Mohanlal, so much had been written about this actor plus superstar. He could be anybody on the silver screen, yet he looks like a nobody walking the streets calmly. Thirty six years had passed since his first mainstream film titled ‘Manjil virinja pookkal’ released. Thirty four films of him were released in the year 1986 alone, one of which was the cult movie ‘Rajavinte makan’ which earned him the star status. Thirty years later, I 2016, he has delivered two back to back blockbusters – Oppam and Pulimurugan – both becoming the second and first highest grossing films in Malayalam industry, respectively. Time to time, his films had become Industry Hits several times.
The best films of Mohanlal came out in 1980s and the early 1990s for sure. The list of his great performances during that era is a very long list indeed. In this article we are taking a look at the performances of Mohanlal in films that got released in the 2000s. The focus is on his mesmerizing onscreen performances, regardless of the genre or the box-office collections of the movies.
- Narasimham (2000)
Mohanlal attained a similar mass hero status in Kerala as of Rajinikanth in Tamil Nadu with this action- packed movie ‘Narasimham’ released in year 2000. The film ran in packed houses for months and months breaking all the collection records then. Mohanlal, as Induchoodan, with his carelessly worn lungis and kurtas, the terrific introduction from underneath the water, catchy phrases like ‘Po Mone Dinesha’, intense dialogues with Thilakan, naughty flirtations with the heroine, and the twisted moustache took the theatres by storm. Mohanlal, whose slight feminine nature had made him more likeable than the all- masculine Mammoootty, suddenly became the epitome of masculinity and manliness with this film.
- Balettan (2003)
After a few box office duds that followed due to the onslaught of Narasimham-like characters, and even losing to Mammootty’s Chronic Bachelor with his much anticipated priyadarshan directed ‘Kilichundan mambazham’, Mohanlal did strike back with ‘Balettan’, a complete clean family entertainer. Filled with funny moments, combination scenes with Jagathy that made us laugh, good songs, and enough family drama towards the end, this normal nothing-to-boast-for simple movie became a super hit for another reason too – it gave back audience the old Mohanlal they were missing post Narasimham. The simplistic next-door local character, filled with natural expressions and flexible body language was back yet again.
- Udayananu Tharam (2005)
The debut film by the amazing director Rosshan Andrews became a super hit due to its fresh approach amidst a period in which Malayalam films were losing its quality. In this satirical film which told the story of the insides of the Film Industry had Mohanlal playing the role of an Assistant Director, an aspiring Director, trying hard to work out his new screenplay. Meanwhile, Sreenivasan (who wrote the script) stole the show as Rajappan aka Superstar Sarojkumar, mimicking and criticizing the role of Superstars in disrupting the quality of films. His character attained cult status in a short span of time itself. The film also gifted us Vineeth Sreenivasan, the multi-talented son of Sreenivasan, as a hit playback singer.
Even though this film had many positive things of its own which made it a blockbuster, but what remained underrated was the exceptional intense performance by Mohanlal as a frustrated budding filmmaker. Many a times he underplayed the emotions, hiding them behind his facial muscles as if to burst out suddenly. Years later, people might watch this movie not just for the Saroj Kumar character, but for the subtle nuances of Udayabhanu too, the name of Mohanlal’s character. Udayananu tharam!
- Naran (2005)
How could someone deliver such a completely different character from Udayabhanu, that too in the same year? But that’s something Mohanlal and Mammoootty are used to. Playing a goon-like pukka local in a remote village in Kerala, Mohanalal was delivering a performance that’s beyond even imitation. A soft character by heart but immensely feared by the village folks, the way he casually wears his lungi and shirt/baniyan, the way he walks after getting drunk all the time, the way he becomes respectful in front of the character played by Madhu, the way he smiles with eyes to the little daughter of his old love, the way he proposes fights with opponents as a solution to conflicts, the way he dances to the tunes of temple festivals, the way he swims during heavy floods to retrieve large logs of trees and animals floating down the river could all be enacted only by a born actor of his stature.
Naran may not enter the lists of Top Mohanlal films to watch, but if you miss Velayudhan (his character name), you miss a new dimension of Mohanlal.
- Thanmatra (2005)
Again, another film from 2005, in which he played a normal head of a family, working a Govt. job, and teaching his children easy methods to study at night. Rameshan is everything to his family, until one day it all starts crumbling down, when he gradually becomes an Alzheimer’s patient.
Memories are the soul of a person. If you take away the memories from somebody, he becomes a nobody. Here, hit by Alzheimer’s, Rameshan loses it all, everything and everyone he loved, and experienced, and cherished.
At the beginning stage of his disease, there is a scene in which he tries hard to remember the pet name of his childhood love. He tries hard to remember, he even knows that he knows it well enough never to forget it. He keeps asking the woman what it actually was, in a playful expression. All of those subtle nuances appears on his eyes and face, and when finally his wife tells him what it was, he gives that ‘Shit! I knew it!’ expression. Mesmerizingly delightful!
- Keerthi chakra (2006)
Major Ravi delivered a super hit with this film by offering something which is not so common in Malayalam cinema – a neat military film filled with realistically shot, well taken terrorist encounters. Shot mostly in Kashmir, the film had a pan-Indian appeal by the use of various languages by different characters and even a beautifully picturized song in Hindi. The film had a true grit and intensity which the director failed to fully evoke in his further military based movies.
Mohanlal, as Major Mahadevan, was grueling and tough enough for his demanding job. Despite his otherwise shapeless body language, he was totally convincing as a military officer, in a cinematic sense.
- Chotta Mumbai (2007)
After creating a super mega blockbuster in his debut movie ‘Rajamanikyam’ itself, and even creating a unique comedy image for the serious actor Mammootty, the talented Anwar Rasheed’s second movie
‘Chotta Mumbai’ was unique in itself. Set in the premises of Fort Kochi and Mattanchery, even the mass introduction of Mohanlal was intriguing enough to get the audience celebrating. Mohanlal had a youthful different style in this film, looking much younger then. Even though the movie was a big hit, it caught the imagination and attention of more movie lovers much later to its initial release, just like Mammoootty’s Big B, which released around the same time.
- Twenty-20 (2008)
This might not be a great film, or even a good one, to say. But the multi-star attempt as well as the box office records was epic, and inimitable in any other film industry in India. Director Joshiy delivered this film by accommodating about all the major cine artists in Malayalam cinema-around 60 or 70 of them. Meanwhile, everyone had at least a little importance or dialogues in the film, or a role to play in the flow of the story. Mammootty, Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi, Dileep, and Jayaram, played the leading roles.
What about Mohanlal? The role must have been a cake-walk for him. But the interval punch, that sudden transformation from a humble normal person to a man of importance, flowered thunders of applause and whistles in theatres, and made this film an all-time industry hit. Nobody folds and wears ‘mundu’ as stylish as Mohanlal. Not even Rajinikanth!
- Pakal Nakshatrangal (2008)
This film may not have won any box-office accolades, but the good-movie lovers will definitely keep this movie in their hearts and favorites folders as well. Mohanlal play Siddharthan, an award-winning director cum screenwriter, who commits suicide by jumping from his house top. The movie is about a private investigation into the life of Siddharthan by his son years after his death, played by Anoop Menon (who also wrote the screenplay), for materials to complete his second novel.
Mohanlal was curiously intense in this role. His portrayed a strange glow when he talked, especially to his female counterparts. His voice had a peculiar tone to it, and the modulation was impeccable.
This is one of the films in which an underused dimension of the actor Mohanlal was utilized. Strangely, perhaps due to its slow mood, the film failed in theatres to generate any income. But the movie definitely generated many fans.
- Bhramaram (2009)
Blessy’s second outing with Mohanlal after Thanmathra, which even though did not become as much as a success as the first film, and despite having a first half which lags a little, the movie did work out in building up the mystery and bringing up a terrific performance from Mohanlal. As the jeep driver Sivankutty, he was raw and gritty, driving himself into the boundaries of insanity due to his personal loss and drive for revenge. Taking the subtlety of the uneducated character to many levels such as the way he drinks cheap liquor, the way he drives lorries and jeeps, the way he smashes baddies down, the way he smiles hiding his real intentions, and even the way he smells a flower to reduce the regurgitating odor of the cheap arrack’s hangover.
Mohanlal undoubtedly deserved a national award for his role in this film. In Pranayam (2011) too, directed by Blessy, he delivered an amazing performance as a semi-paralyzed old man living in his wheelchair. The beach scene in which he gets a stroke was enacted in a way beyond comparisons.
- Spirit (2012)
Mohanlal had done drunkard scenes in umpteen films. But the funny thing is, unlike most actors who know only a single way to show they are drunk, he does it differently in almost every film. In Bhramaram he drinks the way a local driver drinks, but in Spirit, he does it in a completely different way. In this Ranjith movie, Mohanlal plays the role of a chronic alcoholic. Raghunandan, his character, anchors the most rated interview show in a TV channel. Having read and travelled a lot, this man is a person of class. But sadly, his elite nature is gradually overshadowed by his annoying behaviors, which comes as a result of his constant alcoholism.
Mohanlal had done a subtle yet tremendous job of enacting the role of Raghunandan. On a light watch, the movie looks normal and the role of the protagonist seems a normal act. But watch closely again and you will notice the genius behind his acting, the way he accidently drops a bottle of alcohol while already drunk, the way he fears to light a gas stove, the way he swears, the way he spurts intellectual monologues to screw his interviewees over, and even the way his face glows without exaggeration, once he stops drinking altogether.
Mohanlal might have performed much over the decades, but one of his qualities is his minimalistic approach towards certain roles, the way he says more with less.
- Drishyam (2013)
Another example of his minimalistic acting skills, allowing his eyes to speak and covey the messages, leaving the audience to dive and explore into the complexity going on within the protagonist’s mind.
Jeetu Joseph’s first film with Mohanlal transcended boundaries and became a super hit in many parts of India. Not every year comes out a film that would make you spring out of your seats and clap at the climax. Not just the climax, but the whole second half was thrilling enough. And, apart from the thrilling screenplay, what made it all work out well? – The non-betraying acting prowess of Mohanlal. The way he underplays bigger things. The way he carries around his secret like his life depends on it. He made us feel it, without overacting, and that’s not something every actor could do.
- Pulimurugan (2016)
For the fans he twisted his moustache again. But the fans were not limited to a particular class. Families rushed in. The film became the first 100 crore grosser ever in Malayalam film history.
A short video clip is spreading across the social media, in which one of the action shots from the movie is shot on a mobile phone. In this video, Mohanlal does an I-don’t-know-how-to-explain-it kind of stunt, in a very effortless and enigmatic way. The 56 year old actor is exploring new dimensions in performing stunt scenes, and the movie’s stunt director Peter Hein was wonderstruck seeing Mohanlal do almost all his stunts by himself.
After the stupendous success of Janatha Garage in Telugu, and Oppam in Malayalam, this superstar actor had reached new heights of success with Pulimurugan. Are there any other films you think would make into the list? With this actor, it’s too hard to compile a small list. For he delivers tirelessly, from time to time.
Column Writer. Travel Writer.