Rajamanikyam (2005) and Pranchiyettan and the Saint (2010) are two important films in Mammootty’s career. Both films saw Mammootty’s unmatched knack to master any accent (if former had Trivandrum slang, latter had Thrissur). They also showcased the actor’s fine ability to remould himself to get into the skin of the character. Still the hallmark of these two performances was that Mammootty handled comedy expertly like never before.
Mammootty’s comic timing had a renewed finesse compared to his past years – whether it was when Rajaselvam (Manoj K Jayan) shouts at his character Bellari Raja in Rajamanikyam or when Pranchi gets stuck on the word “Poorangalude” during his speech on stage in Pranchiyettan and the Saint. What makes it even more special is that the actor was 54 whenRajamanikyam released and 59 when Pranchiyettan and the Saint came out.
This pretty much sums up Mammootty's career. His contemporary, Mohanlal might find bulk of his best works in late ‘80s and ‘90s. Whereas for Mammootty, it is rather spread evenly across the years since his first lead role in 1980. This shows how the actor has consistently worked on his weaknesses and found a way to reinvent himself over the years. But if this fact is not perceptible to an average viewer, it is because Mammootty himself dilutes the impact by mixing it up with a lot of average to below average movies.
Take a look at what Mammootty had been capable of after he turned 50. In Rajamanikyam when he gave one of our biggest blockbusters, his energy was infectious. His deadpan dialogue delivery style in Big B became a trendsetter. His portrayals of the meek Madhavan in Kaazcha or the callous Ahmed Haji in Palerimanikyam Oru Pathirakolapathakathinte Katha both won him Kerala state awards. Those were further testimonials to his range that was intact.
In Katha Parayumbol, he turned the movie graph almost entirely with his cameo. In Pranchiyettan and the Saint, it’s amusing how even for a comedy, his performance is quite distinct from any other character he has done. For an actor who is usually expressive, Mammootty restrained himself wonderfully to keep us guessing what CK Raghavan’s true self is in Munnariyippu. In Pathemari's climax, Pallikkal Narayanan speaks gently with a smile on his face, but Mammootty brings to the fore once again his gift to bring the audience to tears. All these movies came out after his age of 50.
As a performer, Mammootty has aged like fine wine. But Mammootty’s biggest undoing is his choice of movies as a Superstar. The actor does so many movies in a short span that when many of them turn out average, which is the case of late, it looks worse. If we look at stats, Mammootty has done 47 movies since 2010. Mohanlal also has a fair share of poor movies. But he has still done 10 movies less than Mammootty in this period.
Till Pathemari in 2015, Mammootty at least used to effectively balance the commercial and art house movies. This meant he left behind memorable performances most years. The actor had a habit of knocking on the doors at the state awards frequently. But the juries instead preferred youngsters. It is possible that the rejection at state awards, especially for Munnariyippu, could be playing on the actor’s mind and has affected his choice of movies recently.
The graph in the last two-and-a-half years, therefore, looks bleaker with no offbeat releases and The Great Father arguably the only decent outing. The actor is 66 years old now but still looks a lot younger than his age. Ironically, this is also the actor’s bane. Filmmakers spend time in highlighting the actor’s looks and style in movies to please the fans with an eye at the box-office. As a result, the narrative often takes a back seat.
Even in The Great Father, the actor is in fine form when he is helpless and distraught after what happened to his daughter. But when he seeks revenge, you wonder why a dejected father would walk in slow motion and in style. Such slow-motion walks couldn't be done away with in Puthiya Niyamam too, where he plays the husband of a rape victim.
In Puthan Panam, you might have been glad to see him sporting grey hair. But he ends up flying in the air while doing stunts, making no sense to the character that he plays. This was also the case in Parole which released last week. Thoppil Joppan is an apt example where it all goes wrong the moment he signs such mediocre scripts and there is nothing left to salvage with his acting.
Kasaba had scenes which the actor could have said ‘no’ to. Except for a free Europe tour, you don’t see any reason for Mammootty to sign a movie like White. The less said about Masterpiece, the better. In Street Lights, Mammootty gelled well with other characters in a multi-narrative story. But then it is awkward when he has to address the character played by Neena Kurup as “Aunty”, because you are aware how much older Mammootty is than the female actor.
Mammootty's gift to handpick fine debuting directors also doesn’t seem to work like before. It is unfortunate that we are treated to ordinary stuff by our favourite actor here when his Tamil movie Peranbu, which is long overdue now, is screened only in international film festivals.
Even now the actor surprisingly has no plans to slow down. Mammootty has so many projects lined up - the big budgeted Kunjali Marakkar and Maamankam, the sequels to Big B and Pokkiri Raja, the game thriller that was announced few days back, other movies like Kuttanadan Blog, Uncle, Abrahaminte Santhathikal, Yathra(Telugu) and so on. What such small gaps between movies do is it dampens the excitement with which you look forward to a Superstar movie release.
But Mammootty has the habit of making stellar returns from setbacks. Who can forget his smashing act in New Delhi (1987) which put an end to one of his most difficult phases and made him the Superstar he is today. Only that New Delhi neither had any daredevil stunts, nor any focus on his looks or attire. It just had powerful characterization, aided by terrific acting.
You wish Mammootty could approach movies similarly with a keen eye for scripts and the weight of his stardom off from his back. Because if Mammootty “the superstar” can make the right choices, Mammootty “the performer” still has enormous possibilities to offer.