Jagadeesh described comedians as hot cakes that come with an expiry date. The audience laugh at their mere sight on screen while they're 'hot'. It's unlikely that any big film gets planned without their comic presence. They end up doing hundreds of films before the audience is tired of them. Before Suraj Venjaramoodu (especially recently in Driving License and Great Indian Kitchen), only a few comic actors managed to transition to playing lead characters, or even more concrete supporting characters.
With more actors switching between comedy and serious roles (the most recent being Soubin Shahir and Sharad-U-Deen), we're finally at a place where actors can escape stereotypes. A rare film shatters our image of their onscreen persona and reveals their true acting range.
Here are a few actors who went against stereotypes set by the business at the time and showed us a side of them we hadn't seen before.
Indrans in Aalorukkam
Although he got noticed as a character actor after TV Chandran's Kathavasheshan, Indrans got a state award only in 2018 for his performance in Alorukkam (2018). He played Pappupisharadi, an Ottamthullal artiste who addresses social issues through satire. He leaves home at the age of seventy five to search for his son, Sanjeevan, who had left home sixteen years ago. He is confident of finding him alive.
His anger and disbelief on finding that his song had transitioned into a woman almost paralyses him. When Priyanka gives him a bath, he moves away and struggles to reach the mug by himself. He quickly pours water on his body and throws it in the bucket with disgust. Pisharadi's transition from a hopeful to an accepting father is an uncomfortable watch.
Salim Kumar in Achanurangatha Veedu
Popular for the 'don't do, don't do' dialogue, Salim Kumar is also known for his unique voice, and even more, his unique mannerisms. He moves away from his usual antics in Achanurangatha Veedu. He was awarded the Kerala State Film Award for Second Best Actor in 2005 for it, and his career as a serious actor took off. He's Samuel, whose youngest daughter's disappearance and eventual return causes him great suffering as she gets involved in a sex racket. He internalizes the shame he feels when disrespected by the police and even the public, and it's conveyed naturally by Salim Kumar.
By the end of the film, Samuel becomes unrecognisable due to his mental distress caused by everyone around him. An even better performance that could show us another side to him was Abu in Salim Ahmed's Adaminte Makan Abu. But, we discovered this side to him first in Lal Jose's Achanurangatha Veedu.
Jagadeesh in Leela
Jagadeesh is most popularly known as 'Appukuttan' in the In Hariharnagar series. As most of his roles were that of a funny idiot, it was surprising to see him as a drunkard father in Ranjit's Leela (2016). Although his character was not an extended one, his portrayal of a disorderly man stands out in a long career playing the hero's sidekick (or the timid and gentlemanly hero).
Innocent In Keli
Innocent may be known as a comedian by an entire generation, but he occasionally played the villain every once in a while. His role as the ruthless and egotistic Shankarankutty Menon in Sathyan Anthikad's Mazhavilkavadi was one such role, and so was the role of Panicker in Ponmuttayidunna Tharavu (1988). But his most brutal villain role remains his nuanced performance as Lazer mothalaly in Bharathan's Keli (1991) where he's an obnoxious — but smiling — politician and businessman whose viciousness unfolds dreadfully.
Harisree Ashokan in Kadalkadannoru Mathukutty
We saw a new Harishree Ashokan in Ranjith's Kadalkadannoru Mathukutty. Although not a long role, he made an impact with his performance as Rafique, the paavam victim. His performance wasn't loud, his Kochi accent sounded natural, and overall there was the intensity you'd associate more with a Harishree Ashokan interview rather than his roles. With a lineup of serious roles in the future (his performance in Parava was a departure too), there's a lot to look forward to from the actor.
Cochin Haneefa in Dubai
Even though he had played several villain roles earlier in his career, Cochin Haneefa had pretty much become the comic relief in mainstream films from the mid-90s. At this point, we could even see him in roles that outwardly appear funny and harmless, but their evil intentions would be revealed to us only much later. Of course, his conniving character in Kamal Haasan's Mahanadhi comes to mind first, and we even saw him in a similar role in Sibi Malayil's Sagaram Sakshi, starring Mammootty.
But after he became stereotyped for his comedy, he played Victor Sebastian in Joshiy's Dubai, starring Mammotty. Only his role in Pathram would come a close second. The magic of this performance is how effective he's able to gain our trust like, just as he does with Nedumudi Venu's character. He's loyal, subservient and respectful to the point where it's shocking to us when we see another side to him. It's also a glimpse of all the roles he could have done had he stayed with us longer.