One of the earliest films he displayed his inimitable flair for dialects was the Padmarajan film, Koodevidey.

Why Mammootty is the master of dialects
Features Malayalam Cinema Saturday, June 11, 2016 - 19:49

No one can pull off dialects so effectively like Mammootty. We listened to 14 of them and came out mighty impressed. What makes the actor such a whiz with slangs?    

  • Vidheyan (South Canara)
  • Rajamanickyam (Thiruvananthapuram)
  • Palerimanickyam Oru Pathira Kolapathakathinte Katha (Kozhikode)
  • Bavuttiyudey Namathil (Malappuram-Manjeri)
  • Bus Conductor (Pattambi-Earanadu)
  • Valsalyam (Valluvanadan)
  • Karuthapakshikal (Tamil-Mal)
  • Pranchiyettan and the Saint (Trissur)
  • Danny (Fort Kochi)
  • Loud Speaker (Idukki)
  • Kazhcha (Alleppey)
  • Kottayam Kunjachan (Kottayam)
  • Amaram (Kadappuram)
  • Chattambi Nadu (Kannada Malayalam)
  • Kunjananthantey Kada (Kannur) 

In the Anwar Rasheed directed Rajamanickyam, Mammootty plays Bellari Raja—an unschooled buffalo seller who spouts chaste Thiruvananthapuram slang.  He renders it with a loud comical drawl and it is considered an image breaker for someone who is often lampooned for his inability to pull off comedy. So, it is ironic and momentous that he creates an epic emotional act in the middle of that hilarious mayhem. In that scene, where he reveals his identity to his mother, Mammootty brings forth the intensity and pathos he is known for, within the parameters of a local dialect. And no, he doesn’t go off the mark even for a nanosecond. He intones it with the same microscopic detailing he displayed while rendering that loud “Thirontharam” slang. Many other actors would have turned the scene and the film upside down.  


It’s also precisely where the actor scores over his legendary rival—Mohanlal. In the long drawn debate that is often measured on the yardstick of flexibility (though the implications vary), spontaneity and effortlessness, this is where (among a lot of others) Mammootty wins hands down. 

Says Asianet News Editor and veteran journalist, M.G Radhakrishan “I don’t know about perfection, but he is the first Malayali actor to have done so much experimentation with slangs. None of his predecessors or contemporaries could get out of their own native slangs irrespective of the characters they played. Thikkurissi, Sathyan, Prem Nazeer and Madhu were prisoners of Thiruvananthapuram slang while Soman and Mohanlal had a mix of central Travancore and Thiruvananthapuram. Sukumaran had a neutral accent. Mammootty is the only actor who could do Thiruvananthapuram (Rajamanikyam), Kochi (Danny, Manglish), Thrissur (Pranchiyettan...) Kanjirappalli (Koodevidey, Kottayam Kunjachan) and even South Canara (Vidheyan).” 

Well-known Broadway casting director Michael Shurtleff once said about a crucial trait every actor should possess-“You have to listen. And not merely to hear. Listening is reacting. Listening is being affected by what you hear. Listening is active.” It’s also the way to pick dialects, those tiny catches in intonations and that rhythm. Like Mammootty picked the Pattambi-Eranadu slang in Bus Conductor. “It’s one of the most difficult slangs to pull off. You can even get the areas nearer to it—Kozhikode, Kannur or even Malappuram, but this one rests on minute inflections that only a person belonging to that region can understand or pronounce,” says acting teacher and theatre artist Devendranath.  

Devandranath also adds that in effect, Mammootty introduced the concept of a language consultant, which is rampant in Hollywood to Malayalam cinema. Venjaramoodu- based actor Suraj Venjaramoodu reportedly spent as much time as Mammootty on the sets of Rajamanickyam to teach the ‘Thirontharam” slang to the actor. “When I met Mammootty, he handed me the script of the film and told me to “Thiruvananthapuramise” it,” said Suraj in a television interview. Director Anwar Rasheed later admitted that the Thiruvananthapuram slang never featured in their wildest dreams. It was the Megastar’s idea to add that twist. 

The Mammootty-patented Kottayam slang

One of the earliest films he displayed his inimitable flair for dialects was  the Padmarajan film, Koodevidey. He played a Kanjirappally-based Syrian Christian called Captain Thomas—“That character made me his fan. He looked the part, and that drawl gave him an alpha male charm. He is particularly spot-on in Kottayam Christian characters (Sangham, Kottayam Kunjachan). It is said that this Mammootty-patented Kottayam slang was used later as a reference point by other actors for similar characters,” says film analyst R. Raghunath.  

It’s interesting how he brought subtle variations to each of the other Kottayam-flavoured achayans—“One can easily draw parallels between Kunjachan (Kottayam Kunjachan) and Kuttappayi (Sangham). However, he makes it look and sound different. Mammootty simply owns it. Kuttappayi is a lot like the people I have met in my village. No other actor handles slangs with such perfection like him,” says screenwriter turned actor Renji Panicker. 

Weaving pathos effectively into dialects 

“I have used the Thiruvananthapuram slang in various films, you feel a novelty here because Mammootty says it,” Jagathy Sreekumar had once quoted. It can also be because, says Raghunath, no actor has tried or succeeded in bringing pathos and melancholy within the confines of such a loud dialect.  Agrees director Siddique—“I think he has special skills for that. He observes a lot. Anyone can do comedy or mouth powerful dialogues in such slangs but only he can bring so much anguish in that dialect.  The last scene in Amaram, the one where he meets his mom in Rajamanickyam and the scene with the boy in Pranchiyettan—he left us moist-eyed.”  

Be it Amaram, Pranchiyettan and the Saint or Bavuttiyude Namathil, the actor doesn’t merely switch out one pronunciation for another. He brings musicality, tempo and physicality as well. He learns the dialect and not just the accent—like a lot of actors make the mistake of doing. It gives the impression of an actor who has heard the actual, un-watered down versions of the accent. 

“Look at all the slangs he has pulled off and you will realise each one is real. By real, I mean, those from the region will be unable to point out the flaws. I have always felt he listens to people attentively and I think that's how he can pick up slangs. Be it Paleri Manikyam or Rajamanikyam or Kottayam Kunjachan, it sounds perfect. We can’t really say, one is better than the other. That’s the level of perfection,” says screenwriter and actor Ahmed Siddique.

Mixing Malayalam 

Many rate his South Canara dialect in Vidheyan as one of his finest—the way he slyly enquires to Thommi about his wife—“Avall Sundharriyano” –stressing the “r”. While his Karnataka-born Virendra Mallya in Chattambinadu, who speaks a charming mix of Malayalam and Kannada, is the only high point in an otherwise ordinary potboiler.  

In the underrated Karuthapakshikal, he plays an immigrant from Tamil Nadu, and he expertly brings that to the fore in the argot—speaking the heavily Tamil accented Malayalam with a studied flair. 
Kochi slang comes easily to the actor—partly because he comes from that part of the world. In Danny, he plays Daniel Thomson, a saxophone player and he lends subtlety, humour and melancholy to his character that is shown from 22 to 75 years. He rendered the dialect with near-perfect intonation in the comedy laced Manglish as the rustic Mallik Bhai, a wholesale fish auctioneer. 

The trick, says Devendranath, is in creating a dialect for a character and not a region. Like Rajamanickyam’s Bellari Raja or Loud Speaker’s Mike who is endearing more for his Idukki slang. Or Bhoothakannadi’s clock smith Vidyadharan who had a rural Palghat slang—Konganadu dialect. Didn’t Meledathu Raghavan Nair’s emotional grief in Valsalyam sound more heartrending in that unadulterated Valluvanadan slang? 

This article first appeared on

Read- Interview with casting director Anju Jameela

Five stereotypes we no longer want to see in Malayalam cinema