The magic of cinema comes alive when the actor sheds his 'star' persona and inhabits the skin of the character. No special effects necessary for the audience to slip into the cinematic realm when you witness pure talent on screen. A look at some of the best actor transformations in Malayalam cinema.
Varunni (Mrigaya, 1989): Varunni is a vagabond — a hunter who guns down birds for meat, a debauchee without scruples. He is equally obnoxious, with dark tinted face, stained fanged teeth, murky clothes, and frayed hair. Mammootty is almost unrecognisable in this hunter garb and he brings his own interesting nuances to Varunni — his salacious gaze at women establishing the character as an uncouth rouge. He speaks in a coarse whisper that adds to his sinister persona.
Kunjikuttan (Vanaprastham): Kathakali defines his existence. Each attam is a step towards immortality on stage – as Arjunan, Bheeman, Krishnan, Duryodhanan. But then the varnish of pacha, kari, kathi, thaadi and minukku comes off and infinite gloom takes over. Kunjikuttan, the man behind the varnish, lives a life of great pain. The constant reminders of being a fatherless son, the reality of being trapped in marriage to a woman who is simply unable to love him, and a mother who has retreated into a shell – this is what consumes his life that is one of an impoverished Kathakali artist struggling to make ends meet. Mohanlal is riveting. It's difficult to believe he learnt the art only months before the shoot.
Ganga/Nagavalli (Manichithrathazhu): Arguably the biggest litmus test for a great actor is to alter between two strong characters in the same frame. Shobana pulled it off with great aplomb in Manichithrathazhu as the modern, docile Ganga and the fiery, tempestuous, classical dancer Nagavalli. She not only gets into the psyche of the characters, but also carries off both characters’ unique mannerisms, even switching over into another language, culture, and milieu at the blink of an eye. It’s a character that goes through spectacular emotional upheavals. Just this single scene seals her brilliance. * Enough said.
Cheenichery Kurup (Urumi): Jagathy is spot on as the effeminate Cheenichery, expertly trudging the thin line between humour, femininity and villainy. As the King’s best friend and Minister, he is able to skilfully bring out the inner complexities of the 'other gender’ in a bygone era, without being obnoxious. Note the scene where he applies lime paste on the betel leaf, darting a sly glance at the King and places a paan in his mouth- priceless!
Subin Joseph (Apothecary, 2014): All that pre-release hype around his shocking weight loss to “look” the part of a cancer patient wasn’t for nothing. The actor lost 10 kgs, had hollow eyes, was bald and walked with a drooping head. He looked appalling. And that meant he had already won half the battle! He internalises the character — the despair, of losing his loved ones, the uncertainty — Jayasurya is simply riveting in this film!
Putturumees (SuryaManasam, 1992): Putturumees is a boy trapped inside a man's body. Everything about him is a testimony to that — the bucktooth, cropped hairdo, squeaky voice, and his gauche body language. Innocence is writ large on his face. He loves his Puttu, is completely unaware of his strength, and loves animals. Another instance when Mammootty 'the star' is invisible from the picture.
Kuttan Thampuran (Sargam, 1992): He walks with a brisk pace, glares constantly, has a perpetual scowl, chews pan, and can hardly hold a civil conversation with anyone. He gives the impression of being tone deaf to the world around him and he prefers to give orders and expects others to obey them. That Manoj K. Jayan was able to pull off this complex role at the early stage of his career is no mean achievement. And he gets it just right — the gait, the dialogue delivery, all contribute to the unpleasant paradox that is Kuttan Thampuran.
Stephen Louis (Beautiful): In a scene where Stephen is being interviewed by a lady on television, he is tickled to hear how she describes him— “Eh vidhiyudey balimrigangalo? Athentha item?’ he shoots back. Jayasurya plays a rich heir Stephen Louis, a quadriplegic who amazes us with his positivity and caustic humour. It’s a wonderfully nuanced act effectively showing the inner turmoil of a man trapped for eternity in a lifeless body. He is resigned to his fate for the most part. Yet that mask of confidence slips when a thief raids his home and he is amazed by the acrobatic skills of the intruder. Undoubtedly a reference point for wannabe actors.
Radha/Radhakrishnan (Chandupottu): Radha is every actor’s nightmare — the effeminate young lad who was brought up like a girl. The one who learns dancing, blushes frequently and walks with exaggerated femininity. He loves everything girly, the bindis and kohl-lined eyes notwithstanding. It’s a role abused and misused into a caricature by mimicry artists over the years. And for the very reason, it’s impressive how Dileep, a former mimicry artiste himself, never brings it into the realm of mimicry. Instead he convinces you that his Radha is not merely about loud mannerisms, but about internalising the complexities of someone grappling with an identity like that.
Vimal Kumar (Kunji Koonan): “Njanenney vilikkunnathu Vimal Kumarenna”? he grins, flashing his bucktooth at his prospective father-in-law. Kunji Koonan is a hunchback with a fervent longing to get married. He remains optimistic despite getting rejected by umpteen girls. When fate brings a beautiful girl without eyesight before him, he cannot believe his luck. Dileep not only perfects the look and bearing of a hunchback, he also lends a touching pathos to his character. We only feel empathy for this man with a keen sense of humour.
Kaalipuli (Ozhimuri,2013): At the police station, a 50-something Kaalipuli, the towering matriarch and mother of Thanupillai, is sitting cross-legged in a chair. At the arrival of a police officer, she does not bother to get up— “Ah, so, you are the new man in charge! What’s your name?” she drawls, in her central Travancore slang. When her son, Thanupillai, introduces himself the officer remarks that she looks too regal in contrast to him, and she, without meeting his eyes, says--“He was a mistake.” It is a knockout performance from Shwetha Menon. In gold-bordered mundu and sari, grey-tinted hair, betel-stained teeth and a perpetual smirk on her face, she is formidable as Kaalipuli. She walks with the aid of a wooden stick, yet there is a majestic air around her. For an actor, previously known for her umpteen distasteful item numbers and B-grade Bollywood thrillers, the ageing Kaalipuli, who belonged to another era, is indeed a powerful transformation. Even more than her first such bravado as Cheeru in Renjith’s Paleri Manickyam (2009).
Pachalam Basi (UdayanaanuThaaram): Pachalam Bhasi is an old hand at training actors. Be it teaching Navarasas, dancing or simply practicing the gait, it is all in a day’s work for him. It is a fine parody on such trainers, who fancy themselves masters in this field. It is also a commentary on imparting bookish knowledge on actors. Note the scene where he explains the Navarasas to Mohanlal, adding his own created four rasas. Riotous!
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Fullpicture is an exclusive, comprehensive, online English magazine on Malayalam cinema, put together by a team of experienced journalists who share a passion for everything about Malayalam cinema. The idea is to put out well-written and well-researched features, exclusive interviews,...