I don’t remember precisely, but in the German film Gloomy Sunday (1999 – Director Rolf Schübel), there is a scene of the birthday of the central character Ilona Varnai. Her lover László Szabó comes with a beautiful cake and says, “Angels won’t get aged. Still they’ll have birthdays to drink wine and eat cake.” We do have only one angel. He may not drink wine (or eat cake). But I do. Cheers for his birthday!
Mammootty. It’s not only the short form for the name Muhammad Kutty, but also the meeting point of the Malayali milieu. This is their pride, happiness, love, emotions, dreams and a lot more. I am one of them — a proud Mammootty fan.
I have known him from one word from my primary classes, elegance. I never had confusion about the word’s meaning since then.
Mammootty not only represents the Malayali imagination of prosperity and politics, but is also the representative of the Malayali idea of men. He is the symbol of an aspiring middle-class family — one we never had in the past. He is the brother, lover, father, son, friend, husband, relative, officer, worker and even the revolutionary hero we never had, but desperately longed for.
He is sometimes controlling, chauvinist, egoistic, jingoist, patriarchal or misogynistic just like many other Mallu males. We fight, love, adore, dispute, squabble and admire him. We may have issues with him, but he is there. Always.
He could easily portray Dr. Ambedkar (Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar–2000, Dir. Jabbar Patel) and CBI investigator Sethurama Iyyer (CBI series- 1988 to 2005) with so much conviction. He was totally brilliant in the roles of Murikkinkunnathu Ahamad Haji (Paleri Manikyam, Oru pathira kolapathakathinte katha-2009, Dir. Ranjith) and an intellectually challenged ‘Puttu’ Urumees (Soorya Manasam-1992, Dir Viji Thambi).
It is amazing to see that in the same year of 1994, he had transformed into two extremely opposite characters, ‘Ponthan’ Mada and Baskara Patelar. Mada of Pothan Mada (Dir. TV Chandran) was set in the 1940s and it’s a story about a downtrodden Dalit man’s life in caste dominated society of Kerala.
Baskara Pattelar of Vidheyan (Dir. Adoor Gopalakrishnan) is a vastly varied character with different political and social backdrop. Patelar is a cruel, feudal landlord of far Northern Kerala which was not even a part of erstwhile Malabar. Patelar was everything opposite to Mada. But it was considered as an easy act.
We witness this in 1989, too. Hariharan did a fantastic period drama out of MT’s script, named Oru Vadakkan Veeragadha. It is considered a cult film and Mammootty’s portrayal of Chandu as an ill-fated protagonist was an instant hit. Chandu is a fierce warrior and a desperate lover. Fragile and agile. Furious and placid. Ferocious and submissive. Chandu was totally safe and handsome with Mammootty.
Some of the rare male body gazing in Malayalam cinema happened in that film with beautiful songs and picturisation. In the same year we saw him as Basheer in Mathilukal. Basheer (Vaikom Muhammed Basheer) of Mathilukal is a docile human being jailed as a freedom fighter. In his lonely life he happens to be friendly with a woman of another prison. The women’s prison was in the other part of the jail and there was a wall in between. The wall was the problem, but it also was a tool for love. Two kinds of love and two kinds of manifestations. Totally two different men, of course. But Mammootty was absolutely apt in both roles.
Those four roles are just examples. In hundreds of roles, he has been appropriate and convincing. His six feet, trim body could adapt to any role. He was chosen for Dr. Ambedkar. If somebody makes a film about the great revolutionary reformist and epidemiologist Dr. Palpu, their first choice would be Mammootty without an iota of doubt.
At the same time, he can be one of the icons of the Travancore Hindu dynasty, Anantha Padmanabhan Valiya Padathalavan. He could play anyone who is a part of Kerala’s history. Because he always was real. His name, his physique, his talents. All were real. Nothing unusual or unearthly about it.
GK of New Delhi (1987) and Vasu of Ahimsa (1981) were extremely different, but were representatives of Malayali imaginations. GK of New Delhi and Balan Mash of Thaniyavarthanam were shot in the same year. Psychologically, physiologically and even sociologically those characters represent two worlds. But Mammootty had no issues playing them convincingly.
Star vs actor
Have you watched Varunni (Mrigaya-1989, Dir, IV Sasi) or Achootty (Amaram-1991, Dir.Bharathan) or Vidyadharan (Bhoothakkannadi-1997, Dir.Lohidadas)? You won’t see Mammootty there. You may just see less fortunate human beings. Since Yavanika (1982, Dir KG George) Mammootty played hundreds of investigative officers. Have you seen anything in common? No. They were different people except Sethuramayyar of the CBI series.
Nobody can believe that he has played such a mellowed down role of the journalist Balachandran in Utharam (Dir. Pavithran) just after the loud performance of Chandu, of Vadakkan Veeragadha. But that is him.
After 2000, he became young and fashionable. Rajamanikyam (Dir. Anwar Rasheed) of 2005 was a trendsetter. In 2007 he was on the big screen as Big B (Dir.Amal Neerad). He got several important roles after 2000 which eventually won awards and critical applause. But in the last two decades, he set himself up as a versatile superstar, too. There was fun and beauty to watch.
So many young directors started their careers with Mammootty films. Some of them are not young anymore. But Mammootty is. You might have heard the story of Puru and Yayati. All fans including these directors want Mammootty to play more young roles. Because he is unbeatable.
I am a lifetime Mammootty fan. There are great artists in the Malayalam film industry. In the last decades, we had Gopi, Thilakan, (Nedumudi) Venu and Mohanlal with their dynamic and unequivocal performances. I may put Mammootty with Gopi in the front row without any doubt. Both capable of doing totally different roles. Artists who bring enthusiasm to the roles.
We have heard Mammootty reading parts of Basheer’s writing in his famous, lovely, deep and elegant voice for a book publishing house. He might have done it as not a celebrity advertisement model, just as an ordinary, modest, Basheer-buff. It doesn’t mean that he is a player of his own voice. Over these years, Mammootty might have achieved a unique position among artists with his voice modulation. He has absolute command over his voice and dubbing. Love, hatred, command, plea, desire, disgust and prayer are illustrious in that voice.
This could be a never-ending essay, but you have to hear his voice. Be softened with his charming voice. Be aroused by his tender voice. Be motivated by his revolutionary voice. Be safe with his resilient voice. But it’s always different.
Just as his roles of like Baskara Patelar, Dr Ambedkar, Murikkunkunnathu Ahmad Haji, Varunni , Kunjachan, Bilal, Manikyam, Basheer, Achootty, Amudan and Pranchi. If these characters cross paths, they can’t even recognise each other. They won’t even sound alike.
That’s Mammootty. The great Indian artist. Cheers to him.
(The author of this article is an independent writer.)