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September 7, 2000


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'He is king!'

Shobha Warrier

Director Joshi is to commercial cinema what Adoor Gopalakrishnan is to art films.

If Adoor is responsible for Mammootty's transformation into a super actor, Joshi can be credited with making him a superstar.

Listen to the man who has directed Mammootty in the maximum number of films:

Joshi I first met Mammootty when he was dubbing for P G Vishwambharan's film, Sphotanam. We met outside the dubbing studio -- our conversation didn't go beyond hello.

Our first film happened at the end of 1982 -- two years after he started acting. It was producer Joy Thomas who booked him for my film. Till then, I was directing established actors like Prem Naseer, Sathyan, Madhu, Soman, Sukumaran, etc.

Almost all my films were hits those days. By then my contemporaries, I V Sasi and P G Vishwambharan, had worked with Mammootty. As we were discussing our new project, Joy said, "This time, we will have a new face: Mammootty." I agreed.

Before I started shooting Raathri, many people warned me that Mammootty was arrogant, obstinate and conceited. That he would not obey directors. But I decided to go ahead with the project anyway.

That was a time when Mammootty was extremely busy. He would four shifts a day. Almost all Malayalam films had him in the cast. In the day, he would work three shifts for three films. Then we would meet at 10 pm and shoot till 2 am!

The first day, I remember, he reached by 10 pm. I started explaining the sequence to him. Halfway through it, I realised he had closed his eyes, appearing the least interested in what I was saying.

I got so wild that I called for pack-up and walked out of the sets.

Then I issued an ultimatum to the producer: "It's either him or me. If he is going to be the hero, I will not be the director."

Actually, what happened was that Mammootty was so tired that he fell asleep as I was narrating the sequence. I didn't know it then. All I remembered was what others had told me -- he was arrogant.

Anyway, the situation was diffused after Mammootty came to my room and explained everything. He said, "Sir, please forgive me. I had not slept for five days. That is why I fell asleep."

I believed him. That very moment, I went back to the sets. We resumed shooting.

If he hadn't come to my room, we would never have come together at all. I think that was a major turning point in our careers.

THE second time he worked with me was as a guest, in a film that had all the major stars in it. I insisted that I wanted him to act in it -- he agreed readily even though he was heavily booked. I still remember waiting for him from 6 pm till 12 am. Imagine, just a few months ago, I was so mad at him that I wanted him off my film!

By then, we had worked in about half a dozen films together. Our equation hadn't changed from 'director and hero'. But it in 1984, during Sandarbham, that a strong friendship started developing between us.

We began opening up and confiding in each other. Soon, there was nothing we didn't tell each other. Today, 30 films later, we remain very good friends.

I have worked with him for 18 years, but I can't explain how Mammootty has grown as an actor over the years. I can best explain it this way: In 1986, all his films flopped miserably. Everybody wrote him off. Many predicted that Mammootty's days as hero were over, and that hitherto, he would get only supporting roles.

We had worked in four films that year -- all flopped. It was one of his worst years. Why, youngsters wouldn't go near the theatre if they found it was his film! The moment he appeared on screen, they used to hoot.

That was also the time Mammootty, Baby Shalini and the briefcase were a common factor in all Malayalam films. I had started the trend, but every filmmaker in Kerala followed suit: Mammootty, Baby Shalini and the briefcase!

You won't believe it. That Onam, there were five of his films. One was mine. All but one film by I V Sasi bombed miserably.

In the history of Malayalam cinema, no one has come back as hero after he was down and out. All that awaited a fallen hero was character roles. Mammootty himself was ready for that.

But it was not to be. Mammootty rewrote history.

In 1987, we started shooting for New Delhi. Since 1987, he moved in one direction only: up. He hasn't looked back since. I would say it was all because of his hard work and his self-confidence.

Not only commercial success, but awards, too, came in search of him. A hero, who everyone in Kerala wrote off as history, became one of the most recognised actors in India!

I remember he was under tremendous tension during New Delhi. He went through each scene as if he were possessed. It was like he was driven to prove everyone wrong. After each sequence, he would tell me: "Let me put in my best. After that, it is up to the people to accept or reject me. But I will do my best. I shouldn't feel later that I didn't give my best to them."

We were in Kashmir shooting for Nair Saab, when news of New Delhi's success reached us. I think that was the happiest day in his life. I doubt if he were as happy winning the National Awards!

It was a kind of rebirth for him.

AS an actor, Mammootty fits into different roles so beautifully. Very few have that ability.

He transformed himself completely as Chandu in Vadakkan Veera Gadha. We feel he is Chandu, not Mammootty. As Ambedkar, he is Ambedkar, not Mammootty. Can anyone believe that Ponthanmada is Mammootty? That is, indeed, an unusual ability.

Let me tell you something about New Delhi. I made the same film with Jeetendra in Hindi, with Krishnam Raju in Telugu and with Ambareesh in Kannada. Only after I saw these actors play GK (Mammootty's character), did I understand what a great actor he is.

That was when I realised the greatness of Mammootty the actor.

He becomes lame in the movie -- and you should see the way he walked! Not once in the entire film will you see him walking differently. But I had to struggle really hard to make the other actors limp. When I was working with Mammootty, I didn't have to even think of all these things. He is the best artiste any director can have.

You can never say that an actor has reached his peak. There is no peak in acting. Acting changes with time. The kind of acting we saw from Naseer Sir and Sathyan Sir was totally different from what we see in today's actors.

Mammootty is changing with the times. He is growing with the times. That is why he is the king even after 20 years.

Also read:
'People want entertainment'
'Acting is like firing a bullet'
'Why would I harbour any jealousy?'
'He is a courageous actor'
'I would have been surprised if he hadn't won any National Award'
'He made my job easy!'
'I felt relieved only after the censor board certified Ambedkar''
'Ambedkar was a humanist. I am also for the human race'
The dalit messiah
'Gandhi pushed Ambedkar to the edge'
Mammootty and Mohanlal to act together
Team of 48
Pick of the pics

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