In first person: Mammootty

Irresistible magic

Print edition : October 18, 2013

Mammootty Photo: Bijoy Ghosh

Poster of the Jabbar Patel-directed film on B.R. Ambedkar, in which Mammootty plays the lead. Photo: C.V. Subrahmanyam

100 years of Indian Cinema

CINEMA is not just my bread. It is my breath and my very being. It is indeed a proud privilege to partake in the centenary celebrations of Indian cinema, holding three decades of it to my personal credentials. I started off as any lay cinema buff, and my passion persists to date. Looking back after three decades, which is a third of this centenary, I realise that it has been a journey with vibrant dreams ever mobile that would let you lose track of time.

Indian cinema was born fairly earlier than India as a nation came into being, paradoxical it might sound though. But as we know, technically speaking, India is celebrating its 66th birthday at the centenary of Indian cinema. Indian cinema encompasses a rich heritage of multilingual cultures. It is not mere Hindi films as is often misrepresented. It is a texture interwoven with the desires and disillusionments of the enormous populace called India, which includes people who speak Marathi, Bengali, Malayalam, Tamil, Kannada, Assamese, Konkani, and so on and so forth.

Of course, masters like Satyajit Ray and Ritwik Ghatak are strong pillars upholding our esteem in the international arena. So are our Adoor [Gopalakrishnan], G. Aravindan and Shaji N. Karun. Their achievements are to be valued with all due regard. But hardly do they cater to the tastes of lay audience whose tickets run this industry. For me, popular cinema too matters. Box office is an all-time puzzle unresolved. We never know what the audience will accept. This mystery makes the magic irresistible. I was fortunate enough to be part of both streams in other languages too.

Fascination for moving images made me pursue my passion until I landed up in this fairy land. Travelling through landscapes might be possible for anybody but journey through vivid mindscapes is the unique privilege of an actor. I was privileged to live ever so many lives within these years. An actor, like a samurai, is destined to fulfil the desires of the multitude. His victory thus becomes personal to him as well as to the public.

Undoubtedly, Toshiro Mifune’s Samurai is implied in the metaphor referred, he being a great artist I admire. But I have never tried to imitate anybody either in life or in my career. Because I believe that the nuances an actor employs are often innate and indigenous, wherein lies the beauty of performance par excellence. Let cultural indigenousness be one essence Indian cinema never parts with.

The actor in me was flagged off by M.T. Vasudevan Nair for his Vilkkanundu Swapnangal, directed by Azad. And was manured by the veteran director K.G. George though I still cherish an uncredited on-screen appearance much earlier in a movie in which Sathyan played the lead. I was lucky to share screen space with great talents like Prem Nazir, Soman, Sukumaran, Gopi, Murali and Rateesh down to the new generation of star kids. Many of my co-stars have left us. Still while watching old movies I realise that actors are luminaries who can never be left to oblivion. Stars, countless though they be, will remain stars always. Cinema is sculpting in time, where artists carve themselves to immortality, as the film genius Andrei Tarkovsky has stated.

Looking at cinema I have always felt that magical realism can no more be a coinage restricted to Gabriel Garcia Marquez. What else would you term this institution that blurs off your logic of fact and fantasy! I am indebted to this institution for enriching my transient life with abundance. Thank you Cinema….

As told to Premchand, Assistant Editor, Mathrubhumi .