If he played the drunken jealous musician in ‘Bharathan’, he turned into an elderly old patriarch in ‘His Highness Abdullah’ and then a funny uncle in ‘Chithram’.

A collage of different characters played by Nedumudi - as the old man in His Highness, as one wearing a towel on his head, as a young man and so on against a dark background
Flix Mollywood Monday, October 11, 2021 - 19:35

When he can’t find his voice on a stage for a kutcheri, Raman is upset and looks helplessly around. His younger brother, sitting behind him with the thampuru, takes over, in a bid to save their face; but Raman looks more humiliated than relieved. He walks away in a puff, his face a contorted mess. Raman’s face must have changed expression half a dozen times in those few minutes. It is one of the most memorable characters of Nedumudi Venu, playing the drunken musician who grows jealous of his brother. Bharatham won both Nedumudi Venu and Mohanlal – who played the brother – state awards, the former getting a special jury mention, the latter the best male actor recognition.

Nedumudi died on Monday, after suddenly taking ill, leaving his colleagues and admirers shocked and short of words. Out of the 500 odd films he did – mostly in Malayalam, a few in Tamil – Nedumudi’s performance stood out in almost all of them, making it hard to fit him into a certain kind of role. For he did them all – the good guy, the funny man, the villain. He always seemed game to experiment, the last of his performances coming in Malayalam and Tamil anthologies in those COVID-19 days of OTT releases.

Among all the myriad characters, a few like Raman of Bharatham, perhaps stick stronger than others.

Udayavarma of His Highness Abdullah – Nedumudi got his first national award for this character, as best supporting actor (male). He was only 42 at the time but he played an aged patriarch – head of an erstwhile royal family, with his long grey hair tied into a knot on the side the way kings of Kerala did in the old days. His large family wants him killed for money and hires a Muslim singer called Abdullah (Mohanlal) to do the job. Nedumudi always plays a man passionate of music so really well, his real life tastes coming to the fore. His opening up to Abdullah, impersonated as a Hindu man in the court, is so moving you’d want to extend a hand to help out the old man.

Ravunni Nair of Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam – Nedumudi must have played more aged characters than any of his contemporaries at one period. In this 1987 film, when he is not even 40, he plays a retired old teacher, living with his retired teacher wife (Sarada). A childless couple, their anxieties grow when they suddenly find themselves playing guardian to a teenage girl (Parvathy) who comes to stay with them. Nedumudi plays the more anxious ‘parent’ and convincingly pulls off the tense, worried, short-tempered old man, getting easily agitated with just about everyone. It brought him a best actor award from the state.

Rajasekharan Thampi of Santhwanam – This is another old man character and perhaps only Nedumudi can so effortlessly get such characters to lead the show. Rajasekharan is grumpy, stubborn and very difficult to deal with. Only Nedumudi could make him endearing with his many emotions coming to play on the screen as the granddaughter (Meena) comes home from his long estranged son and daughter in law.

Sreekrishnan of Thenmavin Kombathu -  Mohanlal and Nedumudi have had quite a few combinations in the 1990s, all of which were commendable both by performance and characterisation. Here the duo are master and servant but treating each other like siblings or friends. When there is a misunderstanding between the two, Nedumudi shows his easy versatility, transforming from the friendly man on the screen to a villainous character.

Chellappanasari of Thakara – This is believed to be the role that made people take note of the new actor on the block. Nedumudi played a lecherous character in the film, his crooked smile and glances totally in contrast with the nice old man characters we discussed above. If you needed a man to turn from a despicable villain to a fragile character between his movies, and just as easily to a comedian, Nedumudi was your best bet.

Adv Purushothama Kaimal of Chithram – We have been saying he’s funny for long and here is one of the best examples for it. It is not slapstick comedy, except, well, he does get a slap from a white man for putting his head into someone else’s business and asking “sayipe what happened” too many times. This is yet another combination with Mohanlal, but which will have you laughing for most part of it. There is a popular scene of Mohanlal’s character threatening to walk away from his job if he weren’t paid on time. Nedumudi as Kaimal looks unmoved as Mohanlal keeps bargaining.

Ameer of Kabooliwala - It is a short character, making an appearance in the beginning of the film as the Kabooliwala. He plays a wretched dad, worried sick over his dying son, plays the clarinet into the sad night and then goes away with another little boy. Nedumudi spoke little in the film but memories of his brief and painful appearance stay with the film till the end. 

Nicholas of Orkkappurathu - Yet another combination with Mohanlal, Nedumudi plays with elan a rogue of a dad, thieving with his son, squabbling with him like a friend, and drinking like a fish. It is one of his adorable dad characters, perhaps reminiscent of the kind Anupam Kher played to Shah Rukh Khan in the 90s.

Appu Nair of Oru Katha Oru Nunakkatha - Nedumudi played the lead character along with Mammootty in the film. His character leads the story, befitting the title – cooking up lies after lies to woo a woman (Madhavi). Here, he transforms easily into an irritating cunning character with very little respect for women. You can never put Nedumudi into a box, he proves again.

Achyuthanunni of Rachana – It is sort of a reverse of the above film. Nedumudi’s paavam naïve character is lied to – a lot -- by a couple, as an experiment. The couple is played by Srividya and Gopi both of whom won best actor awards for this film. Nedumudi in this film fits into the poor nice exploitable man that somehow comes most easily to him. 

Read: How Nedumudi Venu the journalist became an actor

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