'Kalabhavan Mani was truly the star of the masses, which was evident from the huge crowds that came to bid him adieu when he died on March 6 at the age of 45.'
If Kalabhavan Mani’s rags to riches life-story were to be made into a film, many would find it unbelievable. His battle from dire straits to one of the finest actors in the business seems like a dream.
"I have come from a really poor background; my family lived in poverty. Things became better after I found some acceptance as a mimicry artiste and later, as an actor," Mani had once said.
"I can’t express how I felt when I bought the very same property where my father used to work, in our hometown, Chalakudy."
He was truly the star of the masses, which was evident from the huge crowds that came to bid him adieu when he died on March 6 at the age of 45.
In one of his earliest films, Aksharam, Kalabhavan Mani had to play an auto rickshaw driver.
"The hero was not convinced initially and was heard inquiring if I knew how to drive an auto. But he was fine eventually, when I started the vehicle even though the starting lever was damaged.
"In fact, I was a mimicry artiste by then but I never told him so and behaved as if I am an auto driver by profession, since I was desperate to find a place in the movies," said Mani, while narrating his entry into the world of cinema.
He received tremendous acceptance as a comedian in films like Sallapam, Udyanapalakan, Kalyanasougandhikam, Dilliwala Rajakumaran and Summer in Bethelehem among others. Later, he started playing more serious roles and it all paved the way to become the hero.
Mani became a successful hero, with big hits like Ben Johnson and Karumadikkuttan. His role as a visually challenged youth in Vasanthiyum Lakshmiyum Pinne Njanum won the Special Jury award at the National Film awards in 2000.
He has also found success in other south Indian languages and teamed up with Rajinikanth in Enthiran, Kamal Haasan in Papanasam and with Vikram in Anniyan.
Mani, who became a mimicry artiste at Kalabhavan, was also a hugely popular singer. His folk songs are quite a rage and he has performed in concerts globally.
Chalakudy is known as Kalabhavan Mani’s hometown and he would have no starry airs on his visits there. He was in contention as a Left candidate for the forthcoming Legislative Assembly elections from there.
Mani (or ‘Mani chettan’ as he was known to all) was grounded as a human being and remained a great friend, who always greeted me with his trademark laugh, some lines of folk songs and a tight hug. All that will remain is fond memories for the rest of my life.
Adieu, my dear friend. You are truly one of a kind!