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Padma Bhushan Mohanlal: A Retrospective On The Superstar of Malayalam Cinema

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Mohanlal has been conferred with the Padma Bhushan – the third highest civilian award in the country. As an award that comes 40 years and 300 plus films into his career, one would be lead to think of it as the latest in the series, for his accolades already include a Padma Shri, five National Awards, nine State Awards and two honorary doctorates. Not to mention the rank of a Lieutenant Colonel conferred by the Territorial Army.

Yet, the actor promptly expressed his gratitude saying “There have been scores of people whose love, blessings and support both big and small have made me endeavour each waking day to try and live up to their expectation. I am humbled by this recognition and am eternally grateful to one and all who have been part of this worldly journey of mine.”

Back in 2001 when the announcement regarding his Padma Shri came through, the actor had been shooting for Priyadarshan’s Kaakkakuyil. This time too he was on the sets of yet another Priyadarshan film – Kunjali Marakkar. Both the director and actor go a long way back and have had major roles to play in each other’s careers. Starting off with slapstick comedies like Poochakkoru Mookkuthi and Mazha Peyyunnu Maddalam Kottunnu, they matured into comedy dramas like Chithram, Minnaram and Thalavattam and ultimately evolved into serious films like Kalapani.

Mohanlal, Sreenivasan and Jagathy Sreekumar from a scene in Mazha Peyyunnu Maddalam Kottunnu

Priyadarshan’s movies and the characters he penned for Mohanlal have simultaneously projected him as an actor and entertainer. The roles and situations have allowed the actor to exercise the various acting chops ranging from comedy to emotional. The audience also didn’t fail to notice the actor’s impeccable lip-syncing during songs – second only to yesteryear legend Prem Nazir.

There haven’t been many leading men who have had as many creative collaboration with directors as Mohanlal. After debuting as an antagonist in Fazil’s Manjil Virinja Pookkal in 1980, the director-actor team came up with Manichithrathaazhu and Harikrishnans. While the former saw the actor leaving a mark despite appearing only towards the intermission, the latter saw him sharing screen with another superstar – Mammootty; a rare feat after the two had acquired the stature of superstars.

Mohanlal and Mammootty from a scene in Harikrishnans

With Padmarajan came films like Thoovaanathumbikal and Namukku Parkkan Munthiri Thoppukal – movies that revolved around interpersonal relationships. Sibi Malayil’s Bharatham, Sadayam and Kireedom saw the actor wading into the territory of intense emotional drama. Bharatham fetched him his first National Award in 1992. His second one came in 1999 with Shaji N Karun’s Vaanaprastham where he played an impoverished Kathakali artist. Seeing the actor’s performance, the movie’s cinematographer is said to have remarked “The man would’ve won an Oscar had he been born on the other side of the world.”

The climax scene from Kireedom, considered to be one of the actor’s great performances

When Thambi Kannanthanam positioned him as an action star through movies like Raajavinte Makan, Indrajaalam and Maanthrikam, the actor also did action dramas like Devasuram and Pingami.

There was also his collaboration with Sathyan Anthikad. Through movies like Naadodikaatu, Pattana Pravesham and Gandhi Nagar Second Street, Mohanlal brought to life the plight of the youth of the times – unemployment. Apart from being comic gems, these movies were responsible for making Mohanlal relatable to the common man and projected him as one too.

As the actor steps into the 41st year of his career, he has donned characters of all shades. Though the dawn of the new millennium saw him follow a trend and take on superhuman characters, he has lately made it a point to mix it up with other characters as well.

Mohanlal’s introductory scene from Narasimham – a movie which kickstarted the trend of superhuman characters

As Prithviraj Sukumaran – an actor from the younger crop (whose acting credits even include an Anurag Kashyap produced Bollywood film) makes his directorial debut, he has chosen Mohanlal to play the protagonist.

Suresh Kumar, a friend and the producer of movies like Aaraam Thampuran and Butterflies had been with the actor when his Padma Shri Award was announced. Despite not being with him during the announcement of Padma Bhushan, Kumar says that he is not at all worried as his daughter Keerthy Suresh is with Mohanlal shooting for Kunjali Marakkar.

Mohanlal’s cameo in Summer in Bethlehem

Apart from acting in multiples languages, Mohanlal has become the president of the Malayalam actor’s union – AMMA today. As his son Pranav Mohanlal learned parkour and surfing for his movies, Mohanlal too shed a few kilos and trained with action directors for his roles in Pulimurugan and Odiyan. At 58, the actor still means business and is more than willing to do whatever it takes to stay in the business.

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