At 67, Muhammad Kutty Paniparambil Ismail, or Mammootty, is working on more films than any of his contemporary stars in the south. He has six films – Peranbu, Yatra, Maamaankam, Madhura Raja, Pathinettam Padi and Unda – currently scheduled for release. This, at a time when even Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan, Ajith and Vijay release only one film a year.
Mammootty has been in cinema for 47 years, and is reportedly the only actor who has worked on films across six different languages. He is making his Tamil comeback with director Ram’s Peranbu, as a disabled daughter’s single father. The film stars Sadhana, Anjali and Anjali Ameer in the lead, and is different from the usual father-daughter relationships we see. It is written and directed by Ram, and produced by PL Thenappan.
Ram has reportedly said that Amuthavan’s role was written with Mammootty in mind, and he would’ve withdrawn the film if Mammootty had not signed up. His writing was influenced by MT Vasudevan Nair’s films and work. It has been in the making for quite some time. The film was a big draw in many international film festivals, with critics and audience appreciating Mammootty’s performance.
Peranbu is scheduled for a February 1 release simultaneously in Tamil and Malayalam.
His Telugu film Yatra is a biopic of the politician YS Rajasekhara Reddy, popularly called YSR. Directed by Mahi V. Raghav, Mammootty plays a politician in the film. Jagapathi Babu, YS Jaganmohan Reddy, Suhasini Maniratnam, Rao Ramesh and Anasuya Bharadwaj have pivotal roles.
His Malayalam film Unda, directed by Khalid Rahman, is awaiting release. The film is produced by Moviee Mill and Gemini studios. It stars Vinay Forrt, Shine Tom Chacko, Sudhi Koppa, Jacob Gregory, Alencier and Dileesh Pothan in pivotal roles.
He also has director Shankar Ramakrishnan’s film Pathinettam Padi, Vysak’s Madhura Raja, and Sajeev Pillai’s Maamaaankam. All the three Malayalam films are under production currently.
His last release was the Malayalam film Oru Kuttanadan Blog this September, by debut director Sethu. It was a comedy about Hari – played by Mammootty, and the people in his hometown, Krishnapuram. In Tamil, he was last seen as the cop Gopikrishnan in the 2010 film Vandae Maatharam, starring Arjun Sarja and Sneha, directed by D Arvind.
He is, however, best known in Tamil for Aanandham (2001), written and directed by N Linguswamy who has made Sandakozhi, Run and other films.
Mammootty began his career with the Malayalam film Anubhavangal Paalichaka in 1971, but his breakthrough happened with a commercial hit over a decade after this. In the conspiracy thriller New Delhi, in 1987, he played a cartoonist and journalist who investigates a rape case. The film was remade in Telugu, Kannada, Hindi and Tamil.
Following this, he acted in a number of hits – films that not only changed the box office records but also the landscape of cinema. One of his most important characters – liked by people of all languages – is Devaraj from Thalapathi (1991). The film was a cult classic with a huge fan following among cinema buffs. It was inspired by the Mahabaratha, in particular the friendship between Karna (Rajinikanth as Suriya in the film) and Duryodhana.
Similarly, Rajiv Menon’s Kandukondein Kandukondein was memorable for his understated performance as an army major who loses his leg on field, and takes to horticulture after retirement. The film had a big cast including Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, Tabu, Ajith, and Abbas.
Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha was a shift from his usual love and action films. It was a 1989 historical period drama written by MT Vasudevan Nair, who has written many of Mammootty’s films, and directed by Hariharan.
The film won four National Film Awards that year, for best actor, screenplay, production and costume design (P Krishnamoorthy), and six Kerala State Film Awards. It was also voted one of the greatest Indian films of all time in a poll conducted by IBN.
His other most remarkable film was Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar (2000), in which he starred as BR Ambedkar. It was an English film directed by Jabbar Patel. Sonali Kulkarni, Mrinal Kulkarni and Nawazuddin Siddiqui played important roles. Mammootty had denied the project at first because he did not want to shave his mustache for the role.
In 2010, Mammukka, as he is fondly called by his fans, wrote a book called ‘Munram Pirai – Vazhavanubhavangal’. Not many know about the book. Karu Pazhaniappan spoke about it at the BAPASI book fair recently, and said:
“During a night journey to Tamil Nadu, Mammootty writes that he came across a lean old man who asked for help to take his grand daughter in labour pain to the hospital. The twist was that the man didn’t know who Mammootty was.”
“The old man later gave him a torn Rs 2 note and asked him to have tea. Mammootty didn’t feel bad about the note, but was disappointed that the old man didn’t recognise him. Mammootty ends the book saying, ‘I have received four National Awards, but it’s that torn 2 rupee note that I still preserve.’ Whenever I watch his films, even after Peranbu, I think of him not as a National Award winner, but a person who received a torn 2 rupee note.”