Mohanlal -- Padma awardee, National Award winner, actor -- is turning 60. One wonders how a legend of Malayalam cinema celebrates his birthday, especially in these trying times. But however he may chose to mark the occasion, Malayalees and fans of Malayalam cinema honour Lalettan's talent every day, singing paeans to his prodigious talent and watching awestruck as he lights up the screen.
Even his less acclaimed performances testify to the charismatic actor's brilliant screen presence. On his birthday, we pay tribute by taking a look at some of his underrated performances.
Aham (1992): Directed by Rajeev Nath and written by Venu Nagavally, Aham features Mohanlal as a man with schizoaffective disorder. He is a banker who is unusually picky about how the staff should work. It is after his marriage to Ranjini (Urvashi) that some of his behavioural patterns begin to look problematic. Interestingly, the relationship they share is intensely loving despite his behaviour, with the naïve Ranjini brushing aside some of his idiosyncrasies with a giggle.
It is a mental health condition marked by delusions, hallucinations, disorganised speech, and thoughts. Mohanlal puts his own spin to the performance, bringing out the nuances, bordering on humour, insanity and helplessness with a subtlety that makes us empathise with him. Then of course, the magical chemistry between him and Urvashi was on full display too. But it is only after the social media explosion that Aham’s Sidharthan became a point of discussion even among his die-hard fans. Watch it on YouTube.
Ayal Kadha Ezhuthukayanu (1998): Sagar Kottappuram is a pulp fiction writer, who also thinks he is writing trash and has no idea why his cheesy formulaic stories are so popular. For any actor, the role is a thin line—it has to be over-top but just enough so that we laugh with his wackiness than at him.
And for Mohanlal, who rarely steps out of the zone of the natural and subtle, Sagar Kottappuram is way off the mark. But, the actor singlehandedly pulls back the otherwise middling, regressive film into something singularly entertaining (though only till the interval) with his insanely energetic act—balancing an alcoholic and a popular pulp fiction writer with finesse. Written by Sreenivasan and directed by Kamal, it is one film literally saved by a performance. Watch it on Hotstar.
Sukhamo Devi (1986): Venu Nagavally’s seminal work, which is also partly biographical, has two love stories running parallelly. There is Nandan (Shankar) and Devi (Urvashi) and there is Sunny (Mohanlal) and Thara (Geetha). If the former couple has a conventional romance, the latter gleefully make a song and dance out of it.
Sunny lives up to his name—all sunshine and laughter, the life of every party, model lover and friend. And the signs are ominous—the happiness that precedes an impending doom. So, it seems natural that Sunny’s death shakes the core of the narrative and almost leaves it lifeless. Mohanlal is charming as Sunny, whose infectious joie de vivre makes it impossible for the audience to not be affected by his untimely demise. Sunny is the body and soul of Sukhamo Devi, and a prediction to the popularity of Mohanlal. Watch it on Hotstar.
Padamudra (1988): Mohanlal’s first dual role has him playing a debauched father and a son who is carrying the burden of his father’s past misdeeds. Written and directed by R Sukumaran, the narrative is set in the backdrop of a village where a young man is constantly reminded of being an illegitimate child and his mother ridiculed.
The film oscillates between the past and the present, with Mohanlal catching the variations of the dual character with impeccable nuance, be it the anger, self-loathing and vulnerability simmering in the son or the lasciviousness and cockiness of the father. Watch it on YouTube.
Rangam (1985): Much before the feted Vanaprastham, Mohanlal did this little known underrated MT Vasudevan Nair-scripted, IV Sasi-directed film in the backdrop of Kathakali, where the actor played a gentle Kathakali artiste who takes a young classical dancer under his wings, only to fall in love with her. But the love is never returned as she falls for a fellow student.
The film ends with the guru exacting revenge for the shishya who gets cheated on by her partner. While there are only a few instances when he slips on the Kathakali costume, since the narrative is less about the profession and more about the character's personal journey, Mohanlal aces the role of the unrequited lover who carries a torch for the lady. And the actor’s transition is more internal, letting us buy into his vocation as a Kathakali dancer effortlessly. Watch it on YouTube.
Ulsavapittennu (1988): Directed by Bharat Gopy and written by John Paul, Ulsavapittennu is set in a dysfunctional Nair tharavadu. There is an elder brother, who desperately throws around his money to regain their lost glory, a disinterested wife, a loyal old housekeeper, and a young lonely younger brother who is treated indifferently.
In a largely gloomy narrative, what brings some cheer and perhaps holds the film together is Mohanlal’s timid but lovable Aniyan Thampuran. He misses his mother, is hungry for attention and love, and is powerless to react to people who belittle him. Aniyan’s character goes through various upheavals but remains the same old kind spirit at heart. Mohanlal wields Aniyan with an innocence that is heartbreakingly honest, making us invest in the character's intrinsic lovability. Therefore, the utter trauma of watching the character kill himself takes a while for us to get over. Watch it on YouTube.
Pranayam (2011): Written and directed by Blessy, Pranayam is about the beauty of second chances as providence brings together three middle-aged individuals who share a history of love, heartbreak and pain, resulting in a strange, beautiful friendship. There is Achutha Menon (Anupam Kher) who on a visit to his son and family, runs into his former wife, Grace (Jayapradha) and her husband, Mathews. Mathews is in a wheelchair but it hasn't deterred his love affair with life and Grace. Their romance is a sight for sore eyes.
It's an unusual love story and one of the high points will remain Mohanlal's Mathews, who doesn't even for a second allow us to pity him. The actor convinces us that there is a free-spirited man inside that semi-paralyzed body who holds no grudges to the world and loves his wife unconditionally. Not a performance that comes up when his fans talk about their favourites. Watch it on MX Player.