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Mohanlal Gets His Mojo Back


I am an unabashed Mohanlal fan. I simply adore  him as an actor. And  when I say that, I I am not comparing  him to anyone else, or announcing to the wide world that I belong to some sort of devoted fan club whose members turn up in droves  on the  day of release of any new film to  cheer on the hero of their choice. It is just that I regard him, without doubt,  as one of the finest actors of his generation, bar none. 


Mohanlal. or Lal or Lalettan as he is affectionately called by his multitude of fans, crept into the consciousness of the Malayali film goer in the  early Eighties. I say crept in, because his entry was none too dramatic, or breathtaking. Not a conventionally handsome man with the chocolate  looks of a traditional box -office hero, Mohanlal's  initial films gave no indication of his immense versatility and of what was to follow. He did not create any immediate flutter. In fact, his entry into films was as a villain. But he was lucky in that his arrival on screen coincided  with  what is widely regarded as the golden age of Malayalam cinema. With filmmakers  like M.T Vasudevan Nair, Aravindan, Padmarajan, Bharathan, Lohithadas, Sathyan Anthikadu, Priyadarshan and Sibi Malayail ruling the roost, Mohanlal got the opportunity to showcase his prodigous talent in film after film. The ease with which he essayed  a wide variety of roles - both action and comedy - quickly propelled him to the status of one of the leading actors of  the Malayalam film industry. By the early Nineties, there was literally, no looking back. He had truly become a Super Star. 


The secret of his success is quite simple, really. Mohanlal is the quintessential Malayali, and everyone wants to own a piece of him. He is the doting son that any parent is proud of;   the affectionate big brother that siblings look up to with love and  respect;  a  mischievous lover who sweeps a girl off her feet with his romantic ardor; the perfect husband to an adoring wife; a lovable scamp to his friends; and to the common man, the ultimate larger- than - life hero who fights for his ideals in a big, bad world. Plus, he has charisma; oodles of it. No wonder then, that  the Malayali filmgoer has chosen to fall in  love with him.     


And coupled with this is his natural, almost effortless  style of emoting. The Pulitzer winning playwright, and Hollywood director,  David Mamet, in his book, On Directing Film,  quotes from the great Russian theater practitioner Stanislavsky who talks about three types of actors. The first presents a ritualized and superficial version of human behavior, often derived from his observation of other bad actors. The second sits with the script, and comes up with his own unique version of the kind of   behavior supposedly called for by the scene. The third, called the "organic actor" by Stanislavsky, realizes that no behavior or emotion is called for by the text - that only action is called for by the text. Such an actor comes to the set armed only with his analysis of the scene and "prepared to act moment-to-moment, based on what occurs in the performance ....... to deny nothing and to invent nothing." 


I regard Mohanlal as one of the finest   examples of the third type of actor - an organic actor, who just reacts to the moment of the scene. As he has himself said on numerous occasions, he does not study or research the characters he plays. They just seem to evolve naturally - an extension of his own natural self -  whether it be the angst ridden Sethumadhavan of Kireedom,the troubled Kunhikuttan of Vanaprsatham, the rebellious Adu Thoma  of Spadikam, the lovable rogue Joji of Kilukkam, the towering Mangalasserry Neelakantan of Devasuram, or the maniacally intense Sivankutty of Brahmaram.    It  is a delight to see him on screen  and I must confess I can watch pretty much any film  that he acts in. Even the bad ones ! 


But, it is a fact  that of late, the bad films have been  outnumbering  the good ones, and one was beginning to despair as to what is happening to him. The actor Mohanlal seemed  to have been eclipsed by a larger-than -life superman, mouthing cliched dialogues, doing impossible stunts and indulging in mindless mayhem. In movie after movie, we began to tragically see a bloated, tired caricature of a once great actor. Caught in a trap of his own making, Lal the thespian,  was guilty of letting himself down, as well as  legions of his fans. 


Therefore, it was a welcome relief to watch him in his most recent outings,  Pranayam  and Snehaveedu, both with directors who have brought out the best in him. In Blessy's Pranayam, one sees Lal at his vintage best, subtly underplaying   the role of Mathews  with a finesse and distinction, seldom seen before on the Indian screen. The scene in which the wheelchair bound Mathews sings Leonard Cohen's "I am your Man" -  the gusto and passion with which he lives the moment -  will surely be remembered as a Master Class in the fine art of acting. And  in Snehaveedu,  Lal returns to familiar Sathyan Anthikkadu territory, reprising a role, it would appear, he was born to play.  Cast alongside veteran actress Sheela (who does a wonderful turn in a superbly nuanced performance),  Lal  is Mr. Average Man, dealing with the quotidian problems of life in his own inimitable manner. His Ajayan is a classic example of what Stanislavski calls "living the part" as Sathyan spins out a simple, heart warming story that  re-affirms our faith in the goodness of humanity.   And you are happy  to see that yes, Mohanlal definitely seems  to have got his mojo back. 


That is welcome news for his fans. And more importantly, for Malayalam cinema.


Article Courtesy - Sivaram Srikandath,First published on Manoramaonline.com on 6th Oct 2011

Posted on: Saturday, October 8, 2011



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