of her choice, an imbecile, according to Vijayan. 

Vijayan is, therefore, determined to marry off his second daughter to a man working abroad. The boy and girl meet, and the boy approves of the girl. The only catch is that the boy is returning to Sharjah this coming Wednesday, and therefore the engagement must be conducted on Monday itself (the film’s title). For Vijayan, this engagement is his redemption from the humiliation of his elder daughter’s broken one. But fate has other plans. This daughter, Suja, too, has a childhood crush and is planning to elope that night. 

The film centers around the events in the house as the family hurries to conduct the engagement. The home soon becomes a confluence of people: close relatives, workers, and caterers. The local money lender also shows up to collect his monthly payment. The film dwells on many subplots among the people gathered there: the warring mother and aunt, the son-in-law gamely ignoring the father-in-law’s insults, and the broke youngest son trying to loan some money. 

Another hilarious subplot is of one of the workers who has a crush on Suja, making a last-ditch effort to woo her before the engagement. Add to this Suja plotting her elopement with her nervous boyfriend. Although the film is crowded with characters, Hegde gives each of them a definitive arc allowing them to shine irrespective of their screen time. In fact, many memorable moments are from characters who barely have more than a couple of lines. 

The film has you chuckling throughout because of its pacing, humor, and performances. But the unexpected and hilarious climax transports you to a different kind of laughter. It is the shaking-your-head kind of laughter when you realize how ordinary people, including you, are held captive by meaningless social norms. The film is also eminently rewatchable because of many stand-alone funny scenes. 

The rookie but accomplished cast (most of them have solid theater credentials) adds to the film’s freshness. But it’s the detailing that elevates this film from good to great. Most characters have some unexpected and endearing quirks. For example, while one may expect the despot-like Vijayan to have a soft side, you don’t expect him to be a mushy romantic. Similarly, while you may expect the ill-treated and docile son-in-law to stand up for himself eventually, you don’t expect him to be sympathetic to his father-in-law’s feelings. These little touches add to the heartwarming quotient of the already rich film.  

Veteran theater actor Manoj K.U plays Vijayan with the right level of explosiveness; he’s a hot-blooded man who can swing either way with the slightest provocation. The climactic scene where he goes berserk is based on the traditional dance form of Theiyyam, performed in the temples of North Kerala. Young Aisha Prabhakaran, the only actress in the cast who needed makeup to look older, plays Vijayan’s wife, Lalitha, with compassion, yet she is no walkover. The fight scene between her and her annoying sister-in-law couldn’t get more real. Unnimaya Nallapadam plays the blunt older sister with conviction; you can tell she would stand up to her father and break her engagement and manage to be welcomed back home.       

Anagha Narayanan is excellent as the about-to-be-engaged younger daughter, Suja. She is no pushover; she is the brains behind the elopement. But her immaturity, she’s just nineteen, after all, is revealed in the hilarious letter she leaves for the family. Sunil Surya plays the timid son-in-law with grace (he says he’s used to being a pushover in real life). Arpit P R is perfect as the younger distracted son. The toughest role is perhaps Ranji Kankol’s as the gullible Gireesh, who’s taken for a ride by Suja, on whom he has a crush. His character is slapstick amidst the extreme realism of the others, but he deftly elevates the film to a mass entertainer.  

Director Hegde discusses his unique approach to filming to explain the ensemble cast’s pitch-perfect performances.  To keep the scenes real and buoyant, no one in the cast knew the plot or the script and had to perform in the moment. Another ploy Hegde employed to ensure the ensemble cast’s bonding was to insist that everyone traveled together in a bus to the location and back. Mujeeb Majid’s catchy music elevates this small movie to a mainstream movie, while the sync sound keeps it real. 

With liberal doses of humor, Thinkalazcha Nishchayam brilliantly captures how the waves of change are slowly but surely eroding the helpless rocks of conservatism. 

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