How difficult is it to map the ‘evolution’ of an actor whose career across three main domains of films stretch over 5 decades?
Very difficult, I would say.
On second thoughts, extremely difficult. Yes. Extremely. Here was an actor who was nothing of the likes that was ever present in Malayalam cinema in the times that he stepped in to the industry. One of the top three rank holders from the National School of Drama, here was someone who was hungry for roles that challenged his inner discipline as an actor. Here was someone who chose to hang around with the doyens of the neo-cultural wave of Malayalam cinema of the 60′s, exploring the possibilities of making good every creative one from their wordsmithys that came his way and was no stranger to being on both sides of the camera.
He mentions in his in-depth interviews with John Paul (compiled in the book Madhu : Jeevitham Darshanam), on the difference between ‘acting’ and ‘behaving’ on screen. He says, “behavior can only be a subdued reflection of our emotions. As an actor, I would want to communicate and convey with the audience, and subtlety doesn’t work on those levels“. Right from his first forays into acting, the Moodupadam – Ninamaninja Kaalpaadukal pair that was released, to me, here was someone who walked the middle ground between the cloyingly romantic and the rigidity of masochism – Madhu, as an actor, was always ‘one amongst us.’
There is a little bit of Pareekutty from Chemmeen (1965), the romantic, naive, forthright lover – in all of us, so is Mainkutty from Ummachu (1971) or for that matter Bapputty from Olavum Theeravum (1970). Across a decade, this tall, lanky, handsome young graduate from NSD gave Malayalam cinema a handful of characters which would have just seemed impossible for a planet orbiting around two stars. When there just wasn’t room for another, he just confidently made himself a place that he was comfortable with, and luckily it became a focii on its own right.
Manimaaran Thannathu from Olavum Theeravum (1970)
A quick visit through his early years, what I would call the first decade, was, in my opinion his most luckiest, as he got to portray some of the most loved characters from Malayalam literature, as they were adapted onscreen, even earning voluble praise from its creators. A fact corroborated by John Paul where he speaks about Vaikom Mohammed Bashir delightfully sitting through every single shot that involved Madhu in Bhargavi Nilayam and wholeheartedly praising him after shots on bringing his character to life so vividly, yet subtly, just as his words evoke the emotions to a reader. I think he was right on the money.
He seemed to be ill-at-ease portraying the spaghetti characters from our Northern Ballads which thanks to Udaya became a genre of its own, and same was the case with mythological characters too, if am not mistaken. Interestingly, he was a part of the first movie based on Vadakkan Paattukal, Chandrathara’s Thacholi Othenan (1964), which I presume, came close on the heels of his debut films, in production. His discomfort shows through every frame of the movie, and I think it was in 1982 that he picked up that wig he cast aside two decades earlier, for Navodaya’s magnum opus, Padayottam. He must have really hated the genre . Interestingly, even that production was a landmark in Malayalam cinema – the first indigenously shot 70mm production in Indian cinema ! Equal discomfort or should I say more came in the form of the ‘established song-and-dance-routines’, ( I’m sure you would know it if you have watched him waltzing around trees ). He was terrible at that. As in validation he says half-jokingly in his interview with John Paul that if he had enough money, he would buy the TV rights of all his films and chop off all the songs regardless of whether it was appropriate to the narrative or not. I concur, not to those extremes, but for the fact that the stiltedness shines through.
Here is Thottu Thottilla from Thulabharam (1968).
[ According to my dear friend Jay (an avid Malayalam movie buff), this one stays right alongside another classic 'cat-on-hot-tin-roof' classic from Malayalam cinema, Mammootty in Maaney Madhurakaraimbey from PinNilaavu. ]
It became also obvious, in the later years, that his diverse roles as a producer, director and actor were taking the toll on the quality of his creative output, and as he, quite understandably focused his resources on to his movie-making, the characters onscreen became more predictable, and shall I say, ‘industrial’ clones. Fortunately, the toupees were only for the screen. He was one of the rare actors, who attempted to portray his age on screen, and by direct implication, found himself doing roles that veered more and more towards type-casted characters, as I mentioned earlier.
From the diverse and rich roles (with a majority of them as some of our favorite characters from Malayalam literature) of the first half of his career, his roles reflected the changing ‘atmosphere’ of popular Malayalam cinema in the early 90′s for a decade, giving us at times the garishly, overwrought, over-the-top caricatures of characters, if I may say that, and thankfully realised it sooner that us, concentrating more on getting the film-making enterprise without any hitches, but unfortunately, it wasn’t to be so.
From leading roles (Bhargavi Nilayam, Murappennu, Olavum Theeravum, Ummachu, Aadyakiranangal, Archana, Chemmeen, Nagaramey Nandi, Ashwamedham, Kallichellamma, Nadi, Karakaanakkadal, Udyogastha, Yudhakaandam, Idavazhiyile Poocha Minda Poocha ) to popular mainstream ‘hero’ of the early 80′s ( which includes the multi-satarrer blockbusters and the IV Sasi/Joshy movies) and which includes the movies produced and directed under his banner, Uma Arts, through mid-life crisis and angst ( Njaan Ekananu, Itha Oru Manushyan and the like), vileness personified ( Priya, Itha Ividey Varey) and the ‘Elder’ roles from the later years (which also had gems like Kudumbasametham, Champakkulam Thachan, Aayirappara, 1921, Ezhupunna Tharakan ) – when one really think about it, there isn’t anything much the creative and crafty mind seems to have left out, as a movie- maker, if you ask me !
Nadhiyile Thiramalakal Cholli – Itha Oru Manushyan ( 1978 )
Madhu, once remarked about the “greatest quality for an actor is to be the perfect vessel”, for the diverse and enriching ideas and characterisations that flow through the screenplays and lines of a dissimilar and divergent commune of creativity, and somehow make them your own.
Leni Riefenstahl, the German film director, actress and dancer, more famously known for her Triumph of Will film, is said to have once remarked, “I set about seeking a thread, a theme, a style, in the realm of legend. Something that might allow me to give free rein to my juvenile sense of romanticism and the beautiful image.” What Madhu had in his mind might not have been exactly a juvenile sense of romanticism, but the pursuit of beautiful images enriched by realistic narratives and screen roles, in themselves created a legend out of the man, we now know as Madhu.
Also read : Madhu | The Producer
Also Read : Madhu | The Director
Also Read : Madhu | Actor . Director . Producer . Legend .