Some are born great, some achieve greatness. I’d always put Maohanlal in the 1st category – a born actor, a natural; and Mamootty in the 2nd. There was a time I would never have believed that hard work and commitment could over take natural talent.
But it can, and it has happened in the case of these two great Malayalam actors.
Mohanlal’s movies of the 80s & early 90s had convinced me that he’d easily be among 10 greatest actors in world cinema. Sanmanasullavarku samaadhanam, Nadodikaatu series, Bharatham, Kireedam, Kilukkam, Chitram, Lal salaam, Manichitrathazhu and, and and - - incredible and extremely sensitive performances from this nonpareil of thespians. A versatile actor, a power performer, a deeply sensitive artist who, with great ease, depicted the nuances of feelings. Watching those movies is an education in acting!
And then something happened. Mohanlal stopped growing, evolving as an actor. He allowed himself to be trapped in stereotyped roles. His mannerism in every frame became predictable, typical. Whether his roles, be they in Baletan or Aeram Tanburan, or narasimhan or Ravanaprabhu, it was Mohanlal all the time - he wouldn’t take that effort to get into the skin of the character. It seemed as though the clear stream of talent, which was on its way to the vast sea and should have been fed by tributaries to grow into a large river, lost its way and got diverted to a tiny little insignificant lake which rarely survived the summer drought.
Mohanlal became repetitious. There was no variety in the roles he played to facilitate the honing of his immense talent. His choice of roles betrayed the overconfidence of a man who felt that he had proved himself as an actor and needed to do nothing more as an artist. His fortes were over exploited to the point of irritating the audience. True, he’s an excellent dancer. But the aging overweight Mohanlal prancing around was no longer a feast to the eyes.
But with Mammooty, it is a different story. That he had huge talent became obvious (to me) in Yavanika. He grew from strength to strength, taking a variety of roles – even negative roles as in Vidhayan. His Thaniyavarhtanam, Ponthan mada, Mrigaya, Valsalyam, are some of the films which testify to the infinite variety that this artist is capable of. His unforgettable performance as Kottayam Kunjachan was strengthened by his phonetic skills to absorb regional dialects and convey them convincingly.
I would say that Mammooty is a better manager of his career. While taking up the roles that would provide him with opportunities to improve his acting skills, he took equal care to keep his box office hits ticking by doing his bit of dashing stereo typed roles as the tough cop, honest lawyer and the champion of the underdog.
His more recent movies like Kazhcha, Loudspeaker, Kaiyoppu, Paleri manikyam show this actor in roles very different from each other. He appears to be evolving with every movie. He performs superbly even in the commercial projects. In some of them he excels in comic roles and does delightful fun characters with his hilarious rendition of the Trivandrum or Trissur dialects. His sensitive performance in the movies of the past decade places him in the category of the best actors going in India.
Of him it can truly be said that age does not wither him or custom stale his infinite variety.