Friday Review

Cinema is timeless: Mukundan

Actor MukundanPhoto: S. Mahinsha

Actor MukundanPhoto: S. Mahinsha   | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

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After a hiatus, actor Mukundan is back in cinema. He is making his mark in films with some well-chosen roles.

He has arguably been the most ‘durable’ artiste in the Malayalam television scene. When not donning the lead character in celebrated telefilms or popular soaps that run into hundreds of episodes, he hosts television talk shows or festival programmes on the mini-screen. Yet, after 25 years, actor Mukundan chose to take a break and concentrate on cinema.

This alumnus of the School of Drama and winner of the State television award for the best actor in 2012, is confident that his calibre will be recognised by the vibrant new phase of Malayalam cinema.

“My journey on stage started when I was seven. Though my father wanted me to become a lawyer, I opted for a BTA (Bachelor of Theatre Arts) from the School of Drama, Thrissur,” Mukundan says.

While he wanted to try his hand in direction, it was the legendary G. Sankara Pillai, the first director of the School of Drama, who identified the actor in him. “Those days, we were all drunk on theatre. Working with Britain’s Royal Theatre was the ambition. Exploring new heights in the medium was the mission.”

His dreams led him on, and he thrived under the exemplary guidance of Sankara Pillai. He says it was the training at the School of Drama that taught him the value of patience and perseverance, which, later on, proved to be of great help to him.

After completing the course, Mukundan joined the famed Rangaprabhath Children’s Theatre at Venjaramoodu.

“I used to travel across the State to find games of yore to keep the little artistes energised,” he looks back. But with Sankara Pillai’s unexpected death, the curtains literally came down on the dreams he wove around theatre.

The following years saw Mukundan foraying into tinsel town. He was behind the scenes of many an award-winning film such as Unnikkuttanu Joli Kitti. He also acted in Sainyam, Pavithram, and Ponthanmada before switching over to television. Starting with Pandupandoru Chekavar, in which he shared screen space with veteran actor Karamana Janardanan Nair, Mukundan went on to do over a hundred serials. ‘Charulatha’, ‘Sthree’, ‘Jwalayaay’, ‘Pakalmazha’, ‘Sandhyaaragam’ his roles were many and varied.

“But serials are always in the present. Cinema is timeless. Many of our new directors do not know that I can perform well in a humorous role as they are not familiar with my oeuvre on TV. I have taken a break only from serials, I am game for doing interesting telefilms if they come my way,” he adds. He had also returned to the stage to act in the well-received Chayamukhi, a Mahabharata-based play that featured Mohanlal and Mukesh in the lead.

Recently, the actor made a remarkable return to the big screen with films that have won both commercial and critical acclaim – movies such as Celluloid, Natholi Oru Cheriya Meenalla, Nadan, Mumbai Police, North 24 Kaatham, Manglish, and Sapthamasree Thaskaraha. He has been cast in yet another film by director V.K. Prakash.

When Mukundan was at the peak of his mini-screen career and was asked which one of the lead characters – hero or anti-hero – he wanted in ‘Sthree’ , which set the ball rolling for popular soap culture on Malayalam television, he chose the role of the anti-hero. “I knew it was the meatier role, something in which I could perform. I do not believe in building an image and living up to it. The artiste in me is the happiest when I am challenged to do the extraordinary.”

A rare compliment

It was in the early nineties, at Mumbai’s Churchgate theatre. Mukundan was performing in ‘Act Without Words I’, a mime written by Samuel Beckett, as part of a drama fete to pay homage to the playwright who passed away in 1989. “Stalwarts like Naseeruddin Shah, Om Puri, Shashi Kapoor, and Govind Nihalani were right in front of the audience. Shah had just performed in ‘Waiting for Godot’ two days before. The presence of so many greats infused me with a rare energy,” he recalls.

The play involved different kinds of props lowered down from above to a thirsty man in search of water in a desert. There were a lot of acrobatic moves that had to be synchronised with the objects being lowered down. It was a thoroughly fulfilling experience for Mukundan. Shah, along with several others, congratulated him. “Artistes complimenting each other after a play is customary,” Mukundan remembers. “But then he turned to V.K. Prakash, the play’s director, and said: ‘This actor needed no props. He would have pulled it off even without them’. I cherish those words, coming as they did from such a great actor.”

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Printable version | Oct 19, 2018 9:13:46 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/actor-mukundan-is-back-in-cinema/article6522996.ece

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