Puzhu's Kuttan to Joji's Jomon: Nine captivating men of Malayalam cinema since 2020

Ranging from a devoted single father carrying the hateful weight of caste superiority to a supervillain who has loved and lost, here are some male characters of Malayalam cinema who have enthralled us since 2020.
Mammootty in Puzhu
Mammootty in Puzhu
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Having picked some of Malayalam cinema’s most intriguing female characters since 2018, we now dwell on some fascinating male characters who have enthralled us since 2020. The lineup is long, ranging from a devoted single father carrying the hateful weight of caste superiority to a supervillain who has loved and lost, but we have filtered them to nine. Here are our picks.

Kuttan (Puzhu)

In reality, he is a nameless character, addressed as Oppe, Kuttan, or Achan by those close to him. Dressed nattily in well-pressed checked cotton shirts and trousers, Kuttan lives in a suburban apartment with his only adolescent son. Initially, nothing really gives him away. A former police officer, he is a devoted single father, who still mourns his deceased wife and seems to be an amiable family man. But it soon dawns on us that the squeaky-clean exterior is just a façade that hides a volatile toxic parent, an Islamophobic man, and a classist and a casteist who disowns his sister for marrying a Dalit man.

As the story progresses, the man starts to untangle with an exponential rapidity. From his controlling parenting ways to his manipulative nature and utter disregard for humanity, Kuttan’s moral disintegration is chilling to witness. What makes Kuttan so relevant in Ratheena PT’s debut directorial Puzhu is that he is played by megastar Mammootty, who has previously glorified such savarna Hindu heroes, hinged with patriarchy and chastity, on screen. But this time, Kuttan is subtly taken to task.

Major Unnikrishnan (Varane Avashyamundu)

It is endearing to watch a 50-something retired Army officer behaving like a 15-year-old school boy on the throes of his first crush, on seeing his beautiful middle-aged neighbour. Major Unnikrishnan lives in the company of a ferocious Labrador, and can easily trounce a gang of rowdies. But it is his soft, gentle side that catches you off guard. There is also a little boy in him who still misses his mother, is socially awkward, listens to old Malayalam romantic melodies, seeks therapy, and is momentarily left speechless whenever he meets Neena (Shobana), his neighbour. 

How heartwarming is it to see a man who isn’t afraid to be vulnerable and sensitive on screen. That the role is played by a superstar (Suresh Gopy), who has manifested many alpha male, bombast-spouting police officers on screen, makes this character turn even more interesting in this Anoop Sathyan’s Varane Avashyamundu.

Vinod (Dear Friend

Vinod (Tovino Thomas) is easily the life of any party. He is the fixer and mediator among his friends. He accompanies a much-in-love couple to negotiate with one of their fathers. He stays by a friend and helps him through a horrible hangover. He rescues animals and strikes business deals smoothly. Essentially, Vinod is the kind of friend that every friend group wants.

So imagine their shock when they find out that he was conning them all along, and that their time with him was simply a standby until he found his next refuge. Even when faced with the hurt and betrayal he had caused others, he remains remorseless. Considering cinema has always celebrated a certain kind of friendship, Vinod, who leads Dear Friend directed by Vineeth Kumar, is an oddity, 

Joymon (Jan.E.Man)

Jan.E.Man’s Joymon invites sympathy and mockery in equal measure. While working as a nurse in Canada, he would drunk dial friends to vent about his loneliness. When he finally takes leave and goes home, he is determined to celebrate his birthday in the most loud and inane way possible. He knows the world ridicules him, yet continues with his unpleasant and erratic behaviour, while being surrounded by “friends” who all want something out of him. He knows they are using him, but even so, he is so desperate for their company that he lets them do it. 

Joymon spends lavishly and ridiculously, but that is also keeping his friends nearby. Directed by Chidambaram, Basil Joseph seems to be born to play Joymon.

Jomon Panachel (Joji)

In the Dileesh Pothan directorial Joji, Jomon is an alcoholic and divorcee with not a single dishonest bone in his body. In a family headlined by a controlling patriarch, and his three sons, the eldest Jomon is the only one his father trusts. His love for his father is as deep as the ocean, and he is so pure-hearted that he doesn’t even suspect any simmering tension between his brothers and father. No one looking at this giant of a man will foresee a sensitive and naïve soul, who wishes well for everyone. 

For Babu Raj, portraying this gentle giant of a man is quite a departure from the roles he has essayed in Malayalam cinema till date, and he makes a meal of it.

Vijayan (Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam)

Vijayan, played by Manoj KU, is the proverbial patriarch of his family in the Senna Hegde directorial Thinkalazhcha Nishchayam. He is the father of two adult daughters. And lately, things haven’t really been going according to plan for him, especially after his eldest one married against his wishes. For someone who resides in a tiny village in north Kerala, where everyone knows too much about each other, he considers his daughter’s betrayal as a deep cut on his ego. Suddenly, it seems very important that he reclaim his patriarchal fiefdom by arranging his second daughter’s marriage to a groom of his choice. But when even that best plan goes for a toss, Vijayan shows his aggression in a passive manner, his male ego bruised beyond repair, as he struggles to uphold his patriarchy in front of his family. 

Vijayan’s role fundamentally remains that of a provider, protector and patriarch. He would rather snatch his daughters’ agency than step down from this high force, a very familiar presence in most Indian families.  

Magistrate (Nna Thaan Case Kodu)

He nibbles almonds, gulps down pressure pills during trials, is immensely pleased with flattery, and is fond of the pigeons nesting on the roof of the court. The Magistrate in Nna Thaan Case Kodu, directed by Ratheesh Balakrishnan Poduval, is nothing like any judge we have ever seen on celluloid. He has a whacky sense of humour, puts presumptuous lawyers in their place, and is particularly harsh to those who consider themselves above law. So when a poor ex-thief approaches the court of law seeking justice, it doesn’t take much time for us to figure out that the Magistrate is sneakily on his side. Played by debutant PP Kunhikrishnan, this Magistrate has a ball in court! 

Shibu (Minnal Murali)

In Minnal Murali (directed by Basil Joseph), when lightning simultaneously strikes Jason and a poor man who works at a tea shop, the contradiction in how the superpower is generated has to be seen to be believed. For Shibu, who has always been treated with disdain by the villagers, it is time for payback.

But he is also someone who is madly in love with his school sweetheart, Usha, who has returned to the village after a bad marriage. If coveting the woman he loves means destroying lives, Shibu (Guru Somasundaram) is ready to do that. Strangely, despite his transition into a destructive evil power, you feel an overwhelming sense of pity for the man who loved and lost.

Peter (Bheeshma Parvam)

In the words of Mammootty’s Michael in Bheeshma Parvam, Peter is reckless, greedy, arrogant and spoiled. He hates Michael’s authority, but is too cowardly to confront him. So he takes the easier route — he sides with Michael’s enemies to overthrow him. Peter is an abusive spouse, snorts cocaine, squanders the family wealth, and openly makes passes at his film’s hero. 

In this Amal Neerad directorial, Shine Tom Chacko imbibes Peter with such a maniacal intensity that every time he comes on screen, fireworks seem to erupt.

Neelima Menon has worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade. She has covered Hindi and Malayalam cinema for The New Indian Express and has worked briefly with Silverscreen.in. She now writes exclusively about Malayalam cinema, contributing to Fullpicture.in and thenewsminute.com. She is known for her detailed and insightful features on misogyny and the lack of representation of women in Malayalam cinema.


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