Forty years ago a young actor made his screen debut in the role of a villain that the audience loved to hate in Manjil Virinja Pookkal. It did not take the movie camera long to fall in love with that rare talent.
That incredibly gifted actor, Mohanlal, turns 60 on May 21. It is an irony that he has reached a major milestone in his life at a time when cinemas across the world are closed in the wake of the COVID-19-induced lockdown.
In these times of social distancing, Mohanlal may not be able to celebrate his birthday in the presence of too many people, but the occasion will give him time to reflect on a remarkable career. It is a career that has given joy to so many and showed the world how much difference an actor could make to the art of filmmaking. Only a few Indian actors have been admired so much. Fewer have deserved such respect. Still fewer have made acting an art of such nuances.
Remember Mohanlal’s expression in Iruvar when he sees Aishwarya Rai auditioning with a dance sequence for the first time? Remember the look on his face when he is forced to murder a young girl in Sadayam? Or any of those moments he shared with Jagathy Sreekumar in Kilukkam.
Many of Mohanlal’s blockbusters have been laced with humour such as Kilukkam, and his unparalleled skill at comedy may have played a big role in making him one of Malayalam cinema’s most loved actors. That, of course, is only one part of him.
One of his strengths lies in acting out a man’s intense emotions in most trying situations. He does that, making you forget he is acting at all.
There is a naturalness to his acting that you would find in very few actors. In Indian cinema, the only mainstream hero that would resemble Mohanlal is probably the late Sanjeev Kumar, who too was brilliant at subtle comedy even as he excelled emotional scenes.
Unlike him, Mohanlal has also been able to become one of the biggest superstars of all time. His stardom — like that of Mammootty — encouraged the directors and scriptwriters to make artistic cinema for the mainstream.
That perhaps is his biggest contribution to Malayalam cinema.