God’s Own Mohanlal Who Started Off as a Villain

The power of character – Mohanlal Viswanathan Nair

He has had a tempestuous relationship with time. Right from his early days in showbiz to the heights of stardom to catastrophic troughs to attaining legendary iconic status, Mohanlal has seen it all.  His audacious roles seem to have provoked him to rise above all constraints to emerge as the consummate, complete actor. Adversities, setbacks and life’s lessons – the superstar has been through trials and triumphs with equanimity. Ritz doffs its hat to the marathon man. In this capsule perspective of his career, RITZ showcases the awe-inspiring Mohanlal through exclusive pictures shot with him for our sister publication, Southscope. 

Mohanlal’s oeuvre proves that he was born to be a Malayali actor. His perfectionist streak, not to forget sublime acting prowess, might probably never have come into their own in T-Town or Bollywood. That’s what you call destiny!  Perhaps, an avowedly spiritual person like Mohanlal would know it more than any.

Call it mere co-incidence; Mohanlal Viswanathan Nair came to do roles with grey shades at the outset like two of the superstars of his times – Rajinikanth, and Chiranjeevi.   In fact, Mohanlal was adjudged as a poor actor when he first auditioned for a role in late 1970s.  As the audience’s luck would have it, Fazil and Jijo Appachan saw the spark in him.  He never looked back.  Only that he had to bide his time by playing negative roles for years on end. By 1983, he had played a negative role in most of the twenty-five films in which he acted.  It continued until he struck superstardom after the run-away success of Rajavinte Makan. And just as K Balachander continued his association with Kamal for decades on end, Lal collaborated with Priyadarshan for about 29 films over the years.

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Gifted is the word. The range of genres he has dabbled in gives you an idea of how versatile the actor is. In ‘God’s own country’, Mohanlal is the people’s own actor for a reason.  The author-backed roles he essayed reflected the psyche of the society during the socialist era.

If anything else was needed to say that he is insuperable, consider this: he is known for his intellectual honesty.  In a State where writers/thinkers are notorious for keeping alive a culture of conspiracy of silence, Mohanlal fearlessly blogs his opinions and has a say on issues that prick his conscience – be it moral policing, political murders et al. He didn’t shy away from saying that he was “disgusted and scared to live in Kerala, land of killers”, when a political dissident was hacked to death.  And if leading by example maketh a hero, here is the man who was willing to be an escape artist, offering himself to do the ‘Burning Illusion’ act in 2008, just to inspire the youth to resolutely face the challenges in life.  (He gave up the idea in the wake of a debate over the “dangerous” stunt).

Only Kerala, a state with a rich tradition of writing and intellectual heft in movies, could have offered a subtle actor like Mohanlal a platform to explore himself.  It’s also the only place where he could have become a cultural icon in his own right.

Never the one after glitz and money, the actor took decades to debut in Bollywood (no prizes for guessing that it’s the memorable role in RGV’s Company in 2002).  When it comes being “contented and happy with my own language”, Mohanlal is non-pareil among all the superstars of his generation.  And a master who had been “made by great masters” like G Aravindan, Hariharan, MT Vasudevan Nair, Padmarajan, Bharathan and Lohithadas could have been tempted to act in a non-Malayalam film only by another great showman like Mani Ratnam – yes, it was the 1997 Tamil political drama Iruvar.

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Even at this age, Mohanlal can have even a Kamal Haasan feel challenged.  “My greatest challenge is that a terrific actor like Mohanlal did the original,” Kamal reportedly told his director while reprising his role in the Tamil remake of Drishyam.  Well, such is the delicacy of Lal’s acting prowess!

The non-Malayali audience have this one role in Iruvar, a role allegedly fashioned after the legendary MGR, in mind.  Still fresh in their memory.  One wonders whether he is spontaneous or otherwise. For Mohanlal, it’s a matter of passion, transforming oneself from real to reel in a matter of seconds.  After all, here is a man with a stage performing background.

To many it may seem a bit inconceivable that Mohanlal is showing interest in mainstream Tollywood and Kollywood movies, at least now and then, in this age.  While in Tamil he has shared screen space with Vijay, in Telugu, the film with Jr. NTR (legendary NTR’s grandson) is slated for an August release.

In a State hardly known for cult worship (compare this to the situation in neighboring Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh and Karnakata), Mohanlal has legions of committed fans.  The four-time National Award winner (Kireedom, Bharatham, Vaanaprastham, for which he also won the Best Film award), is a Padma Shri, besides being a proud actor (a first for an actor in India) to hold the rank of Honorary Lieutenant Colonel.

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Like all greats, Mohanlal is down-to-earth.  Like only a few greats, he loves to wear his heart on his sleeve.Recently, on his 28th wedding anniversary, he posted a special video where he is seen singing for his wife Suchitra.

With the times changing, has Mohanlal allowed himself to fall in an image trap?  Are the critics correct in slamming him for going after “formulaic content and larger-than-life male-oriented roles”?  That could only be a half-truth.For, Mohanlal may have done commercial roles, but has maintained his class and always believed that form is temporary and class is permanent.

He values relationships, a trait persons of character value.  He continues to share his moments with the same friends who were with him since his first film.  Perhaps, it’s the purity in his subconscious that had his friends apply on his behalf for an audition way back in 1978; something which triggered his awesome tryst with the world of cinema.

Take a bow, Lal!