In a career of 41 years Mohanlal has been dare, done it all. His range of roles and spectrum of characters could put Burton, Brando and Bachchan to shame. Though some of his finest performances are in obscure films. Here is my pick of Mohanlal’s most memorable.
1 Kireedam (1989): A smash hit. Many consider Kireedam Mohanlal’s most influential film to date. It is the story of Sethumadhavan the son of an honest police constable who ends up on the wrong side of law when he rescues his father from being assaulted by a local gangster’s henchmen. Director Sibi Malayil brings out the best in Mohanlal, showing him as both a loving son and a ferocious anti-social. Audiences loved maverick Mohanlal in both avatars. Mohanlal’s buddy Priyadarshan remade the film in Hindi as Gardishwith Jackie Shroff in Mohanlal’s role. It wasn’t the same.
2. Kilukkam (1991): Mohanlal’s pal Priyadarshan directed this sunshine spreader about a tourist guide in Ooty (Mohanlal) and his friend (Jagathy Sreekumar) who befriends a tourist (Revathy) who isn’t all there. Though dwelling on mental illness, the film is remarkably light in tone without belittling the issue. And though Revathi is the focus of interest in the plot Mohanlal and Jagathy Sreekumar bring the house down with their one-liners. Priyadarshan tells me a lot of the dialogues were improvised. “Mohanlal can play anything, and it is not ‘playing’. It is becoming the character. In Oppam, he plays a blind man. You have to see how natural he looks. No attempt to look blind. Watching him, we just know he can’t see.” On working with the prolific Priyadarshan Mohanlal once told me, “I have done almost 30 films with Priyan. Chemistry between the director and actor certainly helps. A film unit is like a family where every member does his or her job. To me acting is almost like meditation. I don’t really know what I’m doing. Nor do I prepare for my roles. To me acting is reacting to a given situation. If I think a response to something is incorrect, I say so to the director. At another time, the director may disapprove of my interpretation. Then I do it his way. Acting is a strange thing, I can’t really define it. Every actor’s life is short. It exists only between the ‘action’ and ‘cut’.”
3. Vanaprastham (1999): If you haven’t seen Mohanlal in this film you haven’t seen anything. Mohanlal played Kunhikuttan a lower-caste Kathakali dancer whose mesmerizing stage performances wins him the love of a higher-caste art patroness Subhadra (Suhasini) even while his own father rejects him. His love for Subhadra comes to a tragic end when she too rejects him. Mohanlal’s stunning performances of the Kathakali dance style have to be seen to be believed .He shocked me by confessing he hadn’t learn Kathakali for the film. “Kathakali isn’t something you can learn in a few days. I just rehearsed for my dances in Vanaprasthamfor the camera, that’s it. No prior preparation. Of course, I had my guru on the sets throughout the shooting.”
4. Drishyam (2013): Though this is not one of my favourite Mohanlal movies, and though I find George Kutty too cocksure to be convincing in his crime-covering triumph, no discussion on Mohanlal’s repertoire can be complete without Drishyam. It is hands-down his most popular film, endlessly discussed on the internet. Mohanlal’s class act as a movie buff who borrows scenes from his favourite actors to cover up the murder of his daughter’s blackmailer, carries the film. Kamal Haasan and Ajay Devgn in the Tamil and Hindi remakes just can’t compare.
5. Company (2002): In his first and only foray into Hindi cinema Mohanlal starred as top cop Verapalli Srinivasan who was based on real-life Dhanushkodi Sivanandhan. Since Mohanlal played a South Indian the accented Hindi was not a problem. After the release of CompanyI had asked Mohanlal why he stayed away from Hindi cinema. He replied, “It isn’t like that. But they should call me. The offers have to be good enough. The reason I agreed to do Companyis because it was an irresistible offer. The way Ram Gopal Varma shoots his film with authentic characters and situations is fascinating. I had seen Satya. The way he narrated the story was very interesting. I agreed to do Company right away. I play a police officer. Not that I’m not used to working with diverse directors, Mani Ratnam, for instance, was a completely different experience from Ram Gopal Varma. I have no difficulty doing Hindi films. I learnt Hindi in school and college. In company I play a cop in Mumbai from Kerala, so my Hindi needn’t be perfect. I’m very comfortable doing a film in any language, Malayalam, Tamil or Hindi. There are no problems from my side. I don’t mind doing more Hindi films if they excite me.”
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