Alamara is a family drama that will especially appeal to you if you've been anywhere close to the grand institution of marriage and experienced the initial scrapes and skirmishes of two families trying to work things out together. I have, and I therefore found the film uncannily close to reality and couldn't stop giggling at some of the very familiar characters I saw on screen.
Directed by Midhun Manuel Thomas, Alamara is a lighthearted take on the petty ego battles and game of one-upmanship that are characteristic of the great Indian family as it heaves itself to accommodate new people before settling down with a sigh.
The theme, as such, isn't particularly original. There have been several films of this genre in Malayalam cinema, notably Midhunam and Thalayanamanthram - both excellent and insightful comedies that offer a close study of human nature and throw open the dynamics of the Indian family to delightful results.
In comparison, Alamara doesn't quite cut as deep, but is an enjoyable watch nevertheless and has its share of laughs.
Because in India, a marriage is more about whether the in-laws are compatible than the couple getting along, it doesn't matter so much that Arun (Sunny Wayne) and Swati (Aditi Ravi) are attracted to each other - their families, the mothers especially, cannot see eye to eye and therefore things get off to a rocky start.
At the centre of the conflict is a tree (it speaks!) which is chopped down to make an alamara (cupboard), a gift from Swati's parents for their daughter's new home.
The alamara becomes a tug of war between the two families as relationships turn sour. There's also a sidetrack involving a property dispute with a thug (Indrans) to make matters worse for Arun and his band of loyal friends (including the eternal hero's friend of new age Malayalam films, Aju Varghese).
Manju Satheesh and Seema G Nair, who play the two mothers, are hilarious as they have a go at each other, trying to protect the interests of their respective children.
The two fathers are evasive and non-confrontational, much like men in real life who choose to take the backseat in family conflicts and later complain that things have come to a ruin because of the quarreling women. Renji Panicker as Arun's father, is especially funny as he walks around on eggshells, trying not to upset his belligerent wife.
I was tempted to scream, "Misogyny!" at this point as the henpecked husband trope is overused in Malayalam films and there's a running joke in Alamara about men who have to make chappati dough or are "forced" to do the housework by their wives. But Renji Panicker's expressions were amusing enough to evoke grudging laughter from me.
The second half of the film follows a predictable trajectory but the proceedings remain entertaining. Midhun also takes a brave dig at the "nationalistic" yet hypocritical RSS man through Manikandan, who plays Arun's uncle, and eats beef fry on the sly.
Given the increasingly intolerant climate in Kerala, it's heartening to see Malayalam cinema continuing with its tradition of parodying political ideologies without fear of backlash.
The symbolism of the alamara's degeneration is thankfully not overdone and the film ends before you get tired of it. I didn't pay particular attention to the songs - they flit by on screen and blend in with the narrative without causing unnecessary interruptions.
At a little over 2 hours, Alamara is a fun watch and a pleasant way to spend an evening laughing at caricatures of your own family on screen.