Title cards unspool in misty Mysore as a wistful Johnson BGM plays, leading us on to a destination and its carter of hope and love—Solomon’s red and yellow lorry. Padmarajan’s NamukkuParkkanMunthiri Thoppukal is one of the greatest celluloid love stories, a pioneering work that absolved all the time-tested puritanical concepts attached to romance. That’s why it’s placed several notches higher than one of his most discussed romantic film of all times—Thoovanathumpikal.
Solomon (Mohanlal), when we first meet him, seems to be the eternal wanderer. Perhaps in his late 20s, running his own grape vineyards and happily single; he is a bit of a lovable rogue who hoodwinks his mom into getting his way all the time. He typically arrives in the dead of night, honking his Lorry loud enough for the entire neighbourhood to wake up.
In the first scene, he starts a random conversation with his sleepy nephew (Vineeth), without realising he is being selfish. And then he carries forward this merry mood for the rest of the night—much to the chagrin of his exasperated mother (who else, but Kaviyoor Ponnamma), who is required to toss rotis straight off the tawa. Padmarajan creates a lovely moment at the dining table, establishing the mother-son bond. He polishes off chapatis and “chilled chicken curry,” as his mother whines about his infrequent visits. The son, however, manages to win her over.
Dulquer’s Charlie seems to have borrowed the way Solomon calls his aunt “Queen Mary.”
In total contrast is Sophia’s (Shari) household which is shrouded in gloom. A mother who looks like all the joy has gone out of her life, the grim, unsmiling Paul Pailokkaran, Sophia who is constantly doing menial jobs at home. The only happy face is the young sister.
For Solomon, it’s love at first sight. The scene where he takes his mom to church, reverses the jeep, spots her watering plants and gazes at her, with a ghost of a smile—it’s the look of a man who has fallen in love. Sophia does return the glance—but it’s more out of curiosity.
Solomon’s mother is the stereotypical traditional Christian mother, who considers her ideal daughter-in-law to be a girl hailing from an orthodox family, who cooks and runs the home smoothly. Solomon understandably laughs off her aspirations, maintaining that “home science graduates and public-school teachers” cannot adjust with his agrarian lifestyle.
The conversation also broadly hints at his kind of woman—someone who doesn’t mind dirtying her hands, preferably with a green thumb, a loving, gentle woman who falls in with all his outrageous plans. From the window as he gazes at Sophia, always hard at work, that woman is finally taking shape in front of his eyes.
The romance between Solomon, the incurable romantic and the shy Sophia, takes its own sweet time to evolve. And it’s Solomon who does all the work (generously aided by the Johnson melodic BGM). In fact, the man who finds it boring to stay at home beyond a day or two, suddenly extends his stay. He starts with observing her from the window, then a casual invitation for a game of badminton and a hike on his lorry. Unhurriedly and gently he succeeds in breaking the ice between them. Like a man in love, he notices how she is always overworked and, how her father is partial towards the sister and how she rarely laughs.
Even that now iconic proposal from Solomon is a master stroke from Padmarajan. Can there be a subtler way of breaking Sophia’s reflexes, hinging on the devout Christian in her who religiously reads the bible? The verse, while knocking off any woman by its sheer unbridled passion, also reflected the intensity with which Solomon yearned for her. A characteristic ‘I love you’ would have taken off the edge of romance in here.
The film itself has many allusions to the Bible. Solomon’s character is inspired from King Solomon, the wealthy and wise King of Israel, who succeeded his father. The King is said to have 700 wives and 300 concubines, which seems to be an allegory to his acres of vineyards.
Sophia’s mother second marriage has taken a toll on her and she knows the man in the house isn’t to be trusted with Sophia. Paul Pailokkaran’s entry is by interrupting a joyous game of tennis between Solomon and Sophia. His loud menacing scream of ‘Sophia’ is enough to stop her in her tracks.
There is an undertone of creepiness in his demeanor—he keeps evading his eyes and it’s evident his intentions aren’t honourable when it comes to his step-daughter. From forcing her to discontinue her studies, persistently blocking her job aspirations to seeking to match her off with a man double her age to his growing hatred for Solomon, Pailokkaran is bad news. He keeps talking about working hard to fend for his family.
The scene where Paul eyes her bare tummy when she helps him pin a painting, is eerie, a sign of impending doom. That it’s a relationship based on lies, threat and helplessness is evident when he scares her with a broken piece of glass. Sophia being an illegitimate child is his trump card against her. It’s a relationship in which you wonder about the kind of childhood Sophia had with this evil step-father. Or did this libidinous intention begin when she turned into an adult?
Padmarajan brings chaos and tension without a heightened sense of drama. Solomon isn’t really the alpha male who’s first instinct is to rough up cads without mercy. It’s evident in that scene when Paul beats Sophia in a drunken rage and Solomon breaks the fence (another metaphor between them), rushes to push him away and tries to calm him down. He offers a reassuring smile to the teary-eyed Sophia. It’s only when Paul kicks him that Solomon retaliates, like any man would. From here things go out of hand—it’s when the families understand their relationship.
Despite the stiff opposition from both families (his mother keeps swinging like a pendulum), Solomon’s love for Sophia remains rock solid. When he walks off in a huff after a small tiff with his mom, Solomon drives the lorry around the fence, tenderly signaling Sophia that he will be back.
The scenes when Sophia starts responding to his love are organically done. Falling back on their favourite biblical verses to express their love. Even indirectly hinting at her step-father’s evil thoughts. They say that the path of true love is never smooth and in their case, it’s a barbed shaky ride. Sophia’s mother is the only one who is truly happy in their union. When finally, the alliance is nearly fixed, the story takes a shocking twist.
When he sees the distraught Sophia after Paul rapes her, Solomon’s first reaction is disbelief. He doesn’t immediately console her, like we think a man in love would. But in the next scene, we know that it hasn’t made a difference to his love for her. “I am the one responsible for this,” he tells his inconsolable mother.
Though the reaction to the rape are typical—be it Sophia’s mother who thinks her daughter’s life is over to Solomon’s mother who thinks she is not eligible to be her son’s wife. But then despite the bleakness of the situation, at no point are giving up on these lovers. We have that much faith in Solomon’s love.
That’s why when a few days later, one night, Solomon comes charging at their house, thrashing a smirking Paul (the impromptu choreography is superb here) and calls out to Sophia, we aren’t surprised.
“Haven’t I told you to come during the second honking?” And in that one climax, Padmarajan breaks the glass ceiling, throwing the century old imagery of chastity and virginity associated with puritanical unwed heroines out of the window.
She reaches out to him, he envelops her tenderly and they lug themselves into the lorry—can there be a more heartbreakingly romantic cinematic frame in Malayalam cinema? Solomon and Sophia are the stuff legends are made of.
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