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Mohanlal – Actor par excellence

A special post on Mohanlal’s sixtieth birthday. 

I am far from a film aficionado. I am at the most a casual viewer of cinema. As someone interested in politics and culture, films present an opportunity to observe social, cultural and political changes in real-time as well as an opportunity to sit back and enjoy them.

To any Malayali, Mammootty and Mohanlal evoke strong emotions (granted there are a small minority of psychopaths that do not). These superstars have shaped the Malayalam movie industry for the past 30 years. Their impact and stature are so high that, while there are a litany of ‘young’ (er) actors with significant talent such as Fahad Fazil, Nivin Pauly or Dulquer Salman, none of them come close to their stature. While Mammootty’s talent is extraordinary as well, today’s focus is on Mohanlal.

Rajavinte Makan (1986) cemented Lal’s position as a superstar in the Malayalam Movie Industry

What stuns me most about Mohanlal is his range more than anything else – whether the comedy star in Nadodikkattu (1987), Gandhinagar IInd Street (1986), the action hero in Spadikam (1995) or Narasimham (2000), or the tragic hero in Kireedam (1989) or Thanmathra (2005). He is not a superstar bereft of talent, but one who has an abunance of it. So much so that one wonders why he ever does fan-service films. Then I recall his entrance in Narasimham and I swallow my own question:

Mohanlal’s entrance in Narasmiham (2000) one of the most mass scenes ever shot.

Mohanlal’s best ever performance came in the 1993 I.V. Sasi directed Devasuram, which created the trend of ‘Thampuraan’ movies for more than a decade.

While there are so many of his masterful performances, my personal favorite, as many of my friends already know, is Devasuram (1993). His portrayal of Mangalasserry Neelakandan, a egomaniac and rowdy erstwhile feudal lord in Valuvanaad (a region of Kerala) is brilliant. It probably hits close to home for me, who can relate to a lot of the cultural and social tidbits thrown around in the movie. [1]


Kireedam (‘Crown’) and its sequel Chenkol (‘Sceptre’) won many plaudits for Mohanlal, with the latter giving him a Special Jury Mention in the National Film Awards. 

What would amaze many is the Mohanlal has had zero training in the art – what he has is what he has acquired himself, mixed with sheer talent. His depiction of Sethumadhavan, an aspiring police officer who loses everything – his fiancee, his family, his reputation and livelihood in Kireedam (1989) and then again in Chenkol (1993) became classics, showing the painful and distressing turns ones life can take. [2]

Thanmathra (2005) takes your heart, wrecks it, puts it back in, and then wrecks it again.

His performance as an Alzheimer’s affected father in Thanmathra is so haunting that I have not dared to see the movie more than once. While in the later 2000s and in the early 2010s he took more and more commercial a.k.a Masala films (worst of them being Casannovva (2012)), he reinvented himself in Grandmaster (2012), a crime thriller with only hints of fantastical heroism. The 2013 hit Drishyam again proved his mastery over the art.

His recent hit, Lucifer (2019) was a mass entertainer with elements of realpolitik – as I write in my blog post.

Iruvar, the 1997 film by Mani Ratnam covered the tumultuous nature of the MGR-Karunanidhi relationship.

Mohanlal has not strayed far from the Malayalam Movie industry but he has had a significant role in the 2002 Ram Gopal Verma film Company, and Tamil audiences would be familiar with his wonderous performance as Anandan (MGR-lite) in Iruvar (1997) and in Unnaipol Oruvaan (2009), starring with Prakash Raj and Aishwarya Rai in the former, and with Kamal Hassan in the latter. His talents might not be as well-known nationwide as other actors who have acted in other industries, but that should not be any reason to  underestimate the man.

Happy Birthday, Lalettaa. Thank you for all the entertainment.

Note: Mammootty is freaking awesome too. Just that I am partial to Devasuram.

Special Thanks to Aishwarya Ajayan for her editing skills. 


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