KOCHU VARTHAMANAM: Found And Lost!
On Feb 29, 2012
There once was an actor, who seems to have disappeared now. He had entered the world of Malayalam movies as a raw young man, the suave villain in sun glasses, with shoulder length hair, bell bottoms, a collar the size of bath towels and spouting,
“Good Evening Mrs. Prabha Narendran!”
Stuff that history is made of. He went on to portray some pretty nasty villains before he slowly moved up the social ladder to play the hero’s well-meaning, sacrificing friend or younger brother before finally reaching the top rung. And what a hero he was!
He played the kind of heroes that you and I could run into any given day. Just look out your window and you could have seen the unfortunate house owner, umbrella tucked under his arm, hatching plots to get rid of his obstinate tenant. Answer the doorbell and you could meet the salesman struggling to support his typical middle class family while being crushed under the weight of his own education. He could be the contractor you saw, sweating it out by the roadside, tangled in vicious red tape or the hapless Gulf-returnee struggling to make a life for himself in his homeland among scheming relatives. Or just a small time entrepreneur trying to make it on his own, struggling to stay sane in the midst of a clinging wife and blasé relatives. He could have been anyone you and I have come across several times in life.
He came up with some serious laugh riots that have significantly altered the Mallu gene; especially the comedy chromosome. Don’t believe me? Try saying, “In these days of degenerating decency,” in any Mallu crowd and you’ll have grown up men and women throw all decorum to the wind and weep in hysterical laughter and soon, everyone’s on auto pilot mode… kilometers and kilometers, chicken which end up doing yoga, the mother… err... father of all Ghurkhas, a certain professional assassin who meets his match in a certain pair of ‘CIDs’ ,….. to eventually end up with the inevitable, “Vattanalle?”
Then there were those movies, when his character silently entered your psyche and left you with something like a knife wound. Those are the characters that will never leave you. Understated acting, no, he lived those roles. When he silently and single handedly grieved the grief of an entire family, smiling through barely contained tears as he hid his brother’s death from a family celebrating the daughter’s wedding, you cried for him; when a cruel twist of fate, turns the promising son into a wanted criminal, you wept as he dropped his knife before a broken father; when the long arm of the law eventually caught up with him, just as he was beginning to enjoy that warm fuzzy feeling of love, family and belonging, after laying to rest the constant bickering with his ‘wife’, he begs the police officer if he could be spared the rope. At that moment,had it been in your power, you would have moved mountains to set him free; when realization dawns on the thwarted Kathakali artist that the high born lady had been in love with the character he played and not his lowly self, you wished you could erase away the pain in those shattered eyes. Vinod, Balachandra Menon, Sunny, Sathyanathan, Balan… you still cannot think of them without a heaviness in your heart and an inexplicable ache…
There were two monuments to love that only a master like Padmarajan could craft. Were you a young man in the eighties? No doubt you wanted to leave Biblical clues about your love for your girl. And Jaikrishnan and Clara had simply scorched your soul. He made you want to write letters to your love in rhythm with the pounding pulse of the monsoons…
And then came the feudal themmadi of them all. When Mangalassery Neelakantan, gold strapped watch on right hand, moustache twisted to a fine point and cloaked in absolute arrogance kicked up his heel to fold his mundu to ‘half-mast’, you were absolutely lost in the splendor of his machismo. You knew then and still know now, that no one else could carry off that role with such aplomb. What if he was a womanizing alcoholic with a thing for the arts? He could make you root for him. Neelakantan was larger than life. But it goes to the actor’s credit that he could make larger than life so believable!
Your heart swelled with pride to call yourself a Mallu. You basked in the reflected glory that came your way by virtue of sharing the linguistic lineage of one of the world’s finest actors. And did you notice that you recognized every one of the movies I mentioned here, despite the fact that I did not name a single one? That is the brilliance of the powerhouse named Mohanlal.
Enter the superhero characters and in effect, the fading of his star. These were simply puffed up hot air balloons, “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!”What’s with the weird get-ups, dialogue delivery that swayed between uncomfortably stiff and unnecessarily bombastic and unfunny punch lines that just grated on your nerves. Script? Plot? Logic? Throw them out the window!
What was it that caused his downfall? Was he carried away by his own magnificence or did he just start taking his admirers for granted? Whatever it was, the lovable man-next door had sold his soul for cringe-worthy performances that sent even loyal fans running for cover.
We want you back Laletta! I still believe that the brilliant actor of old still lurks somewhere deep beneath those hanging jowls, layers of flab and the ridiculous toupee, struggling to be set free. Laletta, please set him free. The parody of your former self that we see overflowing the screen these days is not you. This is a sincere appeal from a one-time fan. I would love to be your fan again… and when I say that, I am sure I speak for a million others.
Please come back! The evolving Malayalam film industry that seems to be reinventing itself again is sure to come up with some brilliant roles that only you can do justice to; roles in keeping with your rising age and receding hairline. In your own words,
"Make-uppinokke oru parimidhiyille?"
And if you come back, we’re even willing to forget that Casanovva ever existed.
PS: All you rabid fanboys out there. Hold the profanity in case you bother to comment. Yentha is a ‘family’ site. Please remember that kids visit it too.
Image Courtesy: thereelmag.in, tamilmovietracker.com, hellomohanlal.blogspot.com