Sunday, February 14, 2010
‘Cochin Haneefa is irreplaceable’
Says superstar Mammooty about the death of his close friend, and one of the most popular comedians of the Malayalam film industry
Photo: Cochin Haneefa and Mammooty in the 2009 film, 'Loudspeaker'
By Shevlin Sebastian
A few days before Cochin Haneefa died, on February 2, Malayalam film superstar Mammooty visited him at the Sri Ramachandra Medical College Hospital at Chennai. By then the prognosis was grim.
The 59-year-old thespian was in the last stages of liver cancer. Initially, Haneefa had been suffering from malignant cirhossis of the liver. “How did this happen?” says Mammooty, shaking his head. “He was a teetotaler.”
But when Mammooty met him, Haneefa was doing what he has done all his life: laughing loudly. “This was one of the great qualities of Haneefa,” says Mammooty. “He was always jovial, smiling, and having a good time.”
So they cracked jokes and pretended that everything was fine. “But Haneefa knew that he was dying and he also knew that I knew,” says Mammooty, as he recounted the incident in an air-conditioned trailer during a pause in the shooting of ‘Pramaani’, at Panangad, Kochi.
In recent years Haneefa had become a close friend of Mammooty. Their families would meet each other often. So the passing away was a painful event for Mammooty. “A death is like a landslide,” he says. “Things can never the same again.”
Cochin Haneefa was one of the most popular comedians of the Malayalam film industry. Starting as a villain in 1972, he went on to act in more than 300 films in Malayalam, Tamil and Hindi. In mid-career he switched from villain to comic roles in Malayalam films and enjoyed an even greater popularity. Some of the films included ‘Punjabi House’, ‘Harikishnans’, ‘Kilichundan Mampazham’, ‘CID Moosa’, ‘Twenty Twenty’, and ‘Loudspeaker’.
He appeared regularly in Tamil films as a villain – ‘Chanakya’, ‘Sivaji The Boss’, ‘Kireedam’ -- and made his mark. So the news of Haneefa’s death was also greeted with grief by Tamil cine-goers.
Haneefa was adept at many roles: apart from being an actor, he was a story-writer as well as a director.
Haneefa directed Mammooty in a few films, including the critically acclaimed box office hit, ‘Valsalyam’.
So how was Haneefa as a director?
“He had one peculiarity,” says Mammooty with a smile. “He knew the script by heart. So when we would play opposite each other, he would silently mouth my lines of dialogue and then deliver his. It would always make me laugh.”
So following ‘Valsalyam’, Mammooty requested Haneefa not to act, as well as be a director in the films in which the superstar had a role.
Mammooty could say this candidly to the senior actor because they had known each other for a long time. “I was a fan from young,” says Mammooty. “Haneefa was the first film star I saw in the flesh.”
This happened when Mammooty was in college and an aspiring actor. He had heard that Haneefa was going to visit a shop on Kochi’s Jew Street, belonging to a man called Yousuf Khan, whom Mammooty knew. So, along with his friend, Mammooty rushed there and met Haneefa, who encouraged the youngster to fulfill his dreams.
Earlier, Mammooty had seen Haneefa’s mimicry performances at the Kerala State Youth Festival competitions.
“It was stunning,” he recalls. “The audience, including me, had goose bumps. The unique thing about Haneefa’s comic talent was that he looked very serious when he delivered his lines, but it always came across as comic.”
Later, thanks to Haneefa’s brilliant acting, the Kerala University added another category, ‘Mimicry’ for the inter-college youth festival competitions.
Haneefa also had a one-man show, called ‘Navarasa’. “It was dramatic, theatrical, and unforgettable,” says the superstar.
Mammooty had another reason not to forget Haneefa. In an incident during his early years, the director of the film, ‘Sphodanam’, told Mammooty that his voice was not good enough; so somebody else would have to do the dubbing. “I was devastated,” says Mammooty. He lay down on a bed near the set and closed his eyes.
Suddenly, Mammooty felt somebody tapping his legs. When he opened his eyes, he saw that it was a smiling Haneefa. When Mammooty sat up, Haneefa held his hands and said, “Don’t worry, one day people will praise you for your voice. It is that good!” This turned out to be a prophetic statement and Mammooty never forgot Haneefa’s words of encouragement.
This type of encouragement, compassion and kindness were some of the sterling qualities that Haneefa possessed. “He was one of the most generous persons I have ever met,” says Mammooty. “He used to help everybody, either with words, money, or his physical presence.”
Suddenly Mammooty places a palm over his heart and says, “I still feel an intense pain, especially when I think of his three-year-old twin daughters, Safa and Marwa. They have lost such a loving father.”
Reality intrudes when he is suddenly called for a shot.
“Life will go on,” says Mammooty, as he stands up, and slips a Blackberry inside his shirt pocket. “But there will never be another Cochin Haneefa.”
(The New Indian Express, Chennai)