In this short but detailed list, we take a look at some of the best cameos of Malayalam cinema. Instead of the usual suspects, like Mohanlal in Summer in Bethlehem or Mammootty in Narasimham, we have tried seek out cameos that altered narratives in subtle ways, roles that have not been commonplace with either infinite comedic value or even pathos. Feel free to add on.
Mohanlal (Peruvannapurathe Visheshangal)
As the story of this film—written by Ranjith and directed by Kamal—seems to be nearing a climax, a flashy old black Mercedes carries the mother of all cinematic clichés into the sleepy town of Peruvannapuram: the ‘adichu thalikkariyude mon’ (the sweeper’s son). When the man steps out in stylish glasses, leans over the car and asks for directions, the audience is also caught staring at the ‘superstar’ that is Mohanlal. One of his most underrated cameos.
Mammootty (Kadha Parayumbol)
Sreenivasan puts a spin on the fabled Krishna-Kuchela friendship in this film by first-time director, M Mohanan. Though barber Balan’s schoolmate, Superstar Ashok Kumar, appears sporadically in the narrative, he really towers over the rest towards the end. He is given a hero’s stage at the local village school for the big day. But nothing prepares us for his emotional, wistful speech, knitting together every little incident of his childhood and his best friend—Barber Balan. One of those trademark Mammootty renditions complete with pathos, pitch-perfect intensity, it makes us feel for every word he utters.
Thilakan (Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam)
It was probably the joyous company that challenged the otherwise stern Thilakan to loosen up. Only Sreenivasan could have crafted a witty don like Bombay’s Underworld King Damodar Ji, while Sathyan Anthikad gave Thilakan his biggest image makeover (he would follow it up with the equally hilarious Ananthan Nambiar from Nadodikattu). In a long Kurta-pyjama, Gandhi cap and some heavily accented Hindi, it doesn’t take much time to warm up to this seriously funny don who has been given the task of throwing Gopalakrishna Panicker (Mohanlal) out of his own rented house. The minute he grins and says “Aaaram garo,” patting the anxious Panicker, you are on his team. It also helps that the actor on the other end is as competent. Sample this repartee: “Njan ithrem nalum Tihar Jailil aayirunnu” (I was in Tihar jail all this while) Damodarji warns Panicker; “Jaililaano joli?” (Is that where you work?) Panicker shoots back.
An ordinary director would have probably handed out the role to a Kader Khan or Amrish Puri back then. But when the enterprise is headed by Sathyan Anthikad and Sreenivasan, rest assured they wouldn’t make it into a routine cameo. Innocent literally turns it around. So, we hardly raise our eyebrows when his ‘Yashwant Sahai’ speaks Hindi with a heavy Malayalam twang. On the contrary, we are laughing aloud at the right places, just as it was masterminded by the duo. Note how he adds his own goofiness to a line as simple as “Humko peenekeliye naariyal ka paani laavo” (Bring me some coconut water to drink), in front of a bunch of clueless Malayali followers headlined by Mamukoya, and creates a vintage Innocent moment.
Suraj Venjaramoodu (Action Hero Biju)
Actors from all over the world talk about how difficult it is to make people laugh. Just as difficult for a comedy actor is to break free from that space and showcase his gravitas as an actor. Suraj Venjaramoodu does that with surprising ease in just 10 minutes in Action Hero Biju. In this Abrid Shine directorial, he walks in as the man who wants to lodge a police complaint to find his missing wife. When he realises that not only has she eloped with her lover but the daughter he loved dearly too was never his. It’s a stunningly poignant act and the most powerful scene in the film.
Kuthiravattam Pappu (Vellanakalude Naadu)
Sreenivasan teams up with Priyadarshan and one of the finest comedy actors, Kuthiravattam Pappu, to create one of the most epic cameos in the history of Malayalam cinema. He comes as this mechanic who claims to have performed brave feats at the ‘Thamarassery Churam’ and thinks fixing a road roller is child’s play. “Ippo sheriyakki tharam (I’ll fix it right now)” he assures all and sundry while tinkering endlessly with the road roller, and that ‘now’ somehow never arrives. The role was recreated years later by Johny Lever in the film’s Hindi remake, Khatta Meeta but it wasn’t a patch on the original.
Suresh Gopi (Innale)
In this 1999 film, written and directed by Padmarajan, Shobana suffers from amnesia. Though the narrative soon latches on to a romance track between Jayaram and Shobana, the film’s most poignant moment is created by Suresh Gopi. He is her husband, Narendran, who arrives at her new home, clutching their wedding photographs as proof. She smilingly enters the room, shows no signs of recognition and disappears into the kitchen with her lover. The husband sits there blankly for a few minutes, completely broken inside, gets up and leaves. And Suresh Gopi simply walks away with the movie.
Dulquer Salmaan (Parava)
In his directorial debut, actor-turned-director Soubin Shahir tells a tale of two adolescent boys and their vocation of pigeon racing in a small town in Fort Kochi. He cleverly infuses a beauty of a cameo into the tale, thereby adding unexpected pathos to an otherwise leisurely narrative. Dulquer Salmaan appears as Imran, an orphan who spreads love wherever he goes. He is the familiar good Samaritan who has been adopted into every family in the colony. Right from the time he is introduced, you know that his life is going to end on a tragic note and yet when it happens, you are unprepared. Imran, like the pigeons in Parava, is a heart-warming sight in the film.
Oduvil Unnikrishnan (Devasuram)
Directed by IV Sasi, written by Ranjith and performed to perfection by Mohanlal, Devasuram trails the highs and lows in the life of Mangalassery Neelakandan. Though he has an unsavoury reputation, Neelakandan was always a connoisseur of music and dance and held artistes in high regard. This cameo by Oduvil, where he comes as percussionist Peringode Sankara Marar, becomes memorable for two reasons a) their friendship is a sight for sore eyes (superb chemistry between Lal and Oduvil) and b) Oduvil plays the instrument with the flair of a maestro. The depth of their friendship cannot be more eloquent than in that scene where a heartbroken Marar visits his injured friend and offers a composition as therapy.
Martin Prakkat’s film chronicles the life and times of Charlie (Dulquer Salmaan), a loud, nomadic and colourful do-gooder who is also a problem solver. Kalpana’s ‘Queen Mary’ is someone he discovers during such a mission and drags her on a midnight cruise. She is a sex worker who has been tested HIV positive. They even have a mini fish cutting birthday celebration and soon after she plunges into the deep sea. It’s a character that brings a lump in your throat and one of Kalpana’s finest.