… and the rest of the cast and crew of Mutharamkunnu P.O. through his humility.

Twenty-seven years later, actor Mukesh still remembers his ‘bout’ with wrestling icon Dara Singh, who died in Mumbai on Thursday. It was the climax scene of Mutharamkunnu P.O., and as he prepared to take on Dara, the initial excitement had already been laced with anxiety and fear.

“My fellow actors Nedumudi Venu and Jagadeesh had told Dara, behind my back of course, that I was a wrestling champion at university and that I had decided to adopt a new technique to floor him and that he should be careful,” Mukesh told The Hindu on Thursday. “So Dara was looking forward to our fight and he told me, ‘You may know some unfamiliar techniques, but you better tell me in advance, otherwise I will beat you to pulp.’ I was scared and had to plead with him to spare me and that Nedumudi and Jagadeesh were joking.”

‘A privilege’

He said it was a privilege to act with Dara. “Hailing from Kollam, I grew up watching wrestling and for me, Dara Singh was the world’s greatest wrestler,” he said. “During the shoot, he floored us with his humility.”

The actor recalled that nobody associated with the film, including debutant director Sibi Malayil, was sure if Dara would be willing to act in a Malayalam film, that too one without big stars. “The film’s scriptwriter Sreenivasan had actually written the character as ‘someone like Dara Singh,’ not the real Dara Singh.”

“When Jagadeesh, on whose short story the film’s plot was based, contacted Dara in Mumbai and narrated the script, he agreed to act and we were all thrilled.”

Chapati, dal and onions

Now the question was where Dara Singh would stay and what he would eat. “He could not be expected to stay with us at a small hotel near Kottarakkara,” Mukesh said.

“We showed him a star hotel in Kollam, but he said all he needed was a room that had windows on either side of his bed. He wanted just chapati, dal and onions to eat. All of us were shocked.”

Dara also contributed to the script. “According to Sreenivasan’s screenplay, Dara was to cheat and lose his fight to me, so that I could win my lady love (played by Lissy). But he said that wrestling was an honest sport and the script should be changed,” Mukesh said. “He suggested that my character could still get the girl without winning the fight.”

Mutharamkunnu P.O. remains one of the most underrated comedies in Malayalam cinema. “My friends from Tamil cinema have told me that only in Malayalam can the hero be shown losing a fight in the climax. But imagine me beating Dara Singh in a wrestling bout! Thankfully the script was changed, because of Dara, and viewers did not have to stretch their imagination,” said Mukesh.