Anna Ben’s character is eloping yet again. But unlike Kappela’s (2020) Jessy who lands in hell, Thrishanku’s Megha is a whole deal smarter. Directed by Achyuth Vinayak, this romcom is about young love with all its passion and pitfalls. Megha (Anna Ben) and Sethu (Arjun Ashokan) are an interfaith couple that decides to elope, but their plans go askew when Sethu’s sister, Sumi (Zarin Shihab), picks the same day to perform the same feat with her boyfriend. What follows is an enjoyable comedy of errors that doesn’t stretch the material too thin, and always manages to stay entertaining.
Megha’s father is a police officer (Krishna Kumar) – the sort who takes a photograph of the licence plate of the bus in which his daughter is travelling. He’s a single parent who believes he knows what’s best for his daughter. But Megha has other ideas. Thrishanku is careful about not taking a paternalistic tone towards its protagonists. Vinayak, who co-wrote the film with Ajith Nair, is aware that young people have a right to make their fair share of mistakes, and that it’s all right to stumble and find your way in the world – and this includes relationships that may not meet their family’s approval.
In Hindu mythology, Trishanku was a king who wished to enter heaven with his mortal body, and ended up being suspended between heaven and the earth. The phrase ‘trishanku swargam’ (Trishanku’s heaven) is used to suggest a dilemma or an ‘in-between’ state – and that sums up Megha’s predicament in the film. Should she take the leap of faith into the bus that has her beloved or should she backtrack and go back to her controlling father?
The title might sound lofty but though Megha and Sethu belong to different faiths, the film doesn’t elevate their love into the stuff of epics – and that’s a relief. It’s a fluffy kind of romance, the type that the ‘Panjimittai’ (cotton candy) song captures in its entirety (music by Jay Unnithan). Sethu is the sweet yet juvenile guy who calls TV shows and expresses his love for his girlfriend. He’d rather avoid confrontations than jump into them, but Megha is the opposite. She’s assertive, thinks on her feet, and is determined to have her way even if she’s not always sure that things will work out. If Sethu is somewhat dimwitted, she’s the planner who knows just what to take to survive a few hours in a disgusting public toilet. She’s been in relationships before, he hasn’t.
Ben has an immensely likeable screen presence, and she plays Megha with a certitude that draws the viewer into the film without a judgmental lens. When Sethu opens the door in a grimy lodge and she looks up at him, we are just as charmed as he is. Ashokan, fresh from the runaway success of Romancham (2023), is also convincing in the role of the awkward Sethu who just can’t find it in him to take charge.
Thrishanku is a road film in a sense. The characters travel from Kerala to Mangaluru on a search, and the journey brings them adventure and understanding. Sethu’s two uncles – one a liberal and an atheist (Suresh Krishna) and the other, a conservative Hindu (Nandhu) – accompany the couple on this trip, and there are some truly laugh-out-loud moments. The scene in the pub is especially a scream, with the uncles trying to imitate how young people today behave. Fahim Safar in a brief comic role does well, as does Zarin Shahib as the conflicted Sumi who seems to be unbelievably naive.
Senna Hegde’s Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam (2021) was also about a bride who wants to elope, but Thrishanku is a lite version of what happens when a young woman calls the shots in her love life. Hegde’s film is a black comedy that unravels the toxic framework of the great Indian family with all its pressure points. Thrishanku, however, doesn’t get into the layers that lie beneath the facade. There are some positives to this. For instance, Megha’s father’s role isn’t sentimentalized just because he’s a single parent. There is no monologue on everything he’s done for her and how she’s now betrayed him. Still, the film doesn’t feel insightful because it doesn’t probe beneath the surface.
If Vipin Das’s comedy Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey (2022) was so successful despite it being a film on the dark subject of domestic violence, it’s because the makers were able to inject humour into the script without diluting the truth of women’s experiences. In its eagerness to stay lighthearted and non-judgmental, Thrishanku makes it all look too easy – realizations, forgiveness and acceptance happen so smoothly that one wonders if the film is set in a futuristic Kerala where the patriarchy is standing on its last leg.
Despite these quibbles, Thrishanku, with its taut runtime of 1 hour 50 minutes, doesn’t overstay its welcome and leaves you with a smile on your face. Anna Ben with her wide smile makes sure of that.