Sallapam might be remembered more for Manju Warrier’s debut as heroine and a superb musical score by Johnson. But, those who saw the film would also remember Rajappan, the wicked toddy tapper.
It may have been a small role, but that was enough for Kalabhavan Mani to show the world what he was capable of. That was in 1996.
Over the next couple of decades Mani went on to establish himself as one of the more popular actors in Malayalam cinema. Yes, mostly he made the audience laugh. Comedy was his forte, but he proved that he was not just a comedian.
With his superb portrayal of a blind singer in Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njanum , he came close to winning both the State and national awards for the best actor. He earned the special mention from both the juries for his performance in the film directed by Vinayan, though he lost out on the award. He was disappointed when he did not get the State award and he had admitted as much. He felt an actor like him would get a role like that – and therefore an opportunity to win a major award – only once in a while, unlike heroes.
That film though made Mani a hero, as it was a big box-office hit. He did taste more success as a hero, but he continued to do comic roles as well. He also made an excellent villain, in films such as Gemini (Tamil).
A star singer
There was not much that he could not do. He was a good singer and the folk songs he rendered were extremely popular. And, of course, he was superb on the stage. It was on the stage of Kalabhavan, Kochi, that he honed his talent.
Mani came from a deprived background. He showed how one could overcome tough circumstances and attain success in life riding purely on one’s talent.
His untimely death has dealt another blow to Malayalam cinema in 2016, in which it has already lost actress Kalpana, lyricist O.N.V. Kurup, directors Rajesh Pillai and Mohan Roop, cinematographer Anandakuttan, composer Rajamani and musician Shan Johnson.