The film was not a box office success at the time of release but over the years it has turned into a cult film with a large following. The film was ranked #8 by IBN Live in its list of greatest Indian films of all time. The film is widely noted for its rich film score and songs, dialogues and characters, detailed screenplay Mohanlal's and Sumalatha 's performance. Rain is a recurring theme and is portrayed almost as a character in the film.
Jayakrishnan (Mohanlal) is a well-to-do bachelor who lives a contrasting dual life: one among his friends in the town, and the other with his mother and sister at their village. While he is a spendthrift guy celebrating life with his friends in town, he is a frugal family man at home. The film is about his dual life, and how he falls in love with two women, namely Clara (Sumalatha) and Radha (Parvathy), and his difficulty in deciding on a partner among the two.
Jayakrishnan is a typical Malayali guy belonging to an aristocratic family from Thrissur. He has his own vision of life, especially when it comes to marriage. He is hardworking and works on his own farm. At the same time he enjoys a very modern lifestyle with his friends in town, unknown to most people in his village.
He meets Radha, a distant relative, and is attracted to her non-nonsense attitude. Jayakrishnan falls in love with Radha. He confesses his feelings to her, and expresses his desire to marry her. However, Radha, considering him a flirtatious person, refuses his proposal.
One day, Jayakrishnan is persuaded to write a letter on behalf of his friend Thangal, a pimp, to a girl named Clara. The letter is intended to fool Clara's father, and thereby introduce Clara to the sex industry under Thangal's supervision. As Jayakrishnan writes the letter, it begins to rain. It turns out that Clara is a poor girl who belongs to the coastal fishing community. She has been mistreated by stepmother, and is trying to escape from her home. She agrees to become a sex worker and meets Jayakrishnan. Their meeting is graced by the rain.
Jayakrishnan is saddened by Radha's rejection, and urged on by his friend Thangal, he agrees to be Clara's first customer. This is Jayakrishnan's first time visiting a prostitute. Later he realizes that Clara was a virgin, a fact that disturbs him. He had made a promise to himself that he would not sleep with a virgin unless she was his wife, and if he couldn't keep his pledge, then that girl would at least become his wife. On breaking the one promise he was determined to keep in life, he is deeply disturbed and proposes marriage to Clara. She admires his sincerity and scruples but does not want to cause Jayakrishnan any hurt socially or personally (as she considers herself a sex worker), hence she decides to disappear from his life.
During this time, Radha hears more about Jayakrishnan from her brother (Madhavan), who was a junior in college to Jayakrishnan. She hears more about the dual life of Jayakrishnan, his small games of fooling people around him, and his ready-to-do-anything-for-friends attitude. She also learns that he had never fooled around with girls, despite his free-spirited lifestyle. Her brother tells her that it would be the first time that Jayakrishnan had proposed to a woman. For the first time, Radha sees Jayakrishnan for the sincere person that he is. She begins to fall in love with him, and agrees to his marriage proposal. She meets Jayakrishan to express her feelings towards him, and apologizes for her brusque behavior in the past. However, Jayakrishnan has now begun to feel differently. He tells Radha that he does not regard himself as being the right person for her. When questioned by Radha for the reason behind his change of heart, he discloses everything that transpired between him and Clara. Radha is not offended by his behavior at all. She admires his sincerity and depth of feeling. She tells Jayakrishnan that she is not bothered by his past with Clara.
One day, Jayakrishnan receives a telegram from Clara. She informs him that she is coming to visit him again. Jayakrishnan cannot resist meeting her. It rains again around the time they meet. He tells her about Radha. Clara expresses her joy at his new relationship but she also wonders if she is the reason Jayakrishnan is unable to commit to Radha. She decides to leave his life forever. Before leaving, she implores Jayakrishnan to not disappoint Radha.
Jayakrishan and Radha decide to get married. One day, Jayakrishnan receives a telegram. Clara is coming to see him, and this will be their last meeting, taking place at Ottapalam railway station. It rains heavily that day. Shocked, Jayakrishnan and Radha can't decide what to do. Radha asks Jayakrishnan not to meet Clara, but he cannot resist seeing her.
Toward the end of the movie, Jayakrishnan reaches the station to meet Clara. Radha too reaches the station without Jayakrishan's knowledge. At the station, both are surprised to see that Clara is married and is mother of a child. She tells Jayakrishnan that she had decided to get married to save both their futures. Now she can have a family life and Jayakrishnan can get married to Radha, with whom he has fallen in love. Clara leaves Jayakrishnan's life forever, and Radha and Jayakrishnan unite. It does not rain at the final meeting between Clara and Jayakrishnan.Mohanlal as JayakrishnanSumalatha as Clara ( Voice dubbed by Anandavally)Parvathy as RadhaAshokan as RishiBabu Namboothiri as ThangalSreenath as MadhavanSukumari as Jayakrishnan's MotherJagathi Sreekumar as Ravunni/Ramanunni NairSankaradi as Radha's FatherSoman as Moni JosephSulakshana as Jayakrishnan's sisterJayalalita as RanjiniSanthakumariAlex Mathew
The popular bar scene in the film was shot in Sharabi Bar of Casino Hotel, situated near the Shaktan Thampuran Private Bus Stand in Thrissur. Thoovanathumbikal was the first film to be shot there, the hotel and the bar has since appeared in many films.
The film is based on Padmarajan's novel Udakappola. Director Bharathan did illustration for this novel when it was serialised in Malayalanadu weekly.
Part of this film, especially Jayakrishnan's lifestyle in the town, is loosely based on one of Padmarajan's friends, Karakath Unni Menon. Padmarajan met Unni Menon when the former was working at All India Radio, Thrissur. The friends of Jayakrishan were loosely based on the other friends of Unni Menon: Kanjavu Varkey, Express George and Vijayan Karot.
The music was composed by Perumbavoor G Raveendranath and lyrics by Sreekumaran Thampi.
Thoovanathumbikal is considered to be one of the greatest and unforgettable Malayalam films of all time and enjoys a cult status even decades after its release. In a 2013 online poll, IBN Live listed it as the 8th greatest Indian film of all time. The poll was conducted as part of the celebrations of Indian cinema completing 100 years. The poll constituted a list of 100 films from different Indian languages.
The film's famous thematic background score was reused in the 2011 film Beautiful. In the 2012 film Trivandrum Lodge, Babu Namboothiri reprised his role as Thangal, a professional pimp.
Set in Thrissur, the film displays the typical Malayali bachelor lifestyle in many scenes. One such scene where Mohanlal invites Ashokan for a lemonade drink and straight away gets in to the city bar, has now become iconic call signs for a drink offer between Malayalis.
Thoovanathumbikal is considered, by many, to be the most romantic movie ever made in Malayalam Cinema History. The film deals with the most intense human emotions of love and lust. Years after its release, the movie has turned into a cult classic, especially among the youth.