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8 masterful Mammootty performances – Birthday special

A look at eight characters portrayed wonderfully by the Malayalam superstar, who turned 70 yesterday, which have not received the same acclaim as some of his other roles.

Vidyasree Bindu

Most readers may not be familiar with Muhammad Kutty Panaparambil Ismail, but everyone knows Mammootty. With stellar acting performances, Mammootty has been entertaining film lovers for over four decades now. His dedication to his profession, the seriousness in his approach to character execution and his unflinching adherence to health and fitness are exemplary.

When it comes to Mammootty’s acting, two striking features are visible. One, he aces the task of portraying famous personalities. His renditions of YS Rajasekhara Reddy in the Telugu biopic Yatra (2019), Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja in the eponymous 2009 movie, Dr BR Ambedkar in the English-Hindi bilingual feature Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000), writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer in Mathilukal (1990) or Chanthu in Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989) are proof of his ability to portray different personalities perfectly and with ease.

The other striking feature is his facility for the language, dialects and accents. Though he hails from Cochin in southern Kerala, he has portrayed with ease characters who use colloquial Malayalam with slang that differs from place to place. For example, while Francis in Pranchiyettan And The Saints (2010) speaks perfect local Thrissur-slang Malayalam, Nithyananda Shenoy from Putthan Panam (2017) speaks a Malayalam with a heavy Kannada influence. While Kottayam Kunjacchan speaks Malayalam as spoken by the people of Kottayam, Raghavan from Vatsalyam (1993) speaks Valluvanadan Malayalam.

This ability to adapt and adopt has made him one of Malayalam cinema's finest actors. This is also the case with how he speaks English. As seen in movies like The King (1995) and Narasimham (where he plays the unforgettable advocate Nandagopal Mararar), Mammootty has rendered English dialogues that are still adored by Malayalam audiences.

For a star who has delivered remarkable performances over such a long and varied career, it is difficult to choose the 'best' performances. With characters like Chanthu, Basheer, Putturumees (Soorya Manasam, 1992) and Bhaskara Patelar (Vidheyan, 1994) having garnered a lot of attention over the years, we revisit eight other portrayals by Mammootty which ought to be discussed as much.

1. CK RAGHAVAN in Munnariyippu (2014)

If violence and innocence can share a face, then that is the face of CK Raghavan, portrayed spectacularly by Mammootty. The biggest success of the character was the absence of Mammootty and the presence of Raghavan, a murder convict. One can never tell if Raghavan really committed the murder, not even when the movie ends. However, one thing is clear: he is capable of the act.

The peculiarity of this character is the different impressions he is supposed to make at different points in the movie. In one part, Raghavan is an introvert with gentle mannerisms who wins the trust of a superior officer. In another, he is a stoic man who asks philosophical questions. Yet again, he is a person who can smilingly bash the head of a person who is pressurizing him.

Delivering all shades of this character was quite a task, but Mammootty did it with seeming effortlessness and grace. The mannerisms, peculiar gestures and even the pauses he takes in the dialogue delivery add depth to the character. The smile, just that smile towards the climax, sums up the superstar's ingenuity.

2. NARAYANAN in Pathemari (2015)

For anyone with a close relative in West Asia or those who are NRI (non-resident Indian) themselves, this character hits home on a different level. Narayanan, who dedicates his life to his family, is reduced to nothing but a flesh-and-blood source of finance who visits the family occasionally.

Narayanan’s predicament is that of almost every middle-class Gulf Malayalee. This Salim Ahmed film, subtitled The Journey Of Survival, portrays exactly that; while Narayanan chooses to exist in the harsh working conditions of the Gulf, his family gets the privilege of living a decent life. The estrangement such a person coming home feels among his own close ones like wife, son or daughter is emphatically portrayed by Mammootty.

Narayanan got Mammootty that year’s Filmfare award for Best Actor.

3. AMUDHAVAN in Peranbu (2019)

Mammootty has shown his strength and diversity in roles where he plays the family man. As a father in Varsham (2014), a brother in Vatsalyam (1993) or a son in Thaniyavarthanam (1987), he has shown how well he can portray family scenarios and evoke emotions in the audience.

Amudhavan, a single father of a teenage girl afflicted with cerebral palsy, is another remarkable portrayal by Mammootty. In this film directed by Ram, Mammootty’s restrained performance combined with the superb dialogue delivery has created a character experience that will not leave the viewer easily. The particular scene in which he consults a prostitute for the peculiar needs of his daughter is so moving and cathartic.

Considered one of the more mature performances by the star, it adds so much glitter to the gold that the film already is.

4. DANIEL THOMAS in Dany (2002)

If Vladimir and Estragon from Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot are the most desolate and wretched characters ever on stage, Dani is their equivalent in Malayalam cinema.

Dany is all about how Daniel Thomas (Mammootty) deals with various events in his life that coincide with some historical events of his day. Throughout the changing scenarios and times, Dany hugs his solitude and remains the same. Adding to the weight of this is the sad saxophone notes rendered by him.

Depicting the height of human loneliness and desolation, TV Chandran’s 2002 film was made with uncommon élan. Mammootty’s Dany is nuanced with his careful and controlled acting coupled with perfectly delivered Kochi-slang Malayalam as spoken by the Latin Catholics of that area. It was very different in terms of acting range from the films with larger-than-life masculine characters that were rising at the time.

5. DEVA in Thalapathi (1991)

Mammootty is as much as ease with Tamil as he is with Malayalam. His stellar performance as Deva in this mythical retelling of the Mahabharat character Duryodhana is a performance that appeals to both the masses and the classes.

Putting up a commendable performance alongside Tamil superstar Rajinikanth, Mammootty can be seen using his physique, his sound and his mannerisms in favour of the character. The calmness placed side by side with a rage that is justified, Deva is a character meant for a versatile artiste like Mammootty.

This Mani Ratnam movie and the character Deva are among the golden milestones in the star’s career. Received well by critics and audiences alike, Deva’s performance has a huge fan base in Kerala, too.

6. AHMED HAJI in Paleri Manikyam: Oru Pathirakolapathakathinte Katha (2009)

Historical fiction combined with a murder thriller, director Renjith’s Paleri Manikyam won accolades on many fronts, including for the classy performance by Mammootty.

Playing three different roles in the film, the star did justice to all. However, in terms of performance and character nuance, his Murikkinkunnath Ahmed Haji aces all others in the film. A feudal lord with an unquenchable sexual drive who uses his power to abuse women, Haji was indeed a challenging character.

Mammootty plays the role brilliantly. The raw, unscrupulous, chauvinistic character is portrayed in such a way that the audience cannot but feel disgust and revulsion. It is proof of Mammootty's talent that he played all three characters in the movie and imbued them with distinctive personalities and grace.

Paleri Manikyam bagged several Kerala State Film awards like Best Actor (Mammootty), Best Actress (Shweta Menon) and Best Film.

7. MIKE PHILIPPOSE in Loudspeaker (2009)

Director Jayaraj is a master of creating characters that are diverse, rare and deep, yet resonate strongly with a common man’s life. Mike Philippose from Loudspeaker is one such.

Played fantastically by Mammootty, Mike evokes deep-seated emotions in a viewer. Presented as a simpleton who speaks loudly in the colloquial language of the central Kerala region, Mike cannot synch with the so-called modern, elegant, urbanized life and culture.

Telling the tale of two central characters representing contrasting lives, Loudspeaker is centred on the characters played by Mammootty (Mike) and veteran journalist Sashi Kumar (Anand Menon). The duality is excellently portrayed by both with Mammootty being the life and voice of the place he represents, Thoppramkudy.

8. BELLARY RAJA in Rajamanikyam (2005)

Written off as a commercial film by critics, Rajamanikyam brought out a whole new vibe and shade in Mammootty as an actor. Be it the dialogue delivery or the mannerisms or the slang or the way he took to the peculiar attire, Bellary Raja from this Anwar Rasheed flick is indeed one of his best performances.

The character has dimensions that are comic, dead serious, empathetic, terrific and a grief-stricken loner — all handled perfectly by Mammootty. This particular character and his performance were a game-changer that introduced mass heroes who also had common-man traits, who not only spoke like commoners but also dressed and behaved like them.

Mammootty imbued such fiery life into the character that Bellary Raja is still a popular name among Malayalam moviegoers.