Sunday, March 01, 2015

The Enduring Superstar

Colleagues in Mollywood talk about their experiences of working with Mammooty

By Shevlin Sebastian

During the shoot of the Malayalam thriller, 'Munnariyippu', young actress Aparna Gopinath was on a fast. When superstar Mammooty came to know about it, one day, after lunch, he placed his hand under Aparna's nose and said, 'Chicken'. “Then he gave a hearty laugh because he knows I am a foodie,” says Aparna. “Mammooty Sir is a cool guy. He has the heart of a 18-year-old.”

He is also an intelligent person. “I call him a walking and talking encyclopaedia,” says Aparna. “You can discuss any subject with him. He has this knack of learning continuously. I am sure all the world knows that he is a gadget freak. He is always updating his devices.”

The main reason for his success in Mollywood is his fearlessness to go to the next level. “So, he takes on all sorts of roles,” says Aparna. "Sometimes, the films do well, and, sometimes, they don't. Most of us are scared to try experimental roles. We feel that if we take a risk, we might not last in the industry. But Mammooty Sir went beyond that thinking very early in his career.”

Asked the reasons for his enduring popularity, Aparna says, “He always puts in an immense amount of hard work for every role that he plays.”

In 'Munnariyippu', in which he plays a prisoner, there were many discussions with the director Venu, scriptwriter Unni and Aparna, who plays a freelance journalist, to understand the motivations of the character.

Mammooty Sir has the capability of looking at a film from the point of view of the audience, the actor as well as the camera,” says Aparna. “To be able to have a three-pronged point of view has enabled him to remain on top.”

The actor-director Joy Mathew agrees. “Mammooty knows where the camera is all the time,” he says. “He knows everything on the technical side. The type of lenses that are used: wide-angle, zoom, and high speed. And he knows where to stand and give his dialogues.”

When Joy was doing a fight sequence with Mammooty in the film, 'Rajadhi Raja', it was the superstar who showed Joy how to block a hit and shift the gun from one hand to the other. “You can clear any doubt with him,” says Joy. “In fact, he feels happy to do so. And this is not only about acting. If you want to know the meaning of some Malayalam word, or discuss art, literature or politics, he is ready to do so.”

In essence, Joy says, Mammooty has a heart. “Whenever he has home-made food, he will always invite people to share it with him,” says Joy. “It is a sign of humanity. You can share your liquor with friends, but the sharing of food is rare.”

However, like most people, Mammooty has lapses of temper. But Joy does not get upset by it. “An artist is always disturbed,” says Joy. “All good artistes are like that. Take the case of John Abraham [the late Malayalam film director], Picasso or Vincent Van Gogh. It is because of inner disturbances that great art and acting are born.”

Asked why Mammooty has been able to remain on top for three decades, Joy says, “You have to be committed if you want to do well in your profession. And Mammooty is very committed. He is punctual on the sets and can shoot till 3 a.m., without voicing any complaint. His hunger and passion for acting has remained undimmed, despite so many years of success. He told me one day, 'Why don't you write and direct a film for me?'”

Not many people know that Mammooty has given opportunities to many writers, as well as associate directors, to become directors. “Director Lal Jose got his first break in 'Oru Maravathoor Kanavu' (1998) in which Mammooty was the hero,” says actor Jagadish, who has known the stalwart for three decades. “Aashiq Abu's first film, 'Daddy Cool', (2009) also had Mammooty as the hero. When he feels somebody has calibre, Mammooty will say, 'Why don't you direct? I will give you the dates.'

As he remains focused on his career, Mammooty keeps an eye on the other aspects of life. “He follows a careful diet,” says Jagadish. “Mammooty will avoid fried eggs. On rare occasions, he will have red meat.”

He is also religious. “On Fridays, whereever he is, no matter how hectic is the shooting, he will go to a nearby mosque to pray,” says Jagadish. “He keeps track of what is happening in the lives of his colleagues. When my children became doctors he complimented me. That is an admirable trait in him.”

Jagadish smiles and says, “He also has a hidden trait: he likes to drive very fast. But I would not call it rash driving.”

In the film, 'Inspector Balram', there was a car chase. Jagadish acted as the police driver Sudhakaran. But in one particular scene, Circle Inspector Balram, played by Mammooty, pushed Jagadish aside and took the driver's seat. They were chasing a man who had a bomb.

He drove with tremendous speed,” says Jagadish. “I was terrified. If you look at the scene, there is real fear on my face. I felt that at any moment we would have an accident.”

Asked whether the presence of Mohanlal has enabled Mammooty to remain on his toes, Jagadish agrees. “There is a healthy competition between them,” he says. “This has enabled Mammooty to remain in the race.”

But, despite a long and glorious career, Mammooty has a few regrets. “Once he told me that had he been a Bollywood actor he would have got worldwide fame and a far higher remuneration,” says Jagadish. “Instead, he is confined to a small industry in Kerala. When it comes to talent, both Mohanlal and himself could have shone in Bollywood, if they had been Hindi-speaking actors.” 

(This was an input for a cover story on enduring superstars in the Sunday magazine of the New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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