As part of this OTTplay series celebrating the Malayalam megastar, legendary filmmaker Adoor Gopalakrishnan shares his experience of working with the actor in his three films – Anantaram, Mathilukal and Vidheyan
This August 6, Malayalam megastar Mammootty would be completing 50 years in the film industry, since beginning his career in Anubhavangal Paalichakal. Over the course of his seminal career, the superstar has won the National Award for Best Actor thrice, twice for collaborating with another legend, Adoor Gopalakrishnan.
In that sense, there’s probably none better to kick off this OTTplay series celebrating 50 years of Mammootty, than the auteur himself. Adoor Gopalakrishnan shares with us his experience of working with the actor back-to-back in three of his films, Anantaram (1987), Mathilukal (1990) and Vidheyan (1993), a feat that he hasn’t repeated with any other lead actor in his career spanning over five decades. Excerpts from the interview:
What led to casting Mammootty in a supporting role in Anantaram, especially at a time when he was the industry’s lead actor?
When I was scripting Anantaram, the lead role was obviously Ashokan’s Ajayan. The next prominent role was of his enthusiastic and focused elder brother Dr Balu, who had a lot of virtues. So, I needed someone prominent to lend that influence to the lead character too. That’s how I decided to consider Mammootty for the role. He was already a top star when I approached him for a role that could be perceived as a supporting act. Fortunately, he showed positive interest to act in my film and that’s how he came onboard. It’s not a small role, it’s a pivotal character.
Mammootty back then had told me that when the Film Society had begun in Kochi, he used to regularly attend the shows and when the new wave of cinema began, he became its flagbearer. He perceived cinema as an important artform. I was making Anantaram after doing four films and he clearly understood the kind of movies that I was and will be making. So, he came onboard interested to be part of those.
He was perfect for that role; I don’t think anybody could have done it better than him. The protagonist, Ajayan, was a feeble and indecisive man but Balu (Mammootty) had all the qualities and was a paragon of sorts to the former. In the movie, there’s a line where Ajayan says that Balu, even during his childhood, was virtuous. So, to bring that contrast between the two characters, it was essential to have someone like Mammootty and he played the role brilliantly.
Was Mammootty’s performance in Anantaram the reason for also casting him in Mathilukal, which earned him his first National Award for Best Actor?
It was more of a coincidence. Fortunately, when I was doing Mathilukal, I found another role that suited him perfectly. No one else in Malayalam cinema could have acted as Vaikom Muhammed Basheer then – be it in terms of looks or personality. So, he was a natural choice. Mammootty had told me that it was his biggest fortune to act as Basheer while Basheer was still alive. He was so thrilled and that reflected in his performance.
What was Basheer’s feedback after watching the film?
The first screening of the film was organised in Kozhikode for Basheer, his family and friends. I had requested MT Vasudevan Nair and he arranged a special screening for them. All important cultural personalities from Kozhikode were at the screening of the movie. Right after watching the movie, Basheer, who was there with his wife, joked, “Now, she will say that she only wants the Basheer on screen.”
What were the inputs that Mammootty brought into the character?
With respect to my films, it’s not that the actor decides what he wants and then performs. He acts for me; I clearly tell him what I want from him. Mammootty is someone who admires Basheer’s work and so I didn’t have to convince him of anything. That’s also what thrilled him. Another thing is I never show my script to any actor. But for Mathilukal, I made an exception when Mammootty had asked to read the script. That would have given him an idea. It didn’t have any similarities to Basheer’s work that he has read, because the film is about Basheer himself. In this film, Basheer’s character was what stood out and it was almost impossible for any jury to not consider the actor who played that role.
Vidheyan, which won Mammootty his second National Award, though had him in a diametrically opposite role, as the tyrant landlord Bhaskaran Pattelar, again at a time when he was playing the quintessential hero roles in commercial entertainers.
With Vidheyan, my thought was to completely ‘recast’ Mammootty. I wanted to change the look of the superstar entirely. Initially, he wasn’t for it but I told him he had to cut his hair very short. The barber would try it but Mammootty would make up something or the other and so, I had to be present there for the barber to get it done. Along with the moustache and haircut, the film had him in a totally different getup from the ones that the audience was used to.
But there again, Mammootty was aware that it would affect the hero image he had because the character was more of an antagonist. And yet to take up that role, shows the virtue of the actor and his desire to do different characters. That’s where he deserves a lot of credit. He could have kept on playing the handsome hero. Vidheyan was also a physically-demanding film because we shot it in a forest and difficult terrains.
What would you say is the prime reason for casting him in multiple movies, something that you haven’t done with any of your other lead actors?
His discipline – personal and professional. It’s a joy for any filmmaker to work with someone so disciplined. He came to the sets on time and had no complaints whatsoever. He follows that discipline with his diet as well as maintaining his body. As someone who has realised that his body is an important aspect, he ensures that he maintains his fitness. Among those whom I have worked with, only Mammootty has that quality.
Why haven’t you two collaborated again after Vidheyan?
I haven’t found a role that was apt for him. When I was planning Nizhalkuthu, Mammootty said he could play the lead role. But that wasn’t something that would suit him. The character needed us to break the stereotype of executioners and we needed someone who was frail, powerless and kind for that role. No matter how well he acts, I didn’t think Mammootty could play a famished character because of his well-built physique.
What would you attribute to the longevity of Mammootty’s career?
An actor needs to be dedicated to his work, and Mammootty is that. For instance, in Vidheyan, Bhaskaran Pattelar also speaks a mix of Kannada and Malayalam. To those who know Kannada, he talks to them in that language but to his Malayali workers, he speaks Malayalam but with a heavy Kannada accent. During the dubbing, I brought a Kannada writer to Chennai and Mammootty would make him say certain things and repeat that. So, that’s the effort that has gone into the character from his part. The movie has a lot of such details.
Anantaram and Mathilukal can be streamed on Mainstream TV