The role is stellar

He stands tall in Malayalam cinema. Even at 80. Few actors have lasted as long. Fewer have aged as gracefully. Still fewer have dared move behind the camera while still in their prime, and made a success out of it too.

Madhu has no peers in Malayalam cinema. Hero, character actor, director, producer, proprietor of a studio… He has been all that.

Madhu arrived at a time when Prem Nazir and Sathyan were the twin towers of Malayalam cinema. But, he made his own mark. He could romance the prettiest of the heroines as easily as he played the rough anti-hero. “Nazir and Sathyan were already big stars and it was not easy those days for a man with a face and figure like mine to be accepted as an actor,” he told this writer during an interview a few years ago. “I believe I succeeded as an actor because I never was a star; no man has ever gone to see a film just to see me.”

His fans, including director Jayaraj, might not agree with the last point though. The tall, handsome man who could enact varied emotions with subtlety had his own fan following.

A combination of endearing screen presence, talent, and chance ensured that Madhu made a sudden impact. He was travelling on a bus in New Delhi when he came to know of a function organised by the Malayalee Association to honour Ramu Kariat and the artistes of Mudiyanaya Puthran . He was then studying at the National School of Drama, in its first batch. Kariat offered him a role in Moodupadam .

A visit to the Chandratara Studio in Chennai for a make-up test for that film led him to a meeting with producer Sobhana Parameswaran Nair, who cast him in Ninamaninja Kalpadukal . The year was 1963. Within a span of a few years, with films like Bhargavi Nilayam, Chemmeen, Olavum Theeravum, Ummachu, and Swayamvaram , he proved he was no ordinary actor. Nazir and Sathyan may have been the bigger names at the box office, but Madhu had created a space of his own.

The creative artiste in him was not content, though. Almost inevitably, he turned to direction and made a mark too. He made a fine debut in 1970 with Priya , based on C. Radhakrishnan’s novel ‘Thevidissi’. He played the anti-hero in it, casting Adoor Bhasi, the reigning king of comedy, as the hero.

He followed it up with films like Sindooracheppu, Sathi, Akkaldama, Manyasree Viswamithran and Theekkanal , a personal favourite and box office hit. As a director, he tried to make meaningful films within the boundaries of commercial cinema. He established Uma Studio in Thiruvananthapuram and produced films such as Asthamayam, Shudhikalasham, Prabhatha Sandhya, Njan Ekananu and Archana Teacher .

Acting though continued to be his first love. That passion endures still. Remember that cameo in Spirit last year?

He has an astonishing volume of work as an actor, with films such as Orikkalkoodi, Hrudyam Oru Kshethram, Itha Oru Manushyan, Itha Ivide Vare, Abhijathyam, Theekkanal, Yudhakandam, Priya, Idavazhiyile Poocha Mindapoocha, Manyasree Viswamithran, Pinnilavu, Jeevitham, Ottayadippathakal and Kudumbasametham .

No other hero in Malayalam has so effortlessly stepped into character roles. Neither could you find another man who has dedicated his life to cinema the way Madhu has, for an incredible five decades.

He breathes cinema.