“A close analysis of the film tells you that the pace of the narrative is not dictated by the male, but the female lead,” writes Sanjay Gopinath.
It was my first trip to Kerala where my parents live, after the deluge.
More rain greeted me at the airport and my way home. Google told me I will witness rain more than once during my short stay.
Rain has been muse for a long time. I was, however, upset with it, for the diabolical avatar it had taken recently in my birth state. As if to help change my state of mind, the showers suddenly stopped. Several writings on rain drenched my memory. Alexander Frater’s Chasing the Monsoon, the nursery rhyme pitter patter raindrops and my own pieces on monsoon, petrichor and summer rains, and that song in the movie Beautiful.
It was then I remembered Klara.
Klara. Kerala. Rains
There are some characters who return to us several times in life with varied levels of intensity – usually when you are idly taking a break from the strains of life. Klara is one such character. The next night when rains lashed across the glass window I think I saw her through the translucent glass pane.
Here’s who Klara is. Klara is one of the lead characters in the Malayalam movie Thoovanathumbikal. The film’s title roughly translates as ‘flies in the spraying rain’, and was created by one of the greatest directors of Malayalam cinema, Padmarajan. Klara, played by yesteryear actor Sumalatha is a hooker in the film. The protagonist gets attracted to her, but she slithers away from his life.
Klara has grown on me every time I have watched the movie. The first time, probably as a teenager, it was the curiosity of seeing a hooker in all her sensuality. The next time, may be 15-16 years back, with more appreciation for the characters – Klara as a woman; a woman who exercises her preference of choices. Rain in all its splendour took over my mind more recently, when I started appreciating the director who breathed life into rain.
You may call it a coincidence, but the movie was aired on TV during my recent visit to Kerala.
Rain grows on you as a character
Staying poles apart from a fast-paced romantic jaunt, Padmarajan deliberately slows down the pace of romance in Thoovanathumbikal. There is a certain amount of laziness and unrushed handling. You see characters talking to each other sitting lazily on the village hillock and in the temple compound without any accompaniment of songs.
Since rain is an integral part of a Keralite’s life, we see downpour in films quite often. However, giving rain the honourable treatment as a character in this film continues to be discussed event today with much enthusiasm. Rain portrays different tones at different stages of the narrative preparing the milieu of meetings between Klara and the protagonist. The background score adds further intensity to the scenes. A keen film buff will leave the hall drenched in the emotions offered by this svelte character.
Giving respect to otherwise demeaned characters
Padmarajan handles some of the key characters in special ways. There is a character of a pimp played by Babu Namboothiri. Pimps are generally derided upon and loathed on the screen. Padmarajan treats him with respect. The fact that Thoovanathumbikal is considered a classic romantic film with one of the most important characters played a hooker, speaks volumes about the special treatment they receive.
Women who exercise their choices
Malayalam films are better known in India for strong female characters. I would rate Thoovanathumbikal as one of the best portrayals of women. Padmarajan steers away from the typical characterisation of female characters. Klara’s acts are out of her own volition. A closer analysis of the film tells you that the pace of the narrative is not dictated by the male, but the female lead. It is she who decides when to meet the protagonist (sans one exception, perhaps), how long to stay with him, and more importantly, when not to meet him. Though circumstances lead her to be pimped, as a viewer of the film, I felt even this was exercised by her choice.
Another female character Radha, played by Parvathy is also strong willed. In the first half she rejects the protagonist. Later when she starts to reciprocate his love, I felt in many ways she has accepted the existence of Klara in her partner’s life, expect when she found it taking away her partner from her.
A movie that stands the test of time
Complex portrayals of relationships laced with lust, love and other emotions make Thoovanathumbikal of one of the best films I have ever watched. The music underscores the strains in the hero’s mind. The rain that lashes in the background provides the settings by speaking through silence. Every time you watch Thoovanathumbikal, you tend to respect and love Klara even more.
Pause and appreciate that Thoovanathumbikal was made more than three decades back.