Sunday, July 12, 2009

Master of mimicry


Mukesh’s first public performance as a mimicry artist at S.N. College, Kollam was a resounding success. It enabled him to find his destiny as an actor

Caption: Mukesh with his parents, the celebrated stage actors O. Madhavan and Vijayakumari

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Mukesh saw mimicry artist Alleppey Ashraf perform at SN Women’s College, Kollam, he had a flash of intuition. “In mimicry you don’t have to depend on anybody,” he says. “To act in a play you have to touch the feet of a hundred people.”

Near his home there was a ‘B’ grade theatre called Jupiter. One day he took a Philips tape recorder from his home, placed it in the projection room, and started taping the dialogues. “I would listen to the voices for hours together,” he said. Then Mukesh would repeat the dialogues and tape it. He would compare the performances and correct the flaws.

After several months of practice he was ready. One day, in the college canteen, Mukesh was sitting with a few friends waiting for cups of tea that did not arrive. So he told the manager, “It looks like you will only deliver the tea if we ask in the voice of film stars.”

Everybody stared at him. Then he said, “Okay I will ask in the voice of Kottarakkara Sreedharan Nair.” Then he did the impersonation and quickly moved on to imitate the voices of Govindan Kutty, Kamal Hasan, Sukumaran and Prem Nazir.

“I knew I had got it perfectly right,” he says. But not a single student smiled or said anything. The tea came and they drank it in silence.

When Mukesh stepped out, a friend, Thamban, put his arm across his shoulders and said, “You were brilliant.” When he suggested that Mukesh perform at the Hostel Day function, he was hesitant.

“The audience is too critical,” says Mukesh. “You make one mistake and you are pelted with eggs and booed.” But Thamban persuaded him to participate.

When D-day arrived, Mukesh developed cold feet. Thamban suggested he could stand on stage and say he was unwell. Mukesh agreed. In the meantime, Thamban placed his friends in the audience, and they got ready to throw eggs when Mukesh made his announcement.

Soon, his name was called. “As I was walking towards the mike, till halfway, I was planning to say I am sick,” he says. “But suddenly God interfered with my mind and body.”

Mukesh held the mike and said, “A film on Jesus Christ is being made. To act as Christ, many actors have come. The line they have to say is this: ‘Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.’”

Mukesh said this in the voice of many stars and got a thunderous applause. “I felt a surge of enormous confidence,” he says. “Looking back it was the biggest turning point in my life.” Soon, Mukesh became a popular mimicry artist, and was invited to perform at many functions.

In 1982, Mukesh was studying at the Law Academy at Thiruvananthapuram. One evening when he returned home he saw that the noted producer and owner of Nana publications, R. Krishnaswamy Reddiar was having a chat with his parents, the celebrated stage actors O. Madhavan and Vijayakumari.

When Reddiar was told that Mukesh was a popular mimicry artist and had acted in plays in the family-owned troupe, Kalidasa Kala Kendram, he said, “Why did you not tell me this before? We produce so many films and need new people all the time.”

Two months later, Reddiar offered Mukesh the hero’s role in a film he was producing: ‘Balloon’. “My whole body shook,” he says. “People usually spend years hoping to get a scene in a film, and here I was being made the hero.”

Unfortunately, ‘Balloon’ flopped. And Mukesh immediately became a victim to the widespread superstition in the film industry. “The moment a film fails the hero is labelled as unlucky,” he says. “He never gets another chance.” Mukesh spent seven months in idleness, before luck turned in his favour.

Reddiar’s brother, Thiruvenkidam Muthalali was financing Priyadarshan’s second film, ‘Oodarathuammava Aalariyam’ in which Sreenivasan and Jagadish were acting. Thiruvenkidam ensured that Mukesh got a role, much to Priyardareshan’s irritation. When the shooting began Priyardarshan was unhappy with the newcomer’s acting.

However, there was one unavoidable scene.

The three of them were going to see the heroine, Lissy, but were hiding this fact from each other. When Sreenivasan asks Mukesh where he is going, he says, “I forgot to tell you that my father’s brother’s daughter’s aunty’s brother died.”

As Mukesh gave his dialogues and walked away, he noticed a perfume bottle, placed next to a mirror in the room. “I stopped and splashed the perfume on my body,” he says. Suddenly, Mukesh heard a high-pitched laughter. It was Priyadarshan who found the spontaneous action so funny he fell over backwards from his chair. The moment the scene was over he ran up and hugged Mukesh.

“You improvised in a way that even great actors are unable to do so,” he said. “I have to tell you the truth: I was taking out your dialogues and I am sorry about it. But there is no doubt you have a very bright future.”

Mukesh never looked back after that. Today, he has acted in more than 150 films, including hits like ‘Ramji Rao Speaking’, ‘In Harihar Nagar’, ‘Godfather’, ‘Hitler’, ‘Chronic Bachelor’, and ‘2 Harihar Nagar’. Relaxing on a sofa in his villa at Maradu, Kochi, he says, “You need the help of destiny to be successful.”

(The New Indian Express, Kochi)

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