Mohanlal at 60: My 10 favourite performances

Mammooty or Mohanlal? If life was about binaries, then someone who grew up in the 1980s and 90s in Kerala would have had to deal with this question for sure. It’s as if no other option mattered, though as a kid I really loved Jayaram as well. But as I grew up, I knew I had a Mohanlal for every occasion.

Mohanlal and Srinivasan in Sathyan Anthikkad's Nadodikkattu
The Gulf dream gone sour in Nadodikattu
Priiyadarshan's Mukundetta Sumithra Vilikkunnu
The coy middle class hero of Mukundetta Sumitra Vilikkunnu

He was every unemployed Malayali of the 80s, dreaming of getting the magic wand- a job in Dubai – that would sort out all the problems in his life in Nadodikaatu (1987). Of course, he was also the Malayali landing up in Madras or Bombay, if not Dubai in the same film. He was the lovable Mukundan, proud of small achievements in life like installing a door bell in that small house in a chawl, but unable to express his love for Sumitra, the girl next door. Mukundetta Sumitra Vilikkunnu (1988) was a remake of Sai Paranjpye’s classic Katha (1982). Usually I always bat for the original but here, I found it tough to take a pick because of the endearing quality lent by Mohanlal, Srinivasan and Ranjini. 

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Who other than Mohanlal could have handled the multiple shades of grey in Devasuram and yet emerge a hero!
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Manichitratazhu was a monumental success – a money spinner and an instant classic for Malayalam film lovers

He could be full of the good, bad & ugly and still be larger than life as Mangalasseri Neelakanthan in Devasuram (1993), a character loosely based on Mullassery Rajagopal. No ordinary actor could have handled the multiple shades of grey the way he did, so much so that it almost emerged like a contemporary Duryodhan. Of course, who can forget him fixing the split personality of his friend’s wife in Manichitratazhu (1993), a film where he appeared just before the interval and yet cast a spell. Before Devasuram catapulted him into doing larger than life roles, he was the middle class hero of Padmarajan, Sathyan Anthikad and Priyadarshan.

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He always surprised the viewers and the critics by doing something totally out of the box, as he did with this role of Kathakali artiste Kunhikuttan, battling the dark corners of his mind. The film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival in 1999.
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He made a formidable pair with Srinivasan in several films and they worked wonders at the box office in many intelligent comedies

But even as he did those pot boilers, he surprised everyone by making Vanaprastham (1999), for which he trained in Kathakali without making a big deal about it. How could you hate him as the cantankerous house owner trying to vacate his tenant Karthika in Sanmanasullavarku Samadhanam (1986)? He told us everyone lives with a back story.

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Stumbling across several roadblocks in Varavelpu, one of the best commentaries on the decay of work culture in Kerala
Mohanlal aces the role of a contractor from Thrissur in Thoovanathumbikal
Padmarajan lent a great sensitivity to the romance of Thoovanathumbikal

And how vulnerable was he as a Gulf returnee failing to set up a business in Kerala in Varavelpu (1989)? You want him to succeed at his series of attempts in this tragic-comedy to run a bus service, even as you know he can’t make it far in the highly politicised work culture of Kerala. And there is more than one reason to love him in Thoovanathumbikal but his typical portrayal of a Thrissurkaran amidst the Vadakkunathan temple is unforgettable.

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Selling the dreams of a salesman in TP Balagopalan MA
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How did they decide to make a film that was entertaining all through and push the viewers off the cliff in the climax? Many people do not watch Chithram fully for this reason

 The world doesn’t still know this genius and I say that after having relished the performances of legends across industries. Had he been in any other industry, a much bigger deal would have been made of his volcano of talent. But then, who would have sold to us the substandard wallpapers of Falcon products? And who would have posed as an impostor just to entertain us to the hilt before breaking a million hearts in the climax of Chithram (1988)? The movie was a sure shot box office package, with a gripping script, wonderful music and great performances. I guess it’s nice that he is here…. Vadakkunathante mumbil. Had he been anywhere else, the superstar would have killed the actor.

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