An ‘anchor’ has always meant someone or something that grounds you or gives you direction. In a world where media and entertainment abounds - every day a new platform or a new show is born - there appears to be a very thin line between good and bad television. And very often we try to pick shows, listen to interviews, and engage with reality TV, based on who anchors that show.
Here’s our list of the best MCs - some old, some new - in Malayalam media, to help you choose better.
Rekha Menon (Asiaville): During an interview with actor Jayasurya, which was filmed on the terrace of his sprawling home in Kochi, while climbing the concrete stairs, Rekha confides in the actor that she is clumsy with steps and often slips on the ground. And as if on cue, she almost misses a step, inciting startled half-chuckles from the actor. It also leads to a more personal anecdote about their last interaction, hinting that they have been friends for a long time.
She opens her Parvathy interview by going back to their last meeting, at her home, on her birthday, sharing chips with her parents and listening to a Bhakti song from the nearby temple. With Rima Kallingal, it's their shared love for hometown Thrissur. It’s this effortless familiarity and a reputation that precedes her in the industry that perhaps makes Rekha Menon such a comforting presence for a celebrity. It goes without saying that the interviews are always easier to watch if she shares a history of friendship with them. But even with those whom she has probably just met, Rekha exudes an undeniably empathetic warmth. She gently coaxed the famously reclusive Lijo Jose Pellissery to lead her to a tour of his home and even got footage of Lijo brewing an instant cup of tea for her.
With Mohanlal and Dulquer Salmaan, though it was more decorous, she tried her best to tone down the formality. Her questions, while well-researched, are delicately and casually put forward to accommodate a more intimate space for the interviewer, which seldom goes wrong.
Dhanya Varma (Happiness Project): She sits on a couch, flawlessly turned out, speaks more English than Malayalam and an average Malayali would easily label her as a by-product of modern-day television snobbery.
But then nothing could be further from the truth, as Dhanya exudes a charm and compassion that make even the most evasive guest disclose the most intimate details about them. It can be a searing wounded memory of their past or about their spiritual side or just a prompt for them to take long pauses and contemplate about the life they have lived. Grace and dignity, thy name is Dhanya Varma.
Midhun Ramesh (Flowers TV): When a 6-year-old boy with bone marrow failure came on the show, perched on a nun’s arm, Midhun immediately took him in his arms with a tender smile and made him recite one song after another. He explained to the audience how his parents were forced to abandon him as they couldn’t afford to treat him. After the last song was sung, a small crowd assembled on stage, who, we were told, was the boy’s adopted family.
A visibly moved Midhun first appealed to his parents to take him back and a little later told the boy that he really shouldn’t miss having them around when he has so many people to love him. No one watching the actor-turned-anchor would accuse him of staging an act, as it’s his empathy and whole-hearted appreciation for the contestants that really drive the show. He turns a gentle pat into an applause, pumps up their self-confidence and treats every performer who comes on the Comedy Ulsavam stage like a king/queen. That apart Midhun is a natural as an emcee, taking over the crowd with a geniality and a rare ability to laugh at himself.
Maneesh Narayanan (The Cue): Crisp, on point, well-researched academic questions, journalist Maneesh Narayanan, who is also the founder of The Cue, an online news platform, takes his film interviews very seriously. In fact, rarely do we find television/online video interviews about film actors and directors treated with such educative precision at a time when promotional/fun interviews are the norm.
From a detailed backgrounder about their process, politics and record, Maneesh gives the impression of being deeply interested in his subject and the medium, probing them mildly to help them divulge details about their technique and some film history that would infinitely please a student of cinema.
RJ Rafi (Club FM, Star Jam): That he kicked off the Shashi Tharoor interview by persuading him to sing an old Hindi ditty could be a start. Not just that, he painstakingly fished out unknown (fun) details about the popular politician prompting Tharoor to compliment Rafi about his impeccable research.
Amongst the sea of RJs in Kerala, what perhaps make Rafi stand out is his ability to win over the celebrity’s trust, prompting them to easily open up their hearts to him. No, he isn’t that sly inquisitor, his is more that genuine friend’s vibe, diluting the most serious queries with a ready smile, instantly breaking the defenses of the guests. Rafi is one of his kind.
RJ Salini (Club FM): When Mammootty came on her show, he spoke about how she was captivating people with her magical voice to which Salini replied— “Oh please do keep boosting my morale at regular intervals.” It’s difficult to think of any other RJ/anchor who would have the presence of mind to counter such praise from the veteran actor with such a cheeky remark.
Salini’s voice is a heady cocktail of mischief, energy and curiosity and it’s difficult not to respond to it, with the same infectious energy. It’s the kind of voice which prompts the listeners to sketch romantic images about her. That apart RJ Salini does thorough research, shoots the right, fun queries and can make the dullest of celebrities’ sound exciting.
Annapoorna Lekha Pillai (MC for stage shows, channel programmes/audio launches): In a world filled with loud and impressionable emcees in flashy designer wear who speak affected Malayalam and English, Annapoorna's quietly confident but dignified hosting takes a while to grow on you.
A lawyer by profession, she is often called for hosting award functions and audio launches and her smile is the first thing that gets your attention, followed by a clear, calm pitch-perfect narration that never sounds overwhelmed by her surroundings. If there is something called intelligent hosting, this is it.
Suresh Gopi (Kodeeswaran): It’s not easy to break into a space where Amitabh Bachchan has set the benchmark as this icon of sophistication and substance. But the veteran Malayalam actor comes into his own, as he tries to be an original.
If Amitabh is looked on with awe, Gopi is that lovable big brother who lends them his suited shoulder to cry on. From listening quietly and often emotionally to their stories to impulsively offering them financial help to at times lending counsel with a preachy tone (no one seems to mind!), Gopi is an effortless people’s person.
Ranjini Haridas (Freelance MC): The history of female hosts on Malayalam television can be divided into two periods—before and after Ranjini Haridas. For Ranjini Haridas, at least initially it wasn’t easy, with more detractors than fans, but it helped that she was an original. No one before that had this unflinching confidence to be herself on stage, handling celebrities from every walk of life with a skill, charm and sophistication that turned even her harshest critics into her fans.
Be it her full-throated laughter, her bearing or her affected Malayalam laced with English, Ranjini Haridas set the standard for young women to pick emceeing as a most-wanted career option.
Rimi Tomy (Mazhavil Manorama): At a film award function, singer Rimi Tomy called Mammootty and Mohanlal on stage, made them stand on her either side and energetically started belting their iconic film songs, all the while maintaining a constant flow of conversation about nothing in particular. Though visibly amused, the superstars played along, ribbing her occasionally but clearly enjoying the performance.
At another time, she had Shah Rukh and Deepika Padukone by her side and asked them questions in her heavily accented Hindi with such spontaneity and lack of self-consciousness that the guests found it endearing. It’s this uncanny skill to not hold back that makes her a dynamite performer. Not that what she says on stage are profound pieces of wisdom, in fact, she hardly thinks before she speaks but then it strangely falls in place and ends up as hilarious laugh-out-loud moments, making her own every stage without much difficulty.
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.