They are all famous. They all have their niche. The hero, the heroine, the goofy friend, the villain, the learned dramatist. But even they have been forgotten for some of their best acts. Here we try to highlight some of the least talked about performances of our favourite stars.
1.Srividya (Kattathey Kilikoodu)
Bharath Gopi’s stiff, unsmiling Professor ‘Shakespeare’ Krishna Pillai, who is always buried inside his books, is counted as one of his finest acts. So, it’s hardly surprising that another actor, who stood head and shoulders with the titan in every frame was overlooked. Srividya plays his quiet, domesticated and lovable wife, Sharada. Kattathey Kilikoodu is really her story—her silent, resilient battle to hold the family together amidst all odds. Srividya is brilliantly understated—be it the scene where she witnesses her husband’s growing affection for his pretty student; or when torn between grief and helplessness, she must put up a brave face for her children; or in just venting her anger at her husband by shouting at the children. Just one more instance to show why Srividya remains one of the most undervalued actresses in Indian cinema.
2.Ganesh Kumar (Irakal)
It’s one of the most sensational acting debuts in Malayalam cinema. Yet, Ganesh Kumar’s portrayal of Baby, who is a loner and a drug addict is seldom talked about. Not then, not now. Years of repressed fury and frustration about the corruption and immorality in his own family has turned Baby into a hardened criminal—his first instinct is always to kill and his eyes are disturbingly still. There is a scene where Annyamma helps herself to some breakfast and Baby has his eyes transfixed on her— “You are a liar, a trained liar. I know everything.” The way he says it, his eyes unmoving, to a clueless Annyamma is rather frightening, a sign of impending doom. And Ganesh brings a disconcerting intensity to his performance. It’s a pity that Malayalam cinema has not been able to utilise this very fine actor.
That it’s never discussed in the list of the actor’s best acts, could be because Mammootty’s histrionics always held a trademark appeal. In a film where each character slipped into their respective roles with ease, his Raveendranathan somehow got side-tracked in this plot-driven film. Look out for the scene where he confides the plight of his dysfunctional family to his wife or his reaction when his brother tries to hit him, Mammootty is brilliantly subtle.
4. Mohanlal (ThenmavinKombathu)
His Manikyan is the kind of role that seems like a pushover—or the one that doesn’t fall in the zone of a “performance.” Also, Priyadarshan sets it in a fantasy land, with weirdly accented people, bizarrely colourful costumes and a run-of-the-mill storyline. It showcases the brilliant craft of the director. Mohanlal’s Manikyan is a multidimensional character—there is pathos, betrayal, anger, love and potent humour. But somehow as is the norm with most Priyadarshan films, the humour tides over the other emotional upheavals. Be it his conversations with his father, Kaviyoor Ponnamma, Nedumudi Venu or his hurt discourses with Sonia, Mohanlal lets us empathise with Manikyan as much as he lets us laugh with him.
Sarojam is terminally ill, yet she hasn’t lost her joie de vivre and has got, above everything else, a terrific sense of humour. Her marriage to Venu (though short-lived) is the stuff that legends are made of. Together they build a perfect little world. It’s the kind of role, considering its shorter screen time, that seems very nondescript, with not much to wow the socks out of you. But then it’s Urvashi playing Saroja and she is the kind who can steal the scene with just a cameo (Yodha). Having said that her Sarojam isn’t really talked about in the same breath as a Kanchana (Thalayanamanthram), Snehalatha (PonmuttayidunnaTharavu) or Hridayakumari (KadinjoolKalyanam). It’s how she readily brings the house down with her cute little antics that makes her act so memorable. Look out for the scene where she stages a “serious” pennu kanal for Venu or how she reprimands him for fighting with rowdies and as cutely changes her stand a few scenes later. Not just that, her gradual breakdown to her illness is also subtlely done. It’s a role that only Urvashi could have done.
6Murali Gopi (KanyakaTalkies)
It’s easier to pick Murali Gopi the writer over the actor. Any day. Not for him the celluloid double twin encounters (the disastrous twin act in One by Two), the lovable husband (August Club) or the silly ex-lover (Lukka Chuppi). But then occasionally he stuns you with a completely judicious performance—like this Father Michael in KanyakaTalkies. As the zealous young priest who takes charge of a church that was previously a theatre that screened soft porn films, Murali surprises you. The sensitivity with which he details the character is unique. The sessions with the psychiatrist, where he reveals his embarrassingly erotic dreams and how it agonisingly questions and contradicts his own priestly morality, is one of the highlights of Kanyaka Talkies. Pity, neither the film nor the performance were talked about.
A Padmarajan find, Ashokan has always excelled in every role that has been given to him. And he did start off with complex roles (Anantharam, Peruvazhiyambalam, Arappatta Kettiya Gramathil) but then nothing prepares us for this loafer with a roving eye in Sathyan Anthikkad’s Gandhinagar Second Street. There cannot be a better award for his performance than the fact that trolls have made Tomy the poster boy of romeos. The sly smile, the way he tries to make a play at the neighbourhood lady or just wooing anyone in a skirt, Ashokan was subtle but way too effective.
8 Nedumudi Venu (Keli)
It’s always Venu’s heavy-duty complex roles that have been celebrated and rightfully so, just for the sheer brilliance he brings to them. From Chellapanashari (Thakara), Kuttiraman (Chambakkulam Thachan) to Pavithran (KallanPavithran) but I would pick this little gem of an act in Bharathan’s Keli as one of his most underrated acts. He plays a shopkeeper who is also an irreparable Romeo—the wicked lusty grin, or the way he delicately holds the hands of women and slips glass bangles, or his ire when his neighbour scores a match over him with a lady, Venu is incredibly real. It’s as if Bharathan just picked him from the crowd and told him to behave.
9 Mukesh (Boeing Boeing)
True, he does these small-time con acts like the back of his hand. But this act in Boeing Boeing somehow didn’t get the due it deserved. It’s again a plot driven madcap comedy, with each character having a ball. There is Mohanlal, doing his easy-peasy act but it’s really Mukesh who provides all the right counters for his partner to excel. It’s one of the best instances of on-the-spot, improvised comic encounters on celluloid. Be it their pow-wow over Mohanlal’s girlfriends or Mukesh’s anxiety to switch roles with him, the actor is delightful.
He sprawls himself on the mud veranda, lustily eyeing the girl scrubbing dishes. The next instance, he forces himself on her, even as the girl screams— “Father, no.” It’s a chillingly disturbing scene. But what really takes the mickey out of us is the actor on screen—Jagadish, who made a career playing the perfect goofy fool. This terrifically underplayed act somehow gets drowned in the negative response to the film.
Honourable mentions: Indrans (NizhalKoothu) and Manikandan Pattambi (Mankolangal)
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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,...