Versatile. Can anything ever be written about Mohanlal without the use of this word? The adjective (or "flexible" as it's so often confused with) is to Mohanlal, what perfectionist is to Aamir Khan or "bramandam" is to director Shankar. There's even a game his fans play to justify its use. Take a printout of a gradient, from black to white. Take another print of the actor's filmography and start marking the gradient based on the darkness/brightness of his roles. If one can find another superstar with as many roles in as many shades, then you may call her/him the complete actor.
A major reason why this game works so well for him is because of his many antihero roles. But what makes this game fun is in the slotting. For instance, where does Dasan (from the Nadodikattu trilogy) fall? He's selfish, opportunistic and pompous. But he's also harmless, lovable and vulnerable. About 25% in the darkness scale sounds about right…like a lot of the roles in Priyadarshan/Sathyan Anthikad films. What about Haridas from MT Vasudevan Nair's Amrutham Gamaya? This morphine-addicted doctor sure is helpful, saving an entire family from ruin, but there's a reason for his benevolence. It was he who killed the family's only ray of hope (much like his role in Kanmadham no?) and all this is his way of achieving atonement. That's about 50% in the darkness scale. After several roles which fell well below the 20% mark in this index, Lucifer, finally makes this game sound interesting again. As we wait, here's a list of seven antiheroes to get into right mood.
This alcoholic chauvinist lives off his father's wealth and feudal status. He hasn't worked a single day of his life and spends time planning ambushes, when he's not busy arm-twisting artists to perform for him. If you watch closely, Sekharan, his cousin/rival, isn't such a bad guy. In fact, it's Neelakandan who sets off the family warfare, having killed one of Sekharan's own. If not for the brilliant performance, Neelan's "bastardisation" and the attack that makes him vulnerable, it would have been impossible to empathize with Neelan.
The one that started it all, even though Sobharaj had him play a character with similar traits even before. How is Ratheesh's character not the film's hero? Gomes is a mob boss who manipulates a helpless woman (Ambika) to get back at his old rival. Vengeful and blatant, his corruption is shown as a matter of fact. Yet when he falls for Ambika and narrates his tragic past (in the now iconic, 'Rajumon ennodu chothichu' scene), his life of crime becomes a success story to us. We don't judge; he's just playing the cards he's been dealt, unlike Ratheesh, who seems opportunistic in comparison. Vincent just seems like a guy you can count on…his phone number is 2255, just in case.
Another gem from the Thambi Kannanthanan-Dennis Joseph team is his character in Bhoomiyile Rajakkanmar. A politician so vile, he needs Dettol after he kisses a poor boy during his campaign. Even the reason he joins politics is anti-democratic, trying to retain remnants of his family's monarchic glory. His transition from pure evil to a respectable politician is a tightrope-walk, but we're with him right through.
Calling Aadu Thoma an antihero isn't exactly accurate. He's a good son to his mother, a great brother to his sister, a guardian to many and an "able" lover. Yet he's branded an antihero just because his dietary escapades include fresh goat blood and because he learnt martial arts in a nudist school. It's Mohanlal's ability (along with Bhadran's writing) that we don't see him as a criminal…he's just the result of a flawed education system. In short, Aadu Thoma is Darsheel Safary in Taare Zameen Par had Aamir Khan not intervened.
Boys love Narasimham. Men love Kireedom. But legends love Chenkol. This underrated masterpiece is a deep exploration into the mind of a man and his descent into evil. Released decades before Breaking Bad, this film doesn't give its hero the crutches of being a loving son like Kireedom. Just watch Mohanlal in the scene where he stares into the mirror, realizing what he looks like to society. "Who am I?", we can hear his eyes speaking.
IMHO, Advaitham is the most underappreciated film from the Priyadarshan-Mohanlal friendship. Tell me another actor, who at his peak, would pick a role where's he's shown stealing from God! It's also ironic to fit this role into a list like this because advaitham like the title suggests is beyond dichotomy or beyond good or evil.
Perhaps the most controversial name in this list but certainly a character that needs to be listed. Where would you slot Georgekutty in the aforementioned game? Is everything fair if it's to protect your family, even if it means destroying another? Just compare how Mohanlal plays the "confession" scene to how Kamal Haasan does it in Papanasam. Kamal's Suyambulingam, with his emotional breakdown, suggests deep remorse of a broken man. He knows his actions were wrong and with his silent confession, he's perhaps made peace with it. But can you say the same about Georgekutty? Does he sleep well at night or is he getting buried under the weight of his secrets? Guess we need to ask him to really find out.