How many hours of one’s life does one spend watching the films of a favourite superstar? For viewers of Malayalam cinema, this calculation can get a little complicated. Let’s take the case of a 30-year-old who grew up watching the films of either Mohanlal or Mammootty. Calculating two hours per movie multiplied by a minimum of 150 films, it adds up to 300 hours. And then you add the 50-odd films you must have watched at least a second time. This adds another 100 hours to the total. If you go on to add a minimum of another 50 hours of watching their interviews and the discussions about their films, you have a grand total of 450 hours. In simpler numbers, this means that you’ve roughly spent 19 sleepless days of your life ONLY watching or talking about Mohanlal.
To put this into perspective, how many people outside of your immediate family can you name who you’ve spent as much time with? Perhaps, a few best friends. Give or take a cousin or two, or maybe an aunt or an uncle you’ve grown really close to. But, at the end of the day, this Malayali film lover has arguably spent more time looking at or listening to Mohanlal or Mammootty than most people they’ve actually met in real life.
What this means is that when Mohanlal cries, it’s like witnessing a family member cry. His issues become ours and we start seeing a bit of our father or a brother in him. As the actor turns 60, it’s important to remember this, because it’s not just about the goosebumps you get when he’s in his megastar mode or the LOLs when he’s being playful. For many, he is the man you first cried for even when the problem wasn’t yours to begin with. Here’s to the man who switched on that button of empathy for the first time.
TP Balagopalan MA
The actor’s first State Award-winning performance is one that remains powerful even three decades after its release. He wants to build a house, he wants to help his family and he wants to marry his lover. His dreams aren’t big but even these prove difficult to achieve. Just watch him in this scene. He struggles to meet his sister’s eyes. He couldn’t get her married the way he had planned, and when she leaves, all he can do is give her whatever’s in his pocket. It’s just Rs. 50 but it’s worth so much more than the dozens of gold coins Mohanlal showers his sister with in Usthad.
Everyone’s emotional when it comes to their sisters, so we can argue that it’s easier for us to tear up, especially when he’s playing a paavam like Balagopalan. What about his role Dasharatham? He’s a brash alcoholic with all the money in the world. But, in the climax, when he loses his surrogate child, Mohanlal makes you feel lonelier than you’ve ever felt. What’s the point in having everything in the world when you’re still alone? He’s not asking Maggie (Sukumari) to stay on out of sympathy for her. He’s just yearning for a mother’s love. Watch his right hand and watch it again. It’s as good as an ECG of a broken man’s heart.
If one ever gets to meet Mohanlal, please please ask him about what was going through his mind during this scene. See how his hands remain in place even after the photos have been taken away from them. He needs to see those photos to make sure it’s not his brother, but what if it is him? See how he stares at the same place even when the policeman piles one proof over another of his brother’s demise.
Now, it’s easy to dismiss his two roles in Ravanaprabhu just because it’s a big massy action movie. But you cannot deny the power of this scene where he realises that all that’s left of his father is just his chain. He’s not a dreaded gangster anymore. He’s not the strongman who beat up a dozen guys just a couple of scenes ago. He’s not even angry. He’s just a little boy who realised how much he’s going to miss his father he disagreed so much with.
The climax of Chitram is proof that Mohanlal doesn’t even have to cry to make us cry. In fact, in this scene, he’s mostly smiling. But when he asks Soman if he can spare his life because, “he now has a desire to live,” unlike earlier, we’re with him. How can the same character that made us laugh so much an hour before make us cry like this?
Here’s another scene where he’s barely crying but we certainly were. Like Ravanaprabhu, this too hits you because what you’re seeing is a child. He doesn’t want that garland to be removed, and earlier, he stares at it with the wonder of a kid. But towards the end of this scene, it’s as though the hale and hearty Ramesan makes a return, realising how he’s struggling with the smallest of things. His tears here are the visual expression of two people fighting for the same body. The healthy adult and the one Alzheimer’s has given birth to.
Which scenes can you add to this list?