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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.