Roaring into form

Malayalam films

The megastars of Malayalam cinema, Mammootty and Mohanlal, have been ruling the roost for more than two decades and even the new band of promising young stars have been unable to knock them off their perches.

Mohanlal, however, witnessed a lean trot almost the whole of last year, with four of his films receiving a lukewarm response at the box-office.

While three of his films — Lokpal, Ladies and Gentlemen and Geethanjali — were directed by Joshi, Siddique and Priyadarshan, formidable names in the industry, the fourth one, Red Wine, was directed by newcomer Salam Bappu. Never before had the matinee idol been in such a situation and his critics had begun sharpening their knives. But the Jeetu Joseph-directed Drishyam came to his rescue. The film rocked the box-office and resurrected the actor’s career. And more luck came his way when the Tamil film Jilla, where he played the role of actor Vijay’s father, became a hit. The veteran of over 300 films is now back where he belongs: right at the top.

Taste of success

Mohanlal first faced the cameras for Thiranottam, a film that was made on a shoestring budget by him along with his friends Priyadarshan and Raju among others. However, the film that was made in 1978 was released 25 years later, when his career had already peaked. An antagonist’s role in the Fazil-directed Manjil Virinja Pookkal was to become his passport to fame and a few negative roles later, Mohanlal turned full-fledged hero with the Sasikumar-helmed Ivide Thudangunnu, and since then has never had to look back.

Best of friends in real life and a winning combination on screen, the Mohanlal-Priyadarshan partnership took off with a comedy hit Poochakkoru Mookkuthi, and has been going strong with 29 films under their belt. Priyan, who has a penchant for comedy and is now a big name in Bollywood, directed Mohanlal in such sparkling comedies like Kilukkam and Thenmavin Kombathu and critically-acclaimed films like Kalapaani, based on a realistic concept on the lives of prisoners jailed in the Andamans by the British.

Mohanlal’s two National Awards for Best Actor were both well deserved, as his performances were indeed extraordinary and easily a cut above the rest of the contenders. In the first of these films, Bharatham, where he essayed the role of a classical singer, and cinematographer-director Shaji Karun’s Vanaprastham, which saw him as a Kathakali artiste. The films that provided a distinct fillip to his career over the years included I V Sasi-directed Devasuram, Sathyan Anthikaad’s T P Balagopalan M A, Padmarajan’s Thoovanathumbigal, Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam, Nokkethadhoorathu Kannum Nattu, Nadodikattu etc.

An all-rounder

The actor has never allowed his girth to come in the way of his executing intricate stunt movements and his prowess was to the fore in films like Rajavinte Makan, Spadikam, Aaram Thamburan, Sagar Alias Jacky and Narasimham.

In Drishyam, Mohanlal essayed the role of a farmer who stumbles on a murder inadvertently committed by his wife and daughter. The crux of the film is how he helps them beat the rap. His performance in the film won him plaudits galore, but one that the actor loves to cherish is the handsome tribute paid to him by the doyen of Tamil film directors, Balachander. His forays into Tamil films too have been rewarding and Iruvar, directed by Mani Ratnam, loosely based on the long standing relationship between MGR and Karunanidhi, had Mohanlal as MGR and Prakash Raj as Karunanidhi shining in well etched roles. The film also gave Mohanlal the distinction of being the first hero to act with Aishwarya Rai, who made her debut with the film.

He also had the opportunity to share screen space with Kamal Haasan in Unnaipol Oruvan. The actor played a stellar role as a police officer in Ramgopal Varma’s film on gang wars Company, but slipped badly while reprising Sanjeev Kumar’s Thakur role in Sholay in the disastrous Ramgopal Varma Ki Aag.

Mohanlal has a number of projects lined up, significant among them being Dasanum Vijayanum, Man Friday, Gaatha, Rasam and Kashmir. With almost all the top notch directors continuing to pin their hopes on him, the actor-producer-singer’s future seems secure, a hiccup here or there notwithstanding.

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