The title - Doesn't Malayalam look lovely? I call it the language of "M's", because that's what it looks like to me. :)
Essentially, the plot revolves around Manikan (Mohanlal) and Sreekrishna (Venu) who are very good friends that both fall in love with Karuthambi (Shobana), a young women they gave a bullock-cart ride to when she and her uncle were stranded one evening. When Sreekrishna misunderstands that Karuthambi returns his love while not knowing that she really loves Manikan, it sets in place a whole series of assumptions and confusion that gets more serious, thick, and convoluted as the film progresses. The main instigator in thickening the plot is the creepy-looking servant that makes up terrible lies to harm Manikan, whom he is jealous of. When the matriarch of the house learns that her brother Sreekrishna has been confused all along and will get hurt when he finds the truth, she asks Manikan to forget Karuthambi for his friend’s sake. The plot gets thicker and thicker as the characters keep trying different strategies and manipulations to get what they want while all operating under different assumptions. There's also fun excursions like Karuthambi's theater dance, a couple of extended fights that pale in comparison to Tamil/Telugu films, and a sequence in which Karuthambi tricks Manikan into using the phrase "Muthu Gavu" whilst in Mysore (apparently it means "Kiss Me," but how does she know their language anyway?)
Sreekrishna (Nedumudi Venu) - Looking a bit old to be wooing Shobana, but I was impressed with his acting!
Creepy servant guy (Sreenivasan)
I found the film hard to understand and had fairly regular wtf moments. It probably has to do with the subtitles not translating things correctly and me not being familiar with village culture. Keeping track of who was related to whom and which name matched which face and basic stuff like that was a chore. I also felt like the film couldn’t decide if it wanted to be serious and emotional or silly and outside reality. The first half had so many adorable moments. I loved Venu's acting as he fell in love with Karuthambi, Mohanlal had some humorous dialogues, and I was humored by the stream of obscenities Karuthambi's uncle murmured in his sleep. However, in the second half, the film switched tone and became steeped in traditional village culture and practices. In the beginning, the Panchayat meeting was sort of played for laughs and neither Manikan nor Sreekrishna took it seriously. But for some reason in the second half, suddenly Manikan is accused of rape and he doesn’t fight it at all and acts just like an uneducated, superstitious villager. I couldn’t figure out why everyone in the village would believe things at the drop of a hat with no explanation.
The music for the film is quite sweet. The "Nilapongalayello" song played over the credits is very cute, but most of the songs sound a bit dated. I enjoyed Karuthambi's super-cute theater performance picturised in "Ende Manasil Oru Naanam." Other songs: "Karutha Penne" is the romantic-duo song, "Maanam Thelinjininnaal" is the village group dance song, and "Kalli Poonguyile" revolves around Manikan/village girl's relationship.
Apparently, Thenmavin Kombath is a well-liked film and back in its day it won the Kerala State Film award andKV Anand and Sabu Cyril won the National Award for Best Cinematography/Art Direction. While I didn’t enjoy the story much overall, what I really liked were all the little slices of life that I always find so fascinating, as well as the lovely cinemetography. Here’s some screencaps:
Drying clothes out in the sun
Drinking the juice from a plant (per the comments, it is part of the Banana Plant!)
The Panchayat's threat to the woman accused of adultery (hehe)
The soothsayer that uses parrots to pick his fortune-telling cards
Kerala Folk Dancers
For some reason all of the servants live in straw treehouses like these. I would have loved this growing up! :D
Giving cows a scrubbity-dub-dub
When Manikan and Karthumi get lost and end up in Mysore, the local women wear white arm bands like this. I always associate this look with Gujarat tribal women- very interesting.
Bullock cart rides
The Kerala Mundu Set (2-piece)
The tribal servant girl's "sari" - so sexy! Love the knot.
Beautiful palm trees
Communicating an offer during cow-bargaining is done under a handkerchief, I think!
I notice a recurring theme in Kerala of having head adornments off to one side. It's most obvious in the side-bun that Mohiniattam dancers often wear, but I also noticed it in shots like these: