What if there is an actor who is as versatile as Tom Hanks in his range, as natural in getting inside the skin of the characters like Philip Seymour Hoffman, and as subtle, nuanced and measured in emotive expressions as Gregory Peck? Well Mohanlal in my opinion is one such gifted actor, who combines all these and much more. It is sad and unfortunate that his acting talent is largely appreciated only by Malayali community, though thanks to a few films in other languages, others too have come to know of him.
Yet what Mohanlal can bring to the fore in some of the iconic movies in Malayalam original, which have been remade into other languages, the latest of which is Drishyam in Hindi, only those who have seen both the versions would know.
As he turns 56 today, here is a small tribute to the great actor where I am trying to showcase glimpses of his acting brilliance from scenes culled out from various movies. These are of course from the movies that I have seen, and what I could immediately recall, and hence in no particular order. I will also give a small setup for the context for each of those scenes which will help those who don’t follow the language. Just with the context and his acting, you would be able to connect well. So please do enjoy these bits.
- Dasharatham (1989)
This was an unusual script for a movie those times, from the combination of Lohithadas (scriptwriter), Sibi Malayil (Director) and Mohanlal, that had given so many popular movies. Mohanlal is a prodigal son of a rich father, whose wife left him after the son was born, so he doesn’t value any relationships. He has a drink buddy (Nedumudi Venu) who isn’t rich, and once when he chanced upon his family, he realises what family values are and how they bond with each other. Particularly impressed by one of the kids, whom he wanted to adopt, he asks Venu over a drink, if he could take the boy with him. His friend suddenly gets offended and tells him, he couldn’t sell his son and that he wouldn’t understand the values of relationships. The way Mohanlal struggles with broaching the subject and looks innocent when Venu tells him that in the scene is remarkable
- Lalsalam (1990-91)
This was a movie based on the life story of a few communist leaders during the original communist movement in Kerala. Once the government was formed, two of the comrades, who were also married to each other, became ministers, and the third (Mohanlal) was asked to take leave from the party because he started doing business. In this scene, the wife who is Home Minister (the character Sethu, inspired by K.R.Gowriamma and played by Geetha) summons Mohanlal (Nettooraan) whom she accuses of being an accomplice to her husband’s (Industries minister) illicit relationship with another lady and Mohanlal tries to explain the situation. The way he delivers the dialogue in this scene is unparalleled and the director Venu Nagavalli said, when he raises his voice at the end, the grills on the windows of the room were shaking, while the shooting was on…
- Midhunam (1995-96)
A family entertainer, this was the story of a struggling entrepreneur who is trying to put a start-up, but got recently married to his childhood romance, and unable to manage to make both ends meet, while also having the burden of a joint family. His wife (Urvashi) still lives in the pre-marriage romantic dream life, unwilling to reconcile with the harsh realities of the married life and the struggles he goes through. This is the climax scene when he explodes and see how he becomes the character in full. There is one dialogue where he says – “You live in heaven, while I live on earth” to highlight the zameen aasmaan ka fark between them. And then adds, “for a guy who is helpless to sell his wristwatch to have one glass of tea, where is love and romance?” A touch misogynistic, he plays the role to perfection in this scene and throughout in the movie.
- Mayamayooram (1993)
A tragic movie where he plays double role of polar differences, the first half character is one of the most entertaining that he had done. Here he trolls Revathi, coming in disguise and acts like a yokel from interior Kerala. His mannerisms and accent is just perfect to the region, Pattambi, that he says he hails from. And then just when she gets dropped, he drops a cue – “Hey Kabhi, Kabhi”, because she sang that song in a function, and that is from when he has been stalking and trolling her. She runs back to catch him and he escapes to reappear again to make up with her. The “chammal”, (embarrassment) during confession is so uniquely his.
- Pavithram (1994)
Another unusual script of an elder brother who sacrifices his whole life for a kid sister who was born to his parents at their old age by accident, and both the parents pass away. He sacrifices his own love life and career for bringing up the little girl, and brings her up very strictly and conventionally. When the girl turns into teenage, she finds him restrictive, so breaks free and goes to the eldest brother who doesn’t have kids and is living in the city. This is the last scene where the eldest brother returns with the girl, after they realise, Mohanlal had been mentally affected and is not normal anymore after the departure of the girl. They come to see him, still living in those days thinking the girl is still young, and goes about acting busy mending her needs. He doesn’t even take cognisance when she arrives, as he still lives in the times when she was a young girl. The scene where he asks two kids passing by, “Where is Meenakshi?” (the name of his sister) even when Meenakshi is standing next to him is very touching. Many psychiatrists who saw this movie, later said, his mannerisms and gesticulations are almost of real life patients, and were surprised to note he had not observed any of those, before doing the shot!
- Manichitrathazhu (1994-95)
From a patient to a doctor, here he comes as a psychiatrist himself, and in this scene he is struggling hard to explain the disease of his friend’s wife to him. This was an iconic movie, which was then remade into Chandramukhi and Bhool Bhulaiya, but none of them would ever match the original and Dr.Sunny (Mohanlal).
- Varavelpu (1989)
A movie that created ripples in Kerala, that is plagued with the ills of trade unionism. Mohanlal who is a Gulf returnee, starts running a private bus service with his hard earned money and the movie shows the struggles of a budding entrepreneur in Kerala, from the expectations of family, society, the hurdles put up by administration and bureaucracy, the militant trade unionism, all of which finally conspire to force him close down his business and return to Gulf. During the Global Investor Meet in Kochi in 1999, the then Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, invoked this movie and said, a decade later, the situation is still the same in Kerala which will make it difficult for investors to come to the State. Here is a typical scene from the movie, where the Labour officer is mediating between Trade Union leaders and Bus Owners on the prevailing crisis due to the showdown between Mohanlal and Trade Unionists and Lal beautifully brings out the struggles he faces, through his dialogues and acting
- Company – Hindi (2002)
Perhaps this was the movie that made the whole of North India to sit up and look closely at Mohanlal, thanks to Ram Gopal Verma. As the iconic Police commissioner, his introduction in the movie, when Malik (Ajay Devgn) and Chandu (Vivek Oberoi) meet him is one of the most impactful scenes. Later, Devgn and Oberoi, were heaping praises on Lal’s acting skills, and said the natural way he was rolling the paper weight with his fingers was so aesthetic, they used to watch him do that, and forget their lines, so many re-takes had to be done to complete the shot.
There are many more gems like Mohanlal that I can go on. But these are just a few glimpses of his abundant talent. May God bless him with long life, health for him to continue to entertain us with even more mesmerising performances.