“I’m very serious about my work and always give my best. Maybe, that’s why I make my audience laugh so much,” Mamukoya explains. The actor who entered Malayalam cinema from the timber yards of Kallayi stands tall among veterans in tinsel town today. Three decades and over 450 films later, Mamukoya is a contented man.
His lean frame, buck teeth, slang and body language have always had audiences in splits, be it as Gafoor (Nadodikkattu), Jamal (His Highness Abdullah), Hamsakoya (Ramji Rao Speaking) or K.G.Pothuval (Sandesham). What if he has played a tea shop owner in over 50 movies? Or, has repeated himself as the caretaker (karyasthan) of a house, a marriage broker, a simpleton or a Muslim character? “Being a tea shop owner has a lot of advantages. You don’t have to worry much about costume or get-up! I think I’d have been running a tea shop if I had not been acting,” he says in his typical style in an interview to Friday Review during a visit to the capital city to participate in a programme for Amrita TV.
“I know where I stand and have adapted myself to trends in Malayalam cinema. There is a new crop of filmmakers out there and an audience with new tastes. It is not easy to fit into the scheme of things, but I’m happy to have done so with my comedy,” says the veteran actor. But, he draws the line at what he calls “crass comedy”. “There have been instances where I have walked out when I’ve been asked to do crass comedy,” he says.
Having worked with new directors, he says, “It is nice that even low-budget films are collecting money, which is crucial for the survival of the industry. You can’t always have movies based around just two or three actors. Also, I am totally against restricting artistes from working in television,” he says. Mamukoya, however, detests the absence of silence in many movies now being made. “Some of these new directors insist that there should no silence in any scene. But certain emotions are best conveyed by silence,” he says.
Hailing from Pallikkandi near Kallayi in Kozhikode district, Mamukoya used to work in the timber yards right from his school days. “The work involved measuring the length of logs, ascertaining the quality and marking the logs. While working there, I used to work with amateur drama troupes. Acting was always a passion. The inspiration to act came from a cultural troupe, Saigal Arts Productions, near our home. Every time they put up a play, we children used to reproduce it,” he says.
Anyarude Bhumi (1977), directed by Nilambur Balan, marked his debut in cinema. “I played a funny character who is more of a rebel. When it was released, I hoped I would soon be a busy actor, but it never happened.” In 1982, he got his second film, Surumayitta Kannukal, directed by S. Konnanatt. “I got the role because of Basheerekka (Vaikom Mohammed Basheer). I used to be a regular at his home. When the crew of the movie came to seek his blessings, he asked them to give me a role. They managed to create one – that of a servant who feeds horses!”
What set his career rolling was Doore Doore Oru Koodu Koottam directed by Sibi Malayil and written by Sreenivasan, in which he played a teacher of Arabic. “I knew Sreenivasan from my theatre days. This movie ensured that I didn’t have to go back to the timber yard or to theatre,” he says. “I have always loved to do comedy and that has continued. Maybe, that matched my physique. But sometimes when I see my old movies, I cringe,” he says with a hearty laugh.
Roles in Perumazhakkalam (which won him the Kerala State Government’s special jury award) and Byari (which won the National Film Award for the Best Film) have been rare in his career, he feels. He cherishes the association he has had with many stalwarts. “Malayalam cinema has lost many of them and the void can never be filled. Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Kuthiravattom Pappu, Balan K.Nair, Murali… so many have left. And now Jagathy Sreekumar is ill. It is not that the newcomers are not talented. But those who passed away can’t be replaced,” he says.
Meanwhile, at 67, Mamukoya is game for more roles and more laughs.