Suresh Gopi, the Superstar who fell short
Suresh Gopi, the Superstar who fell short

BJP's hope in Kerala: Suresh Gopi, the Superstar who fell short

Nearly two decades since his stardom began a slow fade, Suresh Gopi who failed twice in electoral politics, is back in the hustings for a third shot. Will the actor be lucky a third time to claim the glory Malayalam cinema denied him?

Towards the end of the 1980s, a decade dubbed fondly as the golden age of Malayalam cinema for its slew of well-crafted, unconventional films and talent-spotting, two actors stood tall Mohanlal and Mammootty. While the Big Ms earned the epithet of superstars, a budding actor with lofty dreams was slowly making his way to the top Suresh Gopi. 

The actor, already part of two films that made the Ms superstars – Mohanlal’s Rajavinte Makan (1986) and Mammootty’s New Delhi (1987) – did not mind playing second fiddle to them. Suresh Gopi was candid enough to admit this in a 1988 interview. A year later Suresh Gopi made his debuts in Hindi, Telugu and Kannada when New Delhi, a political thriller by Joshiy, was remade. 

It took a few more years for Suresh Gopi to earn the stardom, playing mass heroes mouthing lengthy monologues and dramatically breaking the fourth wall in slow motion before the screens flashed intermission.

With Mammootty and Mohanlal
With Mammootty and MohanlalFacebook

But despite many hits his career never reached the heights seen by the Ms, who regularly picked up awards and were seen as the commercial cornerstones of the hero-driven Malayalam film industry. In between he got married to singer Radhika and also suffered personal tragedy.

While his films were immensely popular, Suresh Gopi couldn’t bag a national or state award until the 1997 Kaliyattam, an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello by Jayaraj. The number of films began to taper off after 1993 though he had several hits throughout the decade.

In 2016 he shifted gears and became a politician after a surprise nomination to the Rajya Sabha by Prime Minister Narendra Modi a month before Kerala went to polls. Gopi then joined the Bharatiya Janata Party, contested two elections unsuccessfully and is now fighting his third electoral battle from Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala. 

The state has 140 Assembly constituencies and yet the BJP could win a seat here only once in 2016 at Nemom in Thiruvananthapuram, the same year Gopi was nominated to the RS. Suresh Gopi’s candidature in Thrissur, in the 2019 general elections and in the 2021 Assembly polls, gave the saffron party a huge upswing in vote share besides frenzied media attention. Ahead of elections Suresh Gopi raised the stakes through grandiose statements on political heavy lifting – of snatching Thrissur from his opponents – but could bring the barbell only up to his chest.

His third attempt to lift Thrissur is being keenly watched nationally. Beyond his celebrity appeal, the central leadership’s interest in Thrissur has been made obvious through the multiple visits made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi who led the ceremony of giving away the bride’s hand when Suresh Gopi’s daughter Bhagya got married in Guruvayoor in January.

Narendra Modi at Bhagya's wedding
Narendra Modi at Bhagya's wedding

Early days

In August 1988, when Suresh Gopi spoke to Chalachithram Weekly magazine about playing second fiddle to the Big Ms, it was still early days for him. He had played the role of the right hand man of Mohanlal in Rajavinte Makan, a movie that would turn 26-year-old Mohanlal into a force to reckon with. Before that, Gopi played a few forgettable characters in movies like TP Balagopalan MA and Onnu Muthal Poojyam Vare. 

Suresh Gopi in the sets of 'Mindapoochakku Kalyanam', 1987
Suresh Gopi in the sets of 'Mindapoochakku Kalyanam', 1987Facebook

Suresh Gopi, born in 1958, debuted as a child artist with late actor Sathyan in Odayil Ninnu (1965). “He may have appeared in Odayil Ninnu because of his father’s connection to films, as a distributor,” says a source in the industry. After the early debut, Gopi finished school and went to college before making his next appearance in a film. He took his Bachelors of Science in Zoology and his Masters in Literature, both from the Fatima College in Kollam. 

Suresh Gopi (middle, second row from top), Fatima College 1980 batch
Suresh Gopi (middle, second row from top), Fatima College 1980 batchFacebook / Fatima College

As a graduate student, he was a leader of the Students Federation of India (SFI), the students wing of the Communist Party of India (Marxist), at present leading the ruling front in Kerala. He was part of the Save Silent Valley movement of the late 1970s, led by scientists and cultural icons like Sugathakumari against a proposed hydroelectric project in a tropical rain forest in Palakkad.

“I wrote to [Prime Minister] Indira Gandhi: Dear mother, declare Silent Valley a national park. This was in 1979 and I got a reply too. Three years later she did that (abandoned the project),” Suresh Gopi once told an interviewer.

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