A new softened Mammootty off screen

Let's Talk Movies

by Neelima Menon

6 min read
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The Mammootty who interacts with media in the last couple of months, especially post-pandemic, is a mellow, pleasant, and surprisingly witty man. It is a well-known fact that Mammootty isn’t the easiest superstar to handle off and on screen. Though non-controversial, he has this image of being blunt and haughty. There are enough stories floating in media and the film industry about how his infamous temper has often rubbed people the wrong way. In fact, it is such an inseparable part of his personality that over the years, the off-screen Mammootty persona rides on unaltered, even to the newest generation of media people. That’s more than evident when Mammootty had to literally placate a female scribe at the start of a video interview as he saw how frazzled she was. Recently a young interviewer during the promotional interview of Rorschach admitted to being scared in his presence to which Mammootty looked a tad annoyed—“Why? Am I a demon?” But that doesn’t really stop the YouTube interviewers from coming up with the most ludicrous questions though. The same interviewer wanted to know whether he keeps clicking photographs as he was fond of photography to which the actor had a witty retort before muffling a laugh. During the recent Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam presser, he casually ducked a query about the Adoor-KR Narayanan issue, though it didn’t go down well for a section of people on social media.

Mohanlal on the other hand has a quieter and more cheerful disposition. Not that he is the most inspiring conversationalist to be around. But he is never known to be intimidating as his counterpart. But off late it looks like Mammootty is deliberately trying to put out a “pleasant, accessible” image. There can be no other reason why the 70+ veteran actor would agree to be part of the mad rigmarole of media interactions. At various movie, and promotional press meets you can see how he carefully evades the most provocative questions with practiced ease. And during those serious, academic interviews, Mammootty shows his perceptive, insightful side of him. Clearly, the Megastar hasn’t allowed age to wither his updation skills when it comes to handling media or its ramifications, unlike Mohanlal who seems to be living in an echo chamber, woefully out-of-depth with the politics of social media. That’s why he fumbled and messed up when he was asked about the film and social media critics. Mammootty is far too astute to fall into that trap, though he might have an axe to grind with critics like all actors. If you care to dwell deeper on some of these fun media interactions with Mammootty, you might realise that in reality Mammootty always has an opinion, just that he candies it with a witty rejoinder. So his casual remark that the media should also be responsible while framing questions to the actors was barely registered because of the flippant tone. During Sreenath Bhasi’s fracas with the media person which resulted in Bhasi getting banned by the producers’ association, Mammootty without naming anyone supported his fraternity—"There should be no ban on anybody. Why should we deny someone's daily bread? Denying somebody work is wrong.” Three years ago, at the audio launch of Vidhu Vincent’s film, his speech during the wake of the WCC V/s AMMA fiasco was a diplomatic masterstroke. He spoke about the importance of both parties working in solidarity and not being at loggerheads, as cinema should be their ultimate goal.

When social media made him aware that he crossed the line while making a casual remark about director Jude Antony’s balding hair, Mammootty didn’t flinch from posting a public apology on social media. That made many wonder about his studious silence during the infamous Kasaba row involving Parvathy Thiruvothu. We live in a world where actors are expected to take a stand on every social/political issue and often their talent gets outweighed if they fail to do so. Mohanlal is a classic example. But it is widely claimed that Mammootty because of his off-screen no-nonsense image and his purported political leanings often manages to get off with a wide margin. Having said that, it is also true that despite social media mincing no words to condemn his silence during the Parvathy Thiruvothu issue and the KR Narayanan incident Mammootty remained stoic.

Having seen failure at close quarters (almost rose like a phoenix after a spate of flops during the late 80s) he has always managed to keep his head above the water. That is one reason behind his longevity, his ability to reinvent every time the chips are down. If Mohanlal was always an actor for his fans in the purest sense, Mammootty was strangely viewed through a multidimensional lens. Though if you ask him, he might take offence.

In interviews, Mammootty comes across as very self-aware and takes digs at himself, talks about his failures, which very few stars of that stature would even risk doing, and constantly reminds you about his passion for cinema and the need to reinvent himself. During the latest interview with a Tamil channel, when the anchor gushed about his Azhagan and Mounam Sammatham, the actor laughingly cut him off to ask— “You don’t see any growth in me after that?” Considering his 400-plus filmography and his eagerness to experiment even to this day, it is easier to buy when he says— “It is my greed that keeps me going and not money.”

A great year for sure but that doesn’t say it all though

2022 undoubtedly reaped rich dividends for the actor, which started with Bheeshma Parvam in which he played the formidable patriarch Micheal Anjootty who is a cross between Vito Corleone and Bheeshma Pitamah. When he does a film like Puzhu in which he played a bigot and toxic parent, thereby subverting his own previously celebrated casteist alpha males, one is inclined to believe that the actor has made an informed choice here. He has inadvertently made a strong political statement. While Rorschach was the actor in him hitting it out of the park as this psychotic vengeful NRI who remains remorseless till the end. And in Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, though he seamlessly shifts between Malayali James and Tamilian Sundar with elan, especially the language, he does get into the realm of theatrics during rare occasions. Not sure I would count it among his finest. But what needs to be appreciated is his readiness to experiment with the changing landscape and narratives of Malayalam cinema. That he embraces the inventiveness of the newest generation of directors with the eagerness of a student is commendable. It’s been a while since Mammootty has gushed profusely about a filmmaker since KG George as he has about Lijo Jose Pellisery. “He is so casual on the sets. But gets things done. I was impressed by the way he added those retro numbers in the narrative,” he was quoted as saying.

Actor Mammootty in the film Bheeshma Parvam

Mammootty has always maintained that an actor’s screen age matters more than his real age when he picks a character. But of late that’s been a dampener. If in Puzhu, it was still easier to buy him as the father of an adolescent boy (maybe the makeup helped), in Rorschach Luke Antony’s supposed onscreen age (he is hinted to be in his 40s) stuck out like a sore thumb. If the young woman who acted as Luke Antony’s wife was placed as his daughter in Rorschach and he was perhaps a widower, it would have added more emotional heft to the character. Similarly in Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, both James and Sundaram are shown to have young wives and children. Even that make-believe wasn’t easy to buy.

Mammootty and others in Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam

The Megastar is poised at a very interesting stage in his career. On one hand, he is merrily co-existing with his superstar son, Dulquer Salmaan in Malayalam cinema with both doing different things, and on the other hand, there is this ongoing fight for supremacy and subsistence between him and Mohanlal with both showing no sign of slowing down. His upcoming projects, except for B Unnikrishnan’s investigative thriller Christopher show promise. There is Jeo Baby’s Kaathal, Roby Varghese Raj’s police procedural Kannur Squad, and Amal Neerad’s passion project Bilal somewhere looming in the backdrop, fans eagerly waiting for an update.

A bit of foresight regarding his screen age and Mammootty is good to go. Hopefully, Mohanlal who has been going through a rough patch will bounce back with the Lijo film and it will be open season for both once again at the BO. The finale scene between Shah Rukh Khan and Salman Khan in Pathan, could very well be a conversation between the two Ms. After deciding between several young actors who can succeed them, they will eventually settle for themselves—"We can’t leave it to kids.” For sure!

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