Which Malayali worth their salt won't know the line 'Gafoor ka dosth'? The magic recommendation that will win you a warm welcome in alien lands? When Mamukkoya as Gafoorka in the 1987 film Nadodikattu reels off his experience in transporting illegal immigrants to places as far as California, you're just as trusting as Dasan (Mohanlal) and Vijayan (Sreenivasan) that he will take them to Dubai. It's with amazing confidence that Gafoorka makes his promise, and till the revelation â when Dasan and Vijayan land in Madras instead of Dubai â you're just as convinced as them that Gafoorka has a heart of gold.
Gafoorka is among Mamukkoya's most memorable roles till date, and it is only fitting that it figured in Sathyan Anthikkad's film. From Gandhinagar 2nd Street, in which he worked with Anthikkad for the first time, Mamukkoya went on to become a permanent fixture in the director's films. The two of them have collaborated in about 30 films, including evergreen ones like Pattanapravesham, Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu, Varavelpu, Thalayanamanthram, Sandesham and Innathe Chintha Vishayam.
Actor Revathy, who has done several films with Mamukkoya, says that the 2012 film Molly Aunty Rocks is among her best experiences of working with him. "He played a key role as the advocate who brings the story together at the end. What I saw and learnt about Mamukkoya is that he's a man of few words, but when he's doing the scene, what is written on the paper is one thing, but what he brings to the character and the film is entirely different. He brings the character alive from the paper. Especially in Molly Aunty Rocks, the lawyer's role had a sketch. It was written in a specific way but what Mamukkoya did was to bring the role alive and we saw it happening right before our eyes. When an actor does something so beautiful, it's very interesting to reciprocate in the same kind of performance."
Hailing from Kozhikode, Mamukkoya has acted in over 450 films in his career spanning forty years. In many of these films, he would have appeared in only a handful of scenes, but his one-liners have stayed with the audience. His latest film Kuruthi may have ignited a debate on the representation of communal hate and Islamophobia, but viewers and critics alike agree about one aspect â it was Mamukkoya who walked away with the film. The actor, who is now 75, played the role of Moosa Khader, an elderly Muslim man, an ex-smuggler who carries around his urine bag and drops truth bombs through the course of the film. For non-Malayali audiences who started watching Malayalam films on Over-the-Top platforms during the lockdown, he may have been a revelation. For the Malayali audience though, the minute Mamukkoya appears on screen, they know the scene will work. He will make it work.
Watch: Mamukkoya in Nadodikattu
Take, for instance, Vadakkunokkiyanthram, directed by Sreenivasan. Mamukkoya is present for hardly a couple of minutes in the film and yet, the scene is so hilarious that even now, it appears in several memes and troll videos. Mamukkoya plays a flashy photographer who gives impatient instructions on posing to Dineshan (Sreenivasan) and Shoba (Parvathy). The best part of the scene is when he shows Dineshan how one is supposed to smile in a charming way.
Watch: Mamukkoya in Vadakkunokkiyanthram
In many of his films, he appeared with several other comedians and supporting actors such as Innocent, Sankaradi, Kuthiravattam Pappu, Jagathy, Cochin Haneefa, Jagadish and so on. However, he still managed to leave an impression on the audience.
âA very unique dialogue delivery and acting style is what sets Mamukkoya apart. And this means that the actor can even make some of the very short dialogues immensely memorable. In 1989's Ramji Rao Speaking, he storms into an office shouting â âBalakrishnaa... Irangi vada thorappaâ. When Shankaradi comes out, he replies calmly â âSorry ingalalla veroru thorappanunduâ. In 2011's Ustad Hotel, he has a very innocent face when he asks Asif Ali â âKunchacko Boban Alle?â Decades keep passing. But Mamukkoya's dialogues continue to be a part of our pop culture,â says film enthusiast Fahir Maithutty who frequently writes on Malayalam and Tamil cinema.
However, despite his flair for acting and impeccable comic timing, Mamukkoya has never really had many opportunities to do full-fledged characters. Film critic and journalist Neelima Menon says, "Mamukkoya is a natural, the kind of actor who will probably speak (that slang being his trademark) and behave in the same way in every film, yet you won't get bored with him. I don't think Mamukkoya has really done fleshed out supporting characters like a Sankaradi or Oduvil Unnikrishnan, most of his roles were brief comic outings. Perhaps his most memorable role was in Nadodikattu and he was hardly there for 15 minutes. Usually, he is a sidekick, a karyasthan, or a small-time trader, essentially roles that suit his body type. Even in the much-feted Kuruthi, I thought Mamukkoya was being himself, just an aggressive, naughty one."
Among the few exceptions would be his role in Perumazhakkalam, directed by Kamal. In the 2004 film, he played the role of Abdu, a man whose son-in-law accidentally kills his friend in the Gulf and is facing the death penalty. Along with his daughter Raziya (Meera Jasmine), Abdu has to plead with the dead manâs wife in order to obtain a pardon for the crime.
Watch: Mamukkoya in Perumazhakkalam
Speaking to TNM, director Zakariya who worked with Mamukkoya in his second film Halal Love Story, says, âMost of his characters are among my favourites. From my childhood, I have enjoyed his comic roles, particularly in films like Nadodikattu and Ramji Rao Speaking. There are many like that. But he has also done roles like the one in Perumazhakkalam, where you see another side to his acting. The ones that are dear to me are his roles that have made me laugh.â
On the sets, Mamukkoya is easily approachable and always ready with a joke, says Zakariya. âBut if someone says something thatâs not right, he will counter the person and make them cool down or make others around them laugh. He does it in a way that doesnât hurt anyone. He also laughs at himself. He has the ability to make the set come alive, you feel the effect of his artistry twice over,â he shares.
Revathy adds that Mamukkoya is a person who takes his space but also gives space to the other actors. "It's a give and take that he does. He's not a one-man show kind of person. He works in the team and he works for making a particular scene or sequence more beautiful than most people would make it. He never says things like 'I will do it like this, I will do it like that'. When we do a couple of rehearsals, he just does it there and he brings certain things automatically as an actor. I always say that acting is not about a single person. It's always about team work. When he does something, I reciprocate. When I do something, he reciprocates. It went on. I really respect him as an actor and as a human being. He's so down-to-earth, extremely knowledgeable. In his head, he does his homework. He works on a strategy for a character. He brings in his experience to the role. In Molly Aunty, yes, Ranjit Sankar wrote the words. But in rehearsals, to make the lines our own and not make it like we are mouthing something someone else wrote...an actor like him takes in the words. That is what I like to do too. I make the words my own and it becomes the character's lines. It's a real pleasure to work with people like Mamukkoya. He's one of a kind."
Mamukkoya also featured in two hip-hop videos shot by writer and director Muhsin Parari in 2013 and 2016. Zakariya was part of the team. While the first video, titled âNative Bapaâ has Mamukkoya delivering a monologue as the father of a man accused of anti-national and terrorist activities, the second, âFuneral of a Native Sonâ, is a tribute to Hyderabad University scholar Rohith Vemula who died by suicide.
âI directed Mamukkoya the comedian in Halal Love Story. At the same time, he played a very powerful character in Muhsin Parariâs âNative Bapaâ and âFuneral of a Native Sonâ in which I worked as an associate director. You can see how he played that character who has such commanding power in the music videos. I was lucky to work with him in both styles,â says Zakariya.
Watch: Mamukkoya in 'Native Bapa'
Mamukkoya made his debut in 1979 with Anyarude Bhoomi, and went on to work with several veterans such as Sathyan Anthikkad, Sibi Malayil, IV Sasi, Siddique-Lal, and Priyadarshan. Since then, Malayalam cinema has gone through several dramatic changes, including ideas on what constitutes humour. The audience, too, has considerably transformed with time and exposure to films from other states and international cinema on OTT. But the actor continues to remain relevant, with new age directors also wanting to cast him in their films. His unaffected acting and body language make him immediately relatable, reminding you of people you may have met in real life.
"His sense of humour has an edge that's very nice. His humour is intellectual, sensitive. He's not brash. That is also very important when we work together as a team. In Molly Aunty, I was practically the only woman in that entire sequence. It was interesting to see how he handled it. It emerged beautifully and became a fabulous sequence," says Revathy. She notes that Mamukkoya doesn't do slapstick comedy, but takes in the character and does what would come to him naturally.
"He develops the character and rounds it off beautifully. So he doesn't do anything that may not go with the character. He holds the character as the most important thing and his performance revolves around that character. It's not Mamukkoya in every film. It's the role he plays that stands out," she says.
To Zakariya, directing Mamukkoya is nothing but pure joy. âMamukkoya is among the actors we can call perfectionists in Malayalam cinema. I have worked with him thrice so far. As a director, I can say that heâs very easy to work with. Actually, itâs confusing to work with him â and I mean that in a positive sense. When you explain a certain portion to him, tell him how his delivery should be, he will show you what you asked him to do. If you ask him if thereâs any other way in which he can do it, he will show the same thing in another way. You become confused as a director about which one to choose! I experienced this all three times Iâve worked with him. The energy you get from working with him is unique. You have created a character and here is someone who is able to lend beauty to that role â as far as Iâm concerned, it is this that gives maximum pleasure to a director,â says Zakariya.
Mamukkoyaâs enduring appeal across age-groups is evidenced by the number of âMamukkoya thug lifeâ video compilations that one can find on YouTube, rivalling the punchlines of superstars. The actor may be 75, but the audience â young and old â will never tire of his goofy grin and characteristic cheek. Thug life, indeed.
Watch: Mamukkoya thug life compilation