Mammootty’s stature today is derived through consistent hard work, extraordinary diligence and undying commitment. In the formative years, as an actor, he persisted in the Industry with a few advantages of looks, charm and style. He earned career-breaks at regular intervals by skillfully playing characters that gently impersonates his offscreen persona, Mela (1980) and Yavanika (1982) were prominent among them. Mammootty thrived success by gradually mending and moulding his body language. This is transparent from his body of work ― from Arappatta Kettiya Gramathil (1986), Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha (1989), Mrugaya (1989), Ponthan Mada (1994), Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000) to Dany (2002), the cases where he had to tackle complex body languages departing from previous standards per se.
If you observe the repertoire of Mammootty, the 80’s and 90’s gave characters with depth and intensity. There were writers like MT and Lohithadas to his back. But the actors’ biggest evolution and reinvention had to be the new millennium. Mammootty circumvented his weak areas like comedy (both slapstick and sitcom), intimate romance and naturality. And, even with the absence of melodrama he adapted to the modern age like a boss, the recent Khalid Rahman film Unda (2019) serves as an example. Let’s have a look at the Top 10 Mammootty performances from the year 2000 to 2020.
10. Anonymous: Puramkazhchakal- Kerala Cafe (2009)
When there are precedents for brief 5 minute appearances winning oscars, why not consider Mammootty’s stellar act in Laljose’s 10 minute short, here, in a petty list? Puramkazhchakal has Mammootty as an anonymous man aboard a bus trudging along the hill terrain. The whole short places Sreenivasan’s character as a fellow observant to this mystique co-passenger who’s impatient to the extent that he won’t spare the bus halt an extra second. But, before the climax leaves a lump in the throat, abruptly so, with all the answers. Mammootty injects a hype around it, building frantic tension, frowning anxiety and unnerving restraint. The screen presence of Mammootty is what makes the short more pensive than passive.
9. Madhavan: Kaazhcha (2004)
Who’s a better cast than Mammootty when it comes to Father roles? Blessy’s Kaazhcha, embraces yet another facet of Mammootty’s paternal compassion. This time as a non-biological Father, taking care of a 5 year old boy displaced and stranded amid the Gujarat earthquake. But as the film progresses with warmth and affection, there’s a twinge of pain that Mammootty’s poised act carries through. This is the foreshadowing of an inevitable tragedy that Blessy’s film surmounds. In the devastating climax sequence, Mammootty balances an emotional equilibrium of suspense, anxiety, loss, hope and helplessness. Kaazhcha, which won the actor a state award after 11 years, also retrieves the playfully live performer who was last glimpsed in Azhakiya Ravanan (1996).
8. Amudhavan: Peranbu (2019)
More than a decade after Kaazhcha, Mammootty enacts another Father, to a spastic teenage girl in Ram’s Peranbu. Amudhavan also feels like Madhavan’s extension, but if the helplessness in the latter was due to the wall bureaucracy creates on humanity, in the former it comes from a society that callously discriminates against its fellow beings. The brilliance in Mammootty’s acting that lies beyond physical versatility comes here, in Peranbu, Amudhavan’s plight at one point is liberated as a form of rebellion and you can see a shaded layer to the acting which tries to seek more than mere pity and sympathy from an audience. It’s better to recall here what PC Sreeram remarked after watching the film―‛Mammootty has given a new dimension to Peranbu.’
7. Bellari Raja: Rajamanikyam (2005)
“Bellari Raja alladey.. ninteyokke elloori raja!” The most iconic Mammootty character after Kottayam Kunjachan, is an uncanny combination of both Kunjachan and Aadu Thoma (Spadikam). Anwar Rasheed’s Rajamanikyam smashed a bucket full of criticisms glaring at Mammootty in one kick. Some of the critics, including Jagathy Sreekumar who panned Mammootty’s flexibility, renounced their criticism back after Rajamanikyam. Because it was a performance definitive such, unarguably crowd pleasing, inimitable and rollicking to the truest sense of word. Before, there was no similitude to Rajamanikyam in Malayalam cinema, a mass-comedy, both physical and verbal, emotional and macho. Mammootty underlined the fact that, toxic-male worship need not be the only means for box office success.
6. Murikkum Kunnath Ahamad Haji: Palerimanikyam (2009)
In Ranjith’s period murder-mystery, Mammootty dons three characters, Murikkumkunnath Ahamed Haji, Khalid Ahamed and Haridas. Most of the running time is occupyed by Haridas, the protagonist, narrating and unveiling a murder mystery. Khalid comes in a late cameo appearance. But it’s undoubtedly Ahammed Haji, the main antagonist, who walks away with the film causing dreadful nightmares. If Vidheyan’s Bhaskara Patelar (Mammootty’s national award winning role-1994) was insensitive, Haji is inhumane. If Patelar oppresses women and inflicts violence himself, Haji is a sadist and a merciless dominator of his lusty gaze. The reason for which the character of Ahamed Haji has not received a glorified image within the actors fanbase, even beside the voyeuristic directorial gaze encompassed by Ranjith, is only because of the actors triumph over the star. Mammootty makes Haji ugly rather evil, and that’s the least an actor could do to an anarchic and dangerously problematic material. Palerimanikyam was the last state award winning performance of Mammootty.
5. Balachandran: Kaiyoppu (2007)
Jagathy Sreekumar, along with taking back his criticism about Mammootty’s flexibility also admitted that the actor has proven his vocabulary in playing ordinary/common-man roles post Palunku (2006). One year later, Ranjith’s Kaiyyoppu happened, and it still remains criminally overlooked. Mammootty plays Balachandran; an introverted writer who’s suffering after writer’s block. Balan is a loner, a true connoisseur of literature, a subdued radical, a selfless human and a hopeless romantic. The physical nuances of a fronteur being an introvert, the revival of a nostalgic romance and an intellectual’s ignorance to modernity ― Mammootty manifests through each shades of Balachandran and effortlessly exhibits performative poetry. He gives a heartening humane dimension to an otherwise “white-savior” character. Mammootty’s screen presence invincibly embodies the power to fight powerlessness. One can see this quality getting translated on screen with a burning aura, during the police station scene. Balachandran, to simply put, is a refraction of Mammootty’s most unassuming self fallen on celluloid.
4. CE Francis a.k.a Aripranchi: Pranchiyettan & the Saint (2010)
Pranchiyettan is the classic example of what a talented veteran can do to his material. Mammootty single handedly takes Ranjith’s film to miraculous heights with what can be called as one of the finest subtle acts ever in Malayalam Cinema. Comedy was never the actors’ forte, there is only a finger-few noteworthy, yet there was nothing that can be called truly original―save Rajamanikyam―in Mammootty’s career. Pranchiyettan broke this quasi-myth in flying colours. Mammootty does to Pranchi what Bharath Gopi did to dushasanakurupp (Panchavadipalam), but with a lesser; restraint modus of ‛subtle expressionism.’ Expressionism exaggerates real emotions and synthetically connects the audience. Mammootty does exactly that, he gives Pranchi an animated energy, but he also humanizes the character―so much so that Pranchi’s antics over fame doesn’t become a farce and his persona, caricatured. To break down the greatness in words, give me one acting moment as good as the club scene in Pranchiyettan, in which you can see palpable anxiety created on-screen by an actor?
3. CK Raghavan: Munnariyippu (2014)
How hard it would be for an actor to successfully enact a profoundly layered yet dramatically undemanding role? In Munnariyippu, there’s hardly any metabolic acting potential as such. Neither there is any routine drama or theatrics to the character CK Raghavan. Yet, you still see the thespians majestic reincarnation. A spine-chilling method act that’s as psychological as it’s cinematic. Mammootty pervades nuance through-and-through the film and exemplifies Unni R’s writing with the most stunning demeanour possible. The climax vis-á-vis it’s brilliant technical flourish, is intensified by the actors compact close-up shots. And by the time when the film ends, it’s sure to have a flash of the subliminal deception Mammootty’s acting employed to the narrative.
2. Nathan: Ore Kadal (2007)
It’s difficult to comprehend in words what Mammootty’s performance means to Shyamaprasad’s Ore Kadal, and it’s equally difficult to dissect the sublime beauty of an acting that is beautifully sensory. The actor was largely criticized for his clumsiness when doing intimate and passionate romantic roles. Nathan proved it to be wrong. Mammootty plays an economic professor who sees women as sexual objects for his lust quench. But after Deepthi crosses path in his life, everything goes upside down for both parties. The scenes between Meera Jasmine and Mammootty here would perhaps be the most sizzling romantic moments in Malayalam Cinema. Mammootty takes a mild restraint in his body language, but with the leisured hand movements, sensual expressions and rich baritone, there’s a deep eroticism that becomes rooted with his acting. If this is not intimacy, what is? However, after Deepthi’s disappearance, Nathan’s days become self-destructive, he crucifies himself for what he did to Deepthi. But finally, when they get to meet in the climax, Mammootty’s body language and voice modulation becomes gently different from the initial style. Because as the coming-of-age arc concludes itself, Nathan has become rejuvenated, his lust is now transcended as love. His attraction towards Deepthi becomes psychological along with physical. A near perfect example of consummated acting.
1. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar: Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000)
‛It is easy to show emotions on-screen but how do you look intelligent..?’ Jabbar Patel’s thoughts on the character equates with Mammootty’s National award winning performance. The veteran brings a sophistication that’s laced with intelligence, dignity and assertiveness. Although it took around 9 years for Jabbar to complete the whole biopic, Mammootty never loses the physical nuances or signature manoeuvres of Ambedkar. And, despite these being fictionalized (since there was no real footage to refer to), Mammootty still captures the academic aura of the genius in his own right. Whereas the iconic quotes, like “Educate, Agitate, organize!” becomes emphatic quotations in the actors voice modulation. Not to mention the excellent Indo-British diction. And then, watch out for the emotional breakdown scenes, when his wife dies and when he hears the news of Gandhi’s death, it’s unlike anything Mammootty has done before in his career.