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Mammootty And Mohanlal: Heroes of Kerala

Mammootty And Mohanlal: Heroes of Kerala

July 26, 2010

The twin pillars of Kerala's film industry are fat, ageing but raking it in.



I have never seen a Mollywood film all the way through, but I know all about Mammootty and Mohanlal. If you've spent any time at all in Kerala, you've met them: at the barber, the supermarket, the mobile phone shop, the inside of your rickshaw. From these various static vantage points, their visages keep a close eye on everything that goes on in any given town. It goes without saying that Mammootty and Mohanlal are always on TV in Kerala, often on more than one channel at a time. Wherever you go, whatever you do, the state's two superstars are looking over your shoulder. And that is only the beginning of their influence.

Both came to prominence during the so-called Golden Age of Malayalam cinema, the 80s. As Kerala churned out socially conscious, smart and humorous films on a weekly basis, Mammootty and Mohanlal positioned themselves firmly at the centre of everything and have never relinquished their hold. Nowadays, they have the luxury of appearing largely in worthless superhero and comedy films of no lasting consequence. Having done the hard work, they rest comfortably on their laurels in the manner of Western stars like Ewan McGregor and Matthew McConaughey.

That is where the comparison with McConaughey and his washboard abs ends. As an outsider, it's an odd idea at first: the biggest stars of Kerala's film industry are heavy-set and moustachioed, their masculinity as straightforward and unequivocal as their haircuts. Also, and most importantly, they show all the signs of ageing: Mammootty seems happy to let the wrinkles multiply around his legendary eyes, while Mohanlal's figure continues to balloon at an alarming rate. Compared to the preening, self-obsessed vapidity of most Bollywood or Hollywood idols, they are a breath of fresh air. All they need is five minutes with a razor and a comb. I suppose that says as much about the culture as it does about them.

Your average Joe (or should that be average Ajeeth?) in Kerala looks up to the two Ms with a reverence usually reserved for great politicians or discoverers. They are in fact the most popular people in Kerala, according to a news poll. As a result, there are Mammootty and Mohanlal clones everywhere: in the way people speak, move, laugh; in their pompadours, moustaches and bellies. It goes without saying that there are no female equivalents. In such a male-dominated society, men set the tone and get the plaudits, and these two fiftysomething actors sit at the top of the pile.

I'm not sure whether it is the stars' talent or their business smarts that has brought them to where they are. Both answers have come up when I've asked locals why Mammootty and Mohanlal are such superstars, so I suspect it is a combination of the two. What most folks are more eager to tell me is whom they support. The supporters' associations for each actor are thousands strong, with branches in every locality, and where supporters' associations for Western actors do little more than print and circulate newsletters, here it is almost a lifelong battle. Each side will boycott the films of the other (or, in the digital age, download them rather than paying) and champion their hero in the streets, with the violence on the screen sometimes spilling into the audience.

In public, they claim to be good friends. I imagine that's rubbish. There is a tendency among the most successful people to want more and more success, especially once they have seemingly gone as far as they can go. Within their culture, they've reached a level of ubiquity that few individuals in the world have ever achieved. So what happens next? The mega-budget all-starrer Twenty:20 gives us a clue. In this clip, Mammootty and Mohanlal fight each other, presumably because with all other rivals and figures of manliness already eliminated, there is nobody else left for them to fight.

*

If pressed, I would call myself a Mammootty supporter. His face advertises my corner hardware shop, and, well, there's just something about those eyes. (Now watch as Mohanlal fans first engulf The NRI in a flame war, then boycott the site altogether...)


20 Comments

  • san angel
    By
    san angel
    18.11.12 02:49 AM
    hey, i accept they are ageing. But is there ny 1 who cn be cmprd 2 actng of both expct amitham and kamalhassan
  • Shalini
    By
    Shalini
    16.11.12 09:56 AM
    The comments on this blog are as delightful as the blog itself. :) Thank you!
  • Ashok
    By
    Ashok
    23.12.11 03:19 PM
    I am a final year engg student studying in nit calicut.Though i am not a malayalee,i would like to give my opinion as to who is better.Even in our hostel we used to have heated debate in this topic,and every time lal fans succeed in outsmarting mamooty fans.May be has a bigger fan following than mamooty.Now let us compare their acting skills.Mamooty has made a great comeback with his superhit movie parashiraja.Ever since then his fame augmented in mollywood.Mamooty excels only in 'serious' role and 'icon' roles.The reason for his success in recent times is largely because he is sticking to his strengths while on the other hand mohanlal is experimenting a lot.In my opinion lal is a more versatile actor. .He has proved it in the past.But in spite of being in the helm of affairs for nearly three decades,they have failed to create a fan following outside the the malayalee community,and a global market for malayalam cinema in large.On the other hand their counterparts kamal hassan and have successfully bridged the north-south gap.I have done my augmentation and it's upto the people to comment.
  • pranav
    By
    pranav
    29.05.11 11:59 AM
    I am a big fan of Mohanlal. He is one of the complete actors in India.
  • RAHUL
    By
    RAHUL
    23.12.10 10:54 PM
    NO ONE BREAK OUR MEGASTAR MAMMOOTTY
  • JIthin
    By
    JIthin
    19.12.10 03:49 PM
    Dude simple,acting is not all about glamour,Mohanlal and Mammotty knows to act.New glamorous heroes are emerging like Prithviraj
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    31.08.10 05:09 PM
    @LG - what a great bit of trivia, sums the whole thing up pretty well.

    @Indian Homemaker - cheers! This wasn't intended to be a comparison by any means, more an observation of how ubiquitous this pair are throughout Kerala.

    Will check out your article. For me it would be Sharukh all the way, purely because of Amitabh's irritating Parker pen spokesmanship. A fine actor, regardless.
  • Indian Homemaker
    By
    Indian Homemaker
    28.07.10 05:13 AM
    What a delightful post!!! Now did you even compare the two? Is the post about which one is better? Ha ha :) But nobody missed the fine print - you did imply that Mammootty was the better of the two?


    That's the way India works :)
    I once, as a new, ignorant blogger, wrote a post about male chauvinism of Amitabh Bachchan and compared him with Shahrukh Khan, and the reactions were interesting but actually scary! I am sure I lost some readers right there :)
  • LG
    By
    LG
    27.07.10 02:00 PM
    @Barnby - I am not sure if you are aware of this, but before Twenty-20 was released the producer actually counted the number of blows exchanged between Mamooty and Mohanlal to make sure they didn't one-up each other(better him than the fan clubs post release)....else he knew he would have hell to pay upon release.

    But that film said a lot about the Malayalam film industry...a movie with almost the entire industry. How many other "film-wood" can boast of such a thing...:)
  • LG
    By
    LG
    27.07.10 01:54 PM
    well my first Mallu reaction upon opening this page was-that is a very unflattering pic of Lal-ettan...I bet he's a Mammoty fan...:P

    I strongly feel that the famous M&M are still so strong in Kerala today because the newer generation still don't have what it takes...even though M&M are also churning out mindless garbage in the name of movies, atleast we forgive them because they have shown talent earlier...unlike the current bunch who think flexing muscles and making constipated expressions in the name of acting.
    We Mallus will forgive anything - bad hairdos, paunches, 60yr old actors "acting" opp 20yr old actresses or even 60yr old actors playing college going "youths" - but we crave good cinema, and if you can't fulfill our desire to see believable acting, then we will still rely on our tried and tested stalwarts to keep the glory(:P) of Malayalam cinema alive...
  • sharell
    By
    sharell
    27.07.10 11:30 AM
    Ha! No, I actually had no idea who he was at the time. ;-)
  • Maria Francis
    By
    Maria Francis
    27.07.10 07:07 AM
    Ok people, I am cornered. I shall muster up all my Mallu-ness and write about Lal-ettan next. And buy a bullet-proof jacket as well, in case the rival fan club attacks :P
    One thing I have not quite figured out is why most Mallu heroes have an abundance of facial hair, when clearly the trend to admire this hirsuteness is dying out among people.
    In recent times, many of the younger generation of heroes have complained about the 'dictatorship' of the 2 M's too.
    Sharell, even you wrote a post on Lal? I am impressed!!! Such is the influence of Malayalam cinema. I am beaming with pride here ;)
  • sharell
    By
    sharell
    27.07.10 01:01 AM
    I saw Mammooty in Varkala!!! And my didn't his supporters come out of the woodwork when I suggested his look wasn't very modern for the hairdressing salon he was advertising!! :-P But he certainly has aged...

    http://www.whiteindianhousewife.com/2009/06/funny-photo-the-modern-mallu-man-from-kerala/
  • The NRI
    By
    The NRI
    26.07.10 09:23 PM
    Barnaby, I think you just picked the headline for Maria's next post.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    26.07.10 09:19 PM
    I think you meant Malayahem, boss.
  • The NRI
    By
    The NRI
    26.07.10 09:15 PM
    Maria, sounds like you are making your excuses already...

    We operate an equal opportunities policy here, so I give my full support for some Mallu mayhem!
  • Maria
    By
    Maria
    26.07.10 08:59 PM
    hahahahaha...that wud be the limit! We both might end up getting a sound scolding from Amar if we convert this into a Mallu battlefield :P
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    26.07.10 08:51 PM
    But Maria, their being old and out of shape is precisely why I find them so captivating! It's like a mirror into my future, right up there on the screen!

    You're a fan of Lal, huh? Well, there's only one way to settle all this bickering. Write an article extolling his virtues and trashing Mammookka. It's about time The NRI had a good old-fashioned flame war.
  • Maria
    By
    Maria
    26.07.10 08:44 PM
    ROFL...personally I am a Mohanlal fan. He did quite a few good movies in his younger days. But ur right, its a shame two ppl so old and out of shape must hog all the good roles in Mollywood. :P

    I am almost jealous, I was not able to write this article :P Never thought 'Lal-ettan' would be appearing on the NRI..hehhehehe
  • Rishi B
    By
    Rishi B
    26.07.10 05:52 AM
    ha ha... wonder if anything like this could happen in bollywood... i doubt

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