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The Best of : Mohanlal

Cop. Rowdy. Lover. Cad. Don. Common man. Bullock-cart Driver. Casino owner. Killer. Dancer. Doctor. Mental patient. Awaiting the death penalty. Alzheimers. Bed-ridden. Carnatic singer.

In real life : Actor. Singer. Producer. Padma Shri. Superstar. Icon. Lieutanant Colonel. Six Kerala State Film Awards for Best Actor. Four National Film Awards. Over 300 films. 

Mohanlal Vishwanathan Nair. 

Unlike a Bollywood superstars 'Top movies' list, while making a list for stars of Malayalam cinema ( especially one from the golden era of storytelling ), it's tougher to formulate that list. If I were to make a list of the Top 10 Mohanlal movies worth watching, invariably movies showcasing his acting talent would be overshadowed by movies which provided great comic relief or storylines. So, keeping that in mind, I will attempt to combine both worlds - giving you a list that showcases both the star's acting abilities as well as some of his most loved movies.

I'm limiting the total list to a meagre 30 movies ( "BLASPHEMY !" I know. ) So it's upto you guys to tell me which ones you would have added to the list if you had the choice.  

Worth A Watch

  • Rajavinte Makan
  • Udayan Aanu Taaram
  • Irupatham Noottandu
  • Thenmavin Kombathu
  • Aram + Aram Kinnaram
  • Poochakkoru Mookkuthi
  • His Highness Abdullah
  • T.P.Balagopalan M.A. ( State Award - Best Actor )
  • Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam
  • Vietnam Colony
  • Ulladakkam ( State Award - Best Actor )
  • Chenkol

Keeps you hooked 

  • Thalavattam -     Loosely adapted from One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Mohanlal plays a patient in a mental hospital who slowly starts to recover and finds himself falling in love with his doctor, much to her father's chagrin.

  • Kilukkam -     Kilukkam works because of the overall dynamics - comedy, storyline and a spirited Revathy. The story of a young woman who comes to Ooty and convinces a tourist guide ( Mohanlal ) albeit briefly that she is a Princess, while she searches for her father, was a huge hit, not just because of the comic timing of the lead and supporting actors ( Jagathy, Innocent, Thilakan ) but because the director,Priyadarshan had the ability to make you smile at one minute and tug at your heart the next.

  • The Nadodikkaattu trilogy -     You ask me why this movie appears in this section of the list... I ask you why are you smiling as soon as you read the name. Unemployment has never been as funny as this movie where two 'friends' Ramdas ( Mohanlal ) and Vijayan ( Sreenivasan ) try to get to Dubai in search of a job but instead land up in Tamil Nadu. There are so many iconic moments of absolute comic timing, I wouldn't know where to start. The Managing director incident. The cow. Mammukoya as Gafur. Anganne Pavanayi Shavamayi. Srinivasan meeting actress Seema. Thilakan as Ananthan Nambiar.
Two more sequels of this duo ( now CIDs Ramdas and Vijayan ) - Pattanapravesham and Akkare Akkare Akkare - were equally hilarious. 
To a true Malayali, if someone says trilogy, he won't think of Star Wars or Spiderman, he knows you mean these three films.

  • Sadayam -     This was a darker role, of a convict awaiting the gallows, who narrates the chain of events culminating in him killing two men and two small children to the prison doctor. This thriller was a deserved winner of the National Award for Screenplay ( M.T. Vasudevan Nair )

  • Boeing Boeing -     Nothing to do with acting. Nothing to do with originality ( it is a copy of a 1960 play, remade in English in '65, in Malayalam 20 years later and a further 20 years later in Hindi as Garam Masala. ) Mohanlal plays a 'rascally scoundrel' who's dating one air-hostess too many and trying to get away with it. It doesn't helps when your equally 'rascally' friend ( Mukesh ) wants a share of the 'metaphorical' pie and you have a aging chef ( Sukumari ) who's struggling to remember which girl is which. The real hero here is the script which combines slapstick with situational comedy to great effect. 

  • Yodha -     Inspite of bordering on the fantastical, Yodha was a major hit when it released. A small-village lad ( Mohanlal ) is packed off to his uncle's place in Nepal when an astrologer claims he will commit a murder very soon. Unknown to him however, he is to be the saviour of a young monk, destined to be the Rimpoche ( Tibetian for 'Precious One' )... that is, if he doesn't end up killing his annoying cousin, Appukuttan ( a hilarious Jagathy ) first. Fun fact : This was A R Rahman's only musical score for a Malayalam film, though he is now apparently involved in the planned sequel two decades later.

  • Manichitrathazhu -     This film is not famous for Mohanlal, but for Shobana and deservedly so. A true psychological thriller, it focuses on the sequence of unnatural events that occur when a married couple arrive at their ancestral house. The heady mix of tradition, beliefs, history, psychology and a thrilling script would have made it a hit at any rate - but it is the performance of Shobana that elevates this movie towards excellence.

  • Mazha Peyyunnu Maddalam Kottunnu -     This one is not here for anyone's acting skills. One of Malayalam cinema's most hilarious comedies, it works off a star cast of comedy genuises together. Mohanlal is the driver of USA returned snob M.A.Dhawan ( who else but Srinivasan ) who comes up with the 'brilliant' idea of studying his future fiance by reversing roles with Mohanlal and pretending to be the driver. All hell breaks loose when the girl starts getting attracted to Mohanlal who is now not ready to give up the ruse either. What better example of the two's comic timing exists than this iconic scene - "How many kilometres from Washington DC to Miami beach ?"  

Essential viewing

  • Kireedam -     The iconic role of Sethu Madhavan, who wants to be a honest police officer like his father, but is not just let down by society but eventually converted into the very thing he despised, is more relevant in today's India than ever before. Watching the character being broken down by the system - his life destroyed for standing up for honesty - is heartbreaking. It is easily one of the best acting roles of Mohanlal.Warning : Do not watch either this or it's sequel, Chenkol, while you are depressed. Trust me.

  • Bharatham -     The significance of the title ( Ramayana from Bharat's eyes ) dawned on me years later. Set to a carnatic music background, this film tells the tale of a younger brother (Mohanlal) who is forced to take up responsibilty when his more famous brother's ( Nedumudi Venu ) musical talents are overshadowed by first personal issues (alcoholism), and then his own disappearance. Why he has disappeared and how Mohanlal has to cope with what he knows form the crux of this film. National Awards for Mohanlal ( Actor ), Yesudas ( Male Playback ) and Raveendran Master ( Jury Award for composition ).

  • Kamaladalam -     Taking a turn from Bharatham, here Mohanlal stars as a renowned dance teacher of temple arts who, following a personal tragedy, starts to lose his way in life. He attempts to redeem himself by taking on an ambitious dance project and training a young girl. Another excellent soundtrack from the Raveendran Master- Yesudas combination, along with great supporting roles from Nedumudi Venu, Monisha and Vineet.

  • Thanmatra -     In the last decade he has played too many superhuman 'heroes of the masses' for my liking. Yet, in between that, came this gem that reminded us that talent can never be extinguished. Mohanlal played a government employee whose dreams and aspirations for his family are dealt a blow  when he finds himself diagnosed with Alzheimer's. While he received State and Filmfare awards for this role, he lost out on the National Award to Amitabh Bachchan who also suffered from memory loss that year in Black. Another performance a few years later as a bedridden old philosophy professor in Pranayam also stands out in particular.

  • Devasuram -     Another iconic role - Mangalassery Neelakantan. The film essentially boils down to a rivalry between two families, but also deals with issues like illegitimacy, retribution and redemption. Needless to say FilmFare award for the man. Fun fact : Did you know the lead role is based on a real person, Mangalassery Rajagopal.

  • Spadikam -     Again, a power-packed performance by two megastars, Mohanlal and Thilakan. This movie told the story of how by being a strict disciplinarian, Thilakan crushes his son's aspirations as a student and how it shapes their lives as the boy grows up.

  • Iruvar - I left this one out when I first published this post because I was predominantly concentrating on Malayalam movies. But that's not fair, I realise. Based on the relationship between real-life Tamil Nadu ministers MGR and Karunanidhi, this movie showcases the best of many worlds - direction ( Mani Rathnam ), music ( A R Rahman ) and above all else acting ( Mohanlal and Prakash Raj ). 

  • Chithram -     Remember what I said about Priyadarshan, in his prime, having the ability to make you laugh and cry simultaneously ? Nowhere is it better seen than in this movie, where a girl and her dad's friend hire a man ( Mohanlal ) to pretend to be her husband for a fortnight so as to appease her aging father who believes she is happily married. If the first half of the movie is a laugh riot, the second half changes tone dramatically as you realise who Mohanlal really is and why he agreed to this charade. The movie was an enormous hit, running for over a year in some parts of Kerala. As a kid, I remember it playing for months in Dubai itself. Fun fact : The story is written by one of Malayalam's most versatile and unsung stars - Srinivasan.

  • Vanaprastham -     Astounding is the word to describe his acting in this movie. A Kathakali dancer of a lower caste, his performance as Arjuna on stage promises to change his fortune when a higher caste woman falls in loves with him. But it slowly becomes clear that the woman was in love with the man on stage, Arjuna and not the man behind the paint. This final rejection destroys the artist and his roles on stage take on a darker, more demonic tone. A Truckload of National,State and Filmfare awards are attached to this movie, in addition to critical acclaim at international film festivals like AFI.

Even as I see the list, I know I've left out some big hits ( Narasimham, 20-20 ) and sterling performances ( Vellanakalude Nadu, Varavelupu ).
But then again, that's the talent of the actor and the diversity of the roles he has undertaken over the last three decades.
What did you think  - feel free to share your opinions, both on the list and on the actors roles which you enjoyed and still remember fondly.  

New additions courtesy of public opinion : 

  • Season
  • Paradeshi
  • Pranayam
  • Kaalapani
  • Thoovanthumbikhal
  • Bhramaram
  • Paadamudra
  • Guru
  • Pavithram
  • Pingami
  • Chandralekha
  • Vandanam
  • Keerthichakra
  • Rasathantram
  • Hey Auto
  • Kanmadham
  • Aaram Thamburan
  • Midhunam

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