Meet Senna Hegde, director of the authentic Kanhangad film ‘Thingalazcha Nishchayam’

The film premiered at the 25th International Film Festival of Kerala in Thiruvananthapuram.
A still from Thingalazcha Nishchayam
A still from Thingalazcha Nishchayam
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In a little slip of paper that the man has hidden inside his pocket, are a list of questions to ask the woman standing next to him beside a well. Are you a believer, he asks. Oh yes, she says, and adds, “I plan to go to Sabarimala next year.” He is taken aback but switches to another question. It’s almost like a viva round at college, minus the marks. Her quick retorts are a sign of her wonderful sense of humour, he tells her, a sheepish smile on him, a resigned expression on her. Seconds after he leaves in a car, the vehicle stops. He wants the engagement to happen on the next Monday, before he goes back to the Gulf for his job.

The titles of the film Thingalazhcha Nischayam (the engagement is on Monday) appear on screen right after this scene. It is the film’s premiere at the 25th International Film Festival of Kerala (IFFK). Senna Hegde, the director, has placed the story at the heart of his hometown – Kanhangad in Kasaragod, the same place where he set his first film, 0-41*.

“I am half Malayali, half Kannadiga. My father is from Kanhangad, Kasaragod and mother from Karnataka. Kanhangad is home and given a choice, all my films will be centred around Kanhangad,” he says in an interview with TNM, minutes after the premiere.

There has been a great response to the film, lots of applause coming in during the screening as well as at the end, when a part of the cast and crew took a bow before the audience.

Senna Hegde

The film, from start to end, is the sort that does not let you take your eyes away for a moment. It is not a thriller but it is all too engaging and beautifully scripted. You don’t want to miss a scene, a line or even an expression. It is a wonderful cast Senna has found through auditions, most of them newcomers coming in and around Kanhangad, Payyanur or other parts of Kasargod.

The endearing dialect of the place is spoken by everyone and if it were not for the subtitles, even Malayalis from other parts of Kerala would miss certain subtleties. What you do notice is how pleasant everyone is. Well, nearly. The dad figure, almost like a stereotype but not quite so, is tough. Vijayan (Manoj KU) is introduced looking for long minutes at the mirror and then raising his voice at the wife and you wonder for a minute if he is having a midlife crisis and is on the verge of an affair. But he is not, this is just his way of reacting to situations. You get better acquainted with him in the course of the film, love towards the family showing in the way he tries to take care of things, but without taking into consideration what they want.

“We have tried to express the contradictions of people’s characters subtly, not so in-your-face. Vijayan is on one side taking care of his family but on the other side he wants everyone to toe the line. The daughter Suja (Anagha Narayanan) uses Sabarimala to annoy the man who comes to see her [as part of an arranged marriage proposal] but later she is shown regretting it, because she doesn’t want to annoy god,” Senna says.

The incidents he has heard from many houses in the neighbourhood inspired a story of young women trying to elope with their lovers just ahead of an engagement or wedding, when they are forced into an arranged marriage.

That itself is not a new subject, it’s been a recurring theme in Malayalam cinema for decades. What makes Senna’s film tasteful is its treatment of the subject. Characters are brought very close to the viewer. The focus does not fall on a pair of lovers and their story but on every single person around them. Vijayan with his short temper and ego, his wife Lalitha who worries deeply for the children, the elder daughter Surabhi (Unnimaya Nalappadam) who chose her partner against her father’s wishes, Surabhi’s husband Santhosh (Sunil Surya) who brushes off the many insults, Suja, and the youngest – a son in college with troubles of his own. The little details that explain the characters are given out with a huge helping of humour.

Even the secondary characters, like the father’s politician friend or the cousin with a crush on Suja, are carefully written.

“I wrote the story and for the screenplay, I associated with our Director Of Photography Sreeraj Raveendran,” says Senna who is not all that fluent in either Malayalam or Kannada.

He has made a Kannada film between the two Kanhangad films —  Katheyondu Shuruvaagide. Before making films, Senna was a software engineer (‘I think everyone is’), did his Masters abroad and worked as a business analyst in the Middle East for years. In 2015, he left all of it and came back home to Kanhangad to write films. The trailer of the first – 0-41* – got noticed by director Anurag Kashyap and became instantly viral. Senna sold the film to Phantom Digital and it might have an online release this year.

Thingalazhcha Nishchayam will, however, have a theatrical release, Senna says. 

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