Mammootty at 70: Filmmaker Manu Warrier Picks His Favourite Mammukka Films
Kuruthi director Manu Warrier on his favourite films starring Mammootty
My earliest memories of Mammootty started with the Malayalam cinema of the 1980s. I am from the VHS generation that caught these movies when uncles from the Gulf brought them. There was always an excitement at home, when Mammootty was in any film, and his performance was discussed at length by the elders in our family. Words like 'natural', 'expressive eyes', 'ghambiram' (phenomenal) were commonly dropped in those discussions.
So, I was already conditioned of what should be in a movie actor’s performance while watching a film, defined my viewing habits right when I was a kid and over the years there were several Malayalam films that were part of this journey, but when one discusses Malayalam films it’s impossible to not discuss the value Mammootty has added to Malayalam cinema or for the craft. An entire generation of the current audience, film lovers and filmmakers of Malayalam cinema have formed their benchmark of good cinema from many of Mammootty’s films.
While there have been several academic discussions with respect to Mammootty’s films, there are several that stay with you over time. Not all the films may stand the test of time, but those performances leave an impact in the viewer’s head. It becomes a reference point in the archive of memories when Mammootty films are discussed. There are several terrific ones in his career of over 150 films, in which he has won accolades and awards, but here I chose a few of the favourite performances that stayed in my memory. For the purpose of the article, I consciously chose not to re-watch this films, rather put down my thoughts based on the impact Mammootty had left, by no means this is an exhaustive academic dissection list or ranking of his performances, rather more of a revisiting exercise as we celebrate his 50 years in cinema and 70th birthday.
The character of GK left a deep impression in my mind years after the film, and the idea of the film itself is very intriguing as a premise. Mammootty plays a journalist who finds out about the involvement of some ministers in a rape case. The ministers try to silence him by putting him in jail, torturing him, leaving him disabled along with several years in prison. He befriends few people in jail during his time. After release, GK returns as an editor of a soon to be launched newspaper. GK gets back at his ministers using his friends from the jail, one by one they are killed off on GK’s order’s, and his newspaper is the first to break news about the deaths.
It’s amazing to see Mammootty transforming from a driven journalist to a man broken by the system, secretly harbouring revenge and returning completely as a morally corrupt editor. At a core level, he is able to make you feel the pain of GK and make you relate to his motive for revenge. Mammootty sinks his teeth in this character rising above the script.
The character of Devraj is an unforgettable one essayed by Mammootty and Mani Ratnam crafts a layered Thalapathi from Karna’s viewpoint in Mahabharat played by Rajnikanth. It was a delight to see these two share a chemistry on screen. Mammootty plays Devraj with sincerity, it’s hard not to see his point of view even when he acts with his own sense of morals. The clash between both of them on the bridge, when he begins trusting his new found friend and later when he is forced to see him with suspicion, Mammootty gives a restrained performance, yet is able to convey layers, this is something that stays with you long after the film is over. As much as this is a Rajnikanth movie that appeals to his stardom, Mammootty shines in this film through holding his own. A highlight of this movie is the song “Kaatukuyuilu”.
Number 20 Madras Mail
This movie has Mohanlal playing the lead but the surprise package for me was Mammootty playing the actor Mammootty himself in an alternate universe when he has to travel in a train. Mohanlal plays Tony and along with his buddies is travelling in the same train to Madras. After the initial Hitchcockian setup of various characters, a murder take place in the train. The suspects are Mohanlal and his friends, when audiences think Mammootty was just a special appearance in the film, after a few twists and turns, Mammootty himself unexpectedly returns in the last act to help Tony and his friends from injustice. Mammootty relishes this role and plays himself with a certain élan. I remember a particular scene when he reminds a character that he need not be taught what the law is, he was a lawyer before he was an actor. It was a whistle moment in the theatres, those who know the actor’s backstory so know how much the line adds value to the plot. Both Mammootty and Mohanlal work with great chemistry. I still remember the first time Mohanlal meets Mammootty with a starry-eyed wonder and Mammootty has to play down his stardom in the film. Was there some Meta message? Fun fact I read recently it was Mohanlal who suggested to the director that Mammootty play the role since it was broadly written for a “famous actor” to essay an actor who will be part of the plot.
Oru CBI Diary Kurippu
Even before Sherlock Holmes, I knew Sethurama Iyer, the Tam brahm investigator from CBI. It is difficult to imagine any other actor playing Sethurama Iyer, Mammootty simply owned the character and gave him a complete new dimension. The walk with hands behind, with a gait and the Malayalam that was peppered with Tamil during the investigations all made him a cult character in the history of Malayalam cinema. Every investigation twist he solved or revelation he unpeeled was characterised by a terrific background score that added to the swag of Sethurama Iyer. A popular trivia about this character during the olden days was that the director K Madhu, had originally envisioned this character as a tough cop with a drinking problem, turns out that it is Mammootty who suggested that the character should be a god fearing 'clean' Tamil brahmin. The change in tone gave the character a certain relatability as the uncle Tam brahm next door could be a sharp intellectual detective solving complex cases. Somewhere I hope Sethurama Iyer today returns to screen as an aged senior CBI boss to solve a case again.
This film is a revelation, Mammootty plays three roles in the film. He plays a novelist who investigates a murder that took place almost 50 years ago. As he digs deeper, he realises the case is connected to a feudal landlord (played by Mammootty) and his son (again played by Mammootty). It was truly a treasure to see him switch between playing a negative character with an uncontrollable libido, a renowned scholar and a novelist unravelling the layers within the crime. This is a must watch for Mammootty’s craft, he received the Kerala State award for this performance.
SI Manikandan is not your alpha cop beating up criminals or solving a crime, rather he is the man next door with fears and vulnerabilities even though he holds a high position in the police force. When he is put in charge to lead a police team to protect election officials in a Maoist territory, Manikandan has no option but to obey the orders. Mammootty comfortably plays his age, wears his fears on his mind and yet instils confidence in his team. The scenes where he fears a heart attack while trying to sleep, will make one relate to the character’s deepest fears, and Mammootty plays it in a perfect note.
There are too many performances of Mammootty that cannot be condensed in an article, there were too many I considered writing about. Some of them that I juggled with were Amaram, Samrajyam, Dhruvam, Mrugaya, Kariyalla Kattu Pole, Iyer The Great, Ee Thanutha Velpam Kalathu, Kaazcha, Munnarriypu and many more.
Wishing the legend many many more years of acting and eagerly awaiting what's in store for us fans in future. Keep rocking us with your terrific performances Ikka!
(Manu Warrier is the director of Coffee Bloom and Kuruthi)
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