Revisiting 'Thoovanathumbikal': Why the Padmarajan classic is still alluring

In #WatchWithTNM this week, we revisit the 1987 film which has three characters who have been judged much, loved and ridiculed.
Thoovanathumbikal still
Thoovanathumbikal still
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Off-season rain, haunting background music, and visions of a woman whom a man is yet to meet as he writes his first letter to her – that scene in Thoovanathumbikal is perhaps the crux of what has made it alluring to generations. The fairytale-like romance of two people that nature, it seems, wants to bring together, rain lashing every time one spoke or even so much as jotted down the name of the other.

But Padmarajan’s film, bringing a sort of anticlimax after all that build-up (helped a lot by Johnson’s enchanting music), has the man – Jayakrishnan – choosing to be with another woman, Radha.

Clara, the woman whose face forms in the rain, became an enigma for men of many ages. The woman you cannot reach, the one that you let slip away.

Sumalatha played Clara, Mohanlal played Jayakrishnan and Parvathy became Radha in 1987 when all three of them were young and at the peak of their careers.

All three characters have been judged much, loved and ridiculed.

Jayakrishnan is introduced as a stingy rich man, ploughing the fields, fighting with the neighbour who won’t move out of his property, and speaking a very unconvincing Thrissur dialect. He visits his young friend Rishi (Ashokan) in the ‘town’ and reveals a whole other side of his. A Jayakrishnan who has many friends ready to do anything for him, drinks at bars and gets his pimp friend Thangal (Babu Namboodiri) to take Rishi to a sex worker.

Through conversations between Thangal and Rishi, you are supposed to understand that this is a very powerful man. It is also established that Jayakrishnan, despite his many wayward ways, is a virgin. Virginity, for some reason, is a very sacred concept for Jayakrishnan who doesn’t think twice before shaming a poor man in front of his wife and five children, flaunting his upper class superiority.

He says more than once that he has ‘kept his all’ for the woman he would fall in love with. Unfortunately, that woman – Radha – spurns his love. At one point, you do feel bad for Jayakrishnan who says that he realises all this is normal – falling in love and getting rejected – but these should happen before you are 20. He had missed out on that because of his overbearing father.

It is to this dejected Jayakrishnan that Thangal introduces Clara, to whom he writes that letter, pretending to be Mother Superior, inviting her to join the nunnery. Clara wants to become a sex worker with the help of Thangal, and the letter is used to get her out of her home. It is a home she hates, not getting along with a stepmother who is more than pleased to let her go.

It is charming the way Clara doesn’t feel the need to give her reasons for choosing sex work. “I didn’t ask why you came to my room now, did I?” she says, when Jayakrishnan, in another disguise as a contractor, comes to meet her.

Here again, Jayakrishnan’s obsession with virginity comes out as he worries over being the reason for Clara to lose hers. His drunken proposal to Clara at the beach says just as much. Not that he has fallen in love with her or that he felt drawn to her from the moment he wrote her name on a paper and heard the rain. He tells her about his oath that if he ever caused the ‘ruin’ of a woman (meaning the loss of her virginity), then he would marry her.

Clara’s face, when he says this, hit by a strong wave of the ocean, looks more angry than pleased. But she smiles the next moment and says yes to the drunken man. She does not have the same response as he does after they sleep together. She is laughing, cracking jokes, and very much at ease.

But the next morning, when he returns to the room, she is not there. If a younger version of you thought this was sad (as I did), the older version will say, of course, what else do you expect after that lousy proposal?! He will take over the ruins it seems, what a ‘big-hearted’ man, Clara would have mocked in her mind, or so you imagine her to.

It is also sweet, the way Jayakrishnan tells both the women in his life everything about each other. So Radha, who has a change of heart, is told about Clara. And Clara, about Radha. It is a pity they never come face to face, they might have gotten along well.

Radha, poor young woman, is made to feel bad for saying no to Jayakrishnan by her brother (Sreenath). Apparently because this is the first time he has ever approached a woman. As if that should really matter to her. Her initial reaction at the college where he comes to propose is one you’d appreciate – this was a man she felt was disrespectful to women, and here he was barging into her campus and announcing that he is going to marry her. And then as an afterthought asks her, "You are ok with that right?" You can also understand a change of heart when everyone around her starts telling so many ‘heroic’ stories of this man. What you don’t understand is why she feels the need to cling on when he goes on talking about Clara and declaring that ‘when it comes to her, I don’t know what I will do’.

Clara is the opposite, at the slightest hint of his attention falling on her, she runs away. But she’s never stopped loving him if the clues of nature that Padmarajan relies so heavily on are to be trusted. It still rains for her, it doesn’t for him. You have to wonder what her reaction would have been if at the beach this jerk of a man had told her simply that he loved her. 

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