Monday, February 07, 2011

Mohanlal and Mammooty

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.


  1. Absolute truth!
    Knowing one of them at close quarters from our days in the same class room in School , through college, I was indeed astonished to see that guy with the outlandish appearance carving a niche among Thespians.
    But then, ego and posse of the wrong coterie around him, has seen him slide down.Whereas the other was planning his career meticulously like planning his case in court.
    And as it is widely known and proven with his films over the past few years, he indeed is the better actor among them .A disciplined one personally as well. That also made the difference

  2. insightful and extremely well written article, madam. it will be an eye opener to mohanlal if he reads it. he is a totally relaxed person and that is also his difference as an artiste. the same thing might be the reason why his career is drifting at this stage. mammooty is focused.

  3. Agree wid u..I like Mohanlal of 80s and Mammootty of all times...I like to watch and assess the foibles of Mammootty that he attributed to his characters, whether it is a a Baffoon character, or a serious, typical household character, or a villaineous man, whatever..He used to give a different mannerism, a style to each character that he portrayed..

  4. To each his own.

    But Mohanlal continues to amaze. Mammooty, is still a wooden stick at times. Mammooty has a great voice, but that too is limited in it's range. Whereas Mohanlal, is just amazing in his ability to mold his voice into the character.

    One advantage Mammooty had, was that he could run to the Tamil industry at times when he was running dry of hits in the Malayalam industry. Mohanlal didn't have that choice, as he is not a multi-lingual actor. Looking back, every industry mega-star had a hiatus period. Mohanlal's unlucky in that sense.


  5. Rightly said! While Mohanlal rested on his laurels, Mammooty never stopped learning to act. And he continues to entertain us. The last movie I watched was Pranjiyettan and he was too good in it... even if one should give credit to the director and the script writer, I think Mamooty did a spendid job.

  6. @ anil kurup
    for once we see eye to eye:-)

    @ venugopal P
    thank you sir. a comment like that from you sends my morale shooting up.

    @ tomz
    'different mannerism, a style to each character that he portrayed.'you've said it!

    @ ksk
    'Mohanlal continues to amaze' - i dont know about that, now. even in bramaram, he disappointed.

    @ happy kitten
    yes, ofcourse. mammooty owes his performance to the directors & scriptwriters. i think lesser talents are more pliable in director's hands.that could be the difference between the two M's of mallu films.

  7. Very well said.
    (actually, Tomz (above), summarises it all with this - I like Mohanlal of 80s and Mammootty of all times)

  8. I wish, if both of them, Mohanlal and Mammotty read this. And I totally agree with your concluding observation maa’m, “age cannot wither him, nor custom stale his infinite variety.”

  9. KPJ,
    Both are good actors but their superstardom has spoiled Malayalam Cinema.Scripts are twisted to suit super stars and even good Directors have fallen to this temptation.
    Take for example Pranchiyettan. There is no doubt tht Ranjith is a good Director and script writer but see the interactions between Pranchi and Padmasree. It is more like the interactions between a middle aged Superstar and an upcoming actress. How can we otherwise explain the interest and regard for Pranchi, an illiterate small town businessman for an urbanised independent thinking architect Padmasree? Film ends even hinting Padmasree is about to become Prachi's wife.

  10. I dont agree with Charakan's comment, in taht film Pranchi is man who is defeated in every occasions by more cunning Siddique, he is still in love with his classmate, when Padmasree comes to his life, the way she decorates the house, renovate things, he becomes slightly in appreciation and then love, if he doesnt get that hint about Padmasree may come back to his life, film will be a disappointing one. In fact the flim lost its tempo in second half when Ganapathi's story came.

    Yes everone is wondering what happened to Mohanlal, his chamchas are ruining his career or has he becomes bored?

    Actor Murali lost his acting and began a lack of confidence when he became a sugar patient and bald, is same happening to Mohanlal. He is now bald, no wig can hide it, eyes are puffy, very fatty, often very repetitive, in 'oru naal varum', he is acting just like an extra, moves like a keyed doll, not a single smile can be generated from us by such moron acting. Meanwhile comedy was never a confortable zone for Mammutty, but now he excels egs: that Lion's club speech go haywire scene of Pranchi Ettan.

    Mammutty has given opportunity to new talents, he spends time to hear stories, get new producers, directors for his movies. Mohanlal is still weak to experiment, even after colossal flops like Kandhahar he is again giving filsm to Major Ravi. No new script writer for him.

    When Ranjit told story of Kayyopp and Pranchi Mamutty gave reduction is fee and unconditional support to him, they were not expecting them to be massive hits.

    Even the interviews (Manorama onam special) shows the cultural difference between Lal and Mammutty. Mammutty speaks like an educated man, whereas Mohan Lal doesnt have any class in interviews.

    Perhaps his brother's death, father's death, hair loss , other business interests, his cronies like Antony Perumbavoor are reasons of his downfall. Now a return is very difficult.
    Once you lost crown its very difficult to capture the kingdom.

    Only relief to superstars are new generation is not upto mark. Mammutty is also getting very aged in some shots.

  11. Such a great write up- I think all actors need to read this (even if they are not named here). This would help them to keep their acting skills evolving. I've seen too many actors who start out with such great promise and then they end up stagnating in a certain character or mode. It is always good to see the ones who are willing to try new things and expand their acting skills.

  12. sands, a m chirakkal
    thanks.i must celebrate the return of the blog visitors:-)

    'Both are good actors but their superstardom has spoiled Malayalam Cinema.Scripts are twisted to suit super stars and even good Directors have fallen to this temptation'
    agree 100% with you. they dont allow malayalam cinema to move on. atleast mammooty is doing some justice to mal cinema by doing some terrific roles- but i wonder if that makes his sin any less mortal.
    looks like susheelan doesnt agree with your take on pranchioyettan:-)
    i didnt see the film - but i've herad praises of the way he handles the rural trichur accent.

    yes personal discipline, fitness and humility are abs necessary for the growth of an artist.
    'Once you lost crown its very difficult to capture the kingdom'
    i hope this is not true of mohanlal. there's still a lot of acting left in this great actor. i sincerely hope he pulls himself out of the rut, and does a role big enough for his talent and suited to his age.

    yes, the minute the actor starts looking at the only the bottom line and the box office at the expense of his talent, he allows himself to be stereotyped.this happened to amitabh bachchan. i love him in anand. but we haven't seen another performance to equal that. now it appears as if he has forgotten the art of acting.

  13. Hello Madam,
    Long time since I've been here. And I would have just read silently and left weren't it for my favourite actor/discussion topic :)

    I agree with most of what you have written in the post. The way Mammootty has redefined his acting is unbelievable (you have already mentioned the movies) and die hard Mohanlal fans like me have to wait till he gets bored of Kandahars and College Kumarans. There was a time I defended him from the mistakes of script writers, directors and greedy producers (why, I even had a big blog post on the same about a year back). But not anymore. At some point one has to take responsibility for what one does. Actually one cannot fault him for agreeing to do Kandahar. I mean on script it does sound appealing but college kumaran? :( :( :( ....I digress.

    There are so many videos in youtube of actors praising Mohanlal as the greatest actor they had ever seen. I used to feel happy and proud seeing that. As you must have deduced, I don't see them anymore.

    I don't think Mohanlal would change his decision process any time soon. If you watch his interviews, he keeps repeating that he doesnt plan anything and that he likes to let things happen. His philosophy itself is to not care too much. Which he implements alarmingly well. The sad part is we care too much :(

    PS: There are some points I disagree with you in your post.
    1) Aaram Thamburan was brilliant in every sense. Along with Devasuram, it was a pioneer in the "larger than life" genre of movies. Some scenes in it are just iconic :)

    2)I also disagree about Mohanlal not getting into the skin of the character in Ravanaprabhu. The portrayal of the older version of Neelakandan (including the walk, voice modulation, mannerisms) was near perfect.

    3) I still believe that Mohanlal is the better actor. And I have some hope that he too would be back. Just two or three years back we were bombasting Mammootty for movies like Thuruppugulan, Maya Bazar, Parunthu, Love in Singapore etc. Look where he is now!

    And to all Lal fans who have gone tired of supporting him I have just this to say. Be patient... and remember "Iruvar/Vaanaprastham". That should bring a smile to your face :)

  14. And as a Thrissur kaaran who lives in Thrissur town proper, Mammootty's accent is just above average. In fact he has done much better in Loudspeaker/Kottayam Kunjachan etc. This is not my prejudice speaking. I have no qualms in saying that Mammootty is the king of accents and dialects. But in Pranchiyettan he was just above average. It didnt sound natural 60 percent of the time.

  15. deepk
    nice to see you after lightyears!
    reg araam hampuran, guess u are right.but one tends to forget its historical value as a pioneering movie and is inclined to club it along with the other juggernautical hero roles of mohanlal, which tho done convincingly, tend to get boring on account of their predictability and repetetive mannerisms.
    i too believe that devasuram is an all time classic.

  16. Hi,

    I am a die hard mohanlal fan, and i still believe he is one of the greatest - not just in indian cinema but anywhere in the world. But I agree with you that off late mammooty has selected better roles where as mohanlal is stuck where he was 10 years ago. Mammooty has played a hand in the revival of malayalam cinema from the dark ages. Hopefully mohanlal gets the message and select script and directors carefully.
    May be a performance like iruvar or vaanaprastam can change his luck.
    BTW, i guess u missed vadakan veeragadha, which i thought was one of the most powerful roles ever in malayalam industry

  17. Longtime silent reader. Good writeup on a topic that really interests me so had to comment. I was always a Mohanlal fan first, though like both actors. But last few years have shown what discpline and dedication can do and I have to give props to Mammooty. Especially with keeping body and appearance in shape. It saddens me that Mohanlal does not seem concerned to do the same; as though it is the acting that counts, looks still matter especially with a cinema artist.

  18. In the initial stages of their career, Mammooty and Mohanlal got the chance to act continuously with master film makers like Bharathan, Padmarajan, MT, Lohitha das Priyadarshan etc. Both of them were getting films, about twenty to thirty each, per year, and majority of these films were from the above mentioned talented film makers. This has helped a lot to shape up their acting skills and star value way better than any other actors in malayalam cinema history. No current or upcoming new comers would get that opportunity.

    The present day Malayalam movie industry is centered around these two "mega stars".It wouldn't be wrong if I say that these "super stars" have a major role in the blocking the growth of Malayalam movie industry.They made enough money and popularity. Now they should think of themselves as artists who have responsibility to the viewers and the society.

    There was a time when I used to think there was no better actor in the whole world,than Mohanlal. He was so natural. He has deteriorated to a level,it is shameful even to see him acting these days.He drags his flabby self with difficulty and repeats his nauseating mannerisms.Many a times, I wished I could vomit on to him.He has become so disgusting an actor.If he wants to be remembered as an actor,better he stops acting,at least now..His greed for money has no limits.As if he has not made enough,he endorses Sidha and Yoonani medicines for Asthma and impotence,and sells pickles and puttu podi. I think, the best recommendation for him now would be to stick to his puttu podi business.At least,we have the freedom to vomit,if it doesn't taste good.

    Actors have to be respected for their works.True.For that, I remember Mohanlal,as an actor of the past.

    No one,ever thought Mammootty would reach these heights.As time goes on,he gets cleaner and better, like 'beaten gold in the hands of a goldsmith'.He knows his limitations and is clever enough to adapt.I think there is a difference is their basic intelligence.That has reflected on their long term career.

  19. Yes, Mohanlal was simply amazing in the late 80s - first scene popping up is the scene in No.20 Madras Mail where he has a talk with "Mr Mammootty" in train. The Mohanlal of those days has sadly disappeared.
    But Mammootty too, I can only appreciate his great works with IV Sasi-MT team in the 80s.

    I began to detest both actors - Mammootty especially since he's the older one - when they try to appear in a younger role and worse, to pass off as one! Mammootty running around trees with Nayan Tara, 30-40 years younger to him... Mohanlal with Bhavana. No, fans may tell it is about how great those actors are, but it simply pains the average audience viz. me. An offbeat movie like a 'Cheeni Kum' would be quite a relief, but otherwise, it is a pathetic downfall of all the greatness of their best days.

  20. Yes I one can beat them both when it comes Kerala cinema :). They are the "Amitabh Bachchan" of Kerala you can say haha. Hopefully the trend will continue with Prithviraj and so forth :)

  21. Mohanlal should become picky about this his movies now. Or else I wonder how long he will be able to sustain this larger than life persona. Missing the MohanLal of the 80s!

  22. mohanlal is a far better actor but mammoty is more intelligent dats d basic difference beteween them.

  23. mammooty is a method actor who can be easily compared with amitabh bachan..but mohanlal posess natural acting skills and class of al pacino and nassaruddin shaw.. according to me shaw and lal rates far better than any other in india .any doubt? watch ishqia and iruvar....none can portry dem

  24. All Said and Done....

    Mohanlal is Mohanlal --- he is still unique in his way!

    Mammootty is Mammootty --- he is also unique in his own way!

    Comparisons are bound to happen and be commented upon and be debated for years to come, but the fact remains that like "the five fingers not being alike", these two stalwarts of malayalam cinema have made many stand up and notice the talent that Kerala portrays. Both of them have their distinct styles...for eg: The common man has been portrayed better by Mohanlal than Mammootty (Sanmanassullavarku Samaadhaanam, Naadodikaattu, Midhunam etc) but the personality oriented roles have been portrayed by Mammootty better than Mohanlal (Police Officer, Collector, CBI Officer, Detective, Military Personnel etc)....All said and done.

    Both of them are dedicated actors.

    Eg: Mohanlal performed the Kathakali wonderfully in Vanaprastham

    Mammooty had taken tuitions from a British Professor to master the accent to portray his role as Ambedkar.

    This discussion is irrelevant and should be called off. Each one is entitled to their opinion, we know. But, the art of film making is not a joke as i remember watching a shooting which lasted just 2 minutes in the actual film take place for 2 days.

    We can all sit here and write. Only they know what they go through to enjoy the fruits of whatever they enjoy.

    My verdict: Mammootty and Mohanlal are extremely gifted actors in their own rights and we are not justified in passing judgements over them, because i do not think anyone here belongs to the film industry including me, and we are not above them to judge them or pass comments on their calibre or lack of calibre.

    Lets look @ what we are doing in our lives and just leave movies to do what they do to us.

    Clap for the ones you felt happy about and dont clap for the ones you felt sad about.

    Finally, whether they are good or bad, we do not benefit. one must understand that a person does what he or she feels like, so no matter how much we talk about it here, whether Mohanlal or Mammootty reads this, they will do what they feel like only @ the end of the day based on their commitments.

    I know many would not like what i ve written here....but i seriously feel like many of you do now...let's not differentiate, denounce or ridicule these wonderful actors because they are also HUMANS, and (to err is human)...

    I am sure we all agree unanimously that we have been entertained by them all these years through some movie or the other...let's thank them for having given us memories that we still think about and smile!

  25. First time reader of the blog.
    As a fan of commercial Malayalam movies of the 90s and early 2000s, I have been awed by Mohanlal and Mammootty. Still, when I watch classics like Dasaradham, Unnikale oru kadha parayam and climax scenes of Chithram, Yathra etc, can't avoid swelling of my tear glands. I count myself and Malayalees blessed to watch on screen these marvellous performances.
    I have no complaints about Mammootty, as what you have said is very true.
    About Mohanlal, i too feel sad to see him repeat many of his mannerisms, which never used to happen in the 90s. For him there wasn't a stock expression, or a signature style, except for the unhindered show of brilliance. But of late, his romantic expressions are xerox copies of xerox copies, crossing the limits of unbearable.
    What surprises me even more is, earlier his acting 'felt' so natural, now it 'feels' so laboured. Earlier as a viewer, I used to be with him through the moments in the movie. Now from the periphery, I watch him stress and strain, which is more painful more me, as a viewer.

    Now I am just speculating on what could be the reason. Earlier he had some legends as directors and script-writers. He let himself GO and delivered. These days, he doesn't believe in the directors or scripts, and thinks that he need to ACT to make it look good. May be, or not. Just guessing.
    But as many other fans of him, I too wait for that one movie, that will satisfy our collective yearnings.


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