Remembering Nedumudi Venu: An Integral Part of Malayalam Cinema’s Golden Era
Indian actor and screenwriter Nedumudi Venu passed away on 11 October.
“Before the rhythm of death catches up with me, I want to travel to faraway places, I need to rediscover the rhythm of life,” says Sidhan Asan, the bohemian poet and philosopher in the 1987-film Sarvakalashala, as he bids adieu to Mohanlal after revealing a grisly secret about his past.
Nedumudi Venu, Malayalam Cinema’s avuncular figure and integral element through the golden era, the 1980s and ‘90s, played older characters even at the peak of his stardom.
Venu’s artistic prowess was apparent during his college days and was chiselled to perfection by maestros G Aravindan, John Abraham, Padmarajan, Bharathan, Mohan, Lenin Rajendran and Rajeevnath through the late-seventies and early-eighties after his initial engagement with many of these figures as a journalist for Kalakaumudi.
A complete artist, Venu’s talent wasn’t merely limited to acting. He embodied the richness of Kerala’s artistic depth, and often surprised you with his performances even in run-of-the-mill films. The rhythm of Venu’s life was forever entwined to his unhurried childhood in pristine Kuttanad, Kerala’s rice bowl and an ecosystem in itself.
He would often lament how the natural habitat of his native place got upstaged by mindless development activity, just as he lamented about the downward spiral of Malayalam Cinema through the 2000s, leaving him with no choice but to make compromises as an artist while picking films.
Through the early and mid-eighties, Venu, along with Bharat Gopy, were part of some excellent middle-of-the-road feature films before that association was broken in early 1986 as Gopy was paralyzed after suffering a stroke. Venu would often bemoan how they missed out on carrying forward in the same vein due to the tragedy and the films that got shelved on that account.
Debuting with G Aravindan’s Thampu followed by Bharathan’s Aaravam in 1978, Venu won the Kerala State award for ‘Second Best Actor’ for Chamaram in 1980 and the ‘Best Actor’ award the following year for Vidaparayum Munpe, loosely based on Hrishikesh Mukherjee’s Anand (1971).
While Venu is etched in the collective memory of film enthusiasts for his character roles in the late-1980s and ‘90s, he played many unconventional lead roles in the early-eighties. His title role in V.K.N’s Appunni (1984) was essayed with such understated brilliance that he easily outshone powerhouses such as Mohanlal and Bharat Gopy, in pivotal roles.
Venu’s performance as Appu Nair in Oru Kadha Oru Nunakkadha (1986) is similarly underrated, perhaps serving as an inspiration to the likes of Sreenivasan and others who came later.
Venu could leave a mark regardless of the length of his part, as evident in his turn as the son-in-law of Thilakan in K G George’s masterpiece Irakal (1986). But he was at his best playing earthy characters, perhaps drawing inspiration from people he knew from his growing-up years in Kuttanad.
Nedumudi Venu won his second Kerala State award for ‘Best Actor’ in 1987, for Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam, essaying an older character paired with Sarada.
The 1991 film Santhwanam (remake of Telugu movie Seetharamaiah Gari Manavaralu) which won him a special jury award had him in a similar role with different shades, leaving even the toughest teary-eyed with his exceptional performance. He was at his vulnerable best as a musician losing himself to alcohol addiction in Bharatham that same year.
The early to mid-1990s had him playing varied and memorable characters in films such as Padheyam, Kamaladalam, Sargam (1992), Samooham Devasuram, Midhunam (1993), Thenmavin Kombathu (1994) among other films. He also played the role of a Christian priest in half-a-dozen films, notably in his close friend Fazil’s Nokkethadoorathu Kannum Nattu (1985), Lal Salam (1990) and Akashadoothu (1983).
Post the 2000s, Nedumudi Venu’s talent wasn’t utilised by Malayalam Cinema – glimpses of his genius evident in films like North 24 Kaatham (2013). Venu won his third and final State ‘Best Actor’ award for Margam (2003), based on Pithrutharpanam, a famous story by M Sukumaran. He would go on to do many forgettable roles as a necessary compromise in the years that followed, which was as much a reflection of the kind of cinema that was being churned out those days.
Nedumudi Venu wasn’t a superstar. Neither did he covet superstardom. Salt of the earth, he will forever be remembered for his fine performances and the way he approached his craft with honesty, bereft of artificiality and props.
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