25 years of Salim Kumar and his incredible portrayals of the quintessential Malayali

Veteran actor Salim Kumar has been entertaining the Malayali audience for two and a half decades, playing some unforgettable roles in the history of Malayalam cinema. For the award winning actor, making it big in the movies wasn’t a cake walk. Hailing from the quaint countryside of Chittatukara in North Paravur, Salim Kumar managed to win the title of the best actor in the country, only through his incredible prowess for acting and sheer hard work.

In a career spanning twenty five years, the actor had played countless roles that have been permanently etched in the hearts of the moviegoers. From iconic comedy roles to pensive character roles, Salim Kumar could seamlessly switch personalities on screen. He acts as an over bridge of laughter that has helped Keralites overcome any crisis. Moreover, his characters are like mirrors, often portraying the realities of life that an ordinary person encounters in real life.

The making of an actor

It was 25 years ago, in Ishtamanu Nooruvattam, that Salim Kumar had made his silver screen debut. He soon became one of the most sought after comedy actors in the industry, playing some interesting roles and mouthing iconic dialogues that have become a staple for hilarious memes. But, all it took was a poignant performance in Achanurangatha Veedu for Salim Kumar to break away from stereotypical comedy roles. Later, he brought laurels to the Malayalam film industry by winning the national award for best actor for his spectacular performance in the movie Adaminte Makan Abu.

Salim Kumar is an artist who has clear ideas about the art of acting or performance. When he won the state award for best comedy actor immediately after being adjudged the best actor in the country, he was a bit reluctant to receive the state award. “There are nava rasas (9 emotional expressions) in acting. A good actor can perfectly pull off all these emotions. There is already an award for the best actor. The award for best comedy actor is irrelevant. In that case, awards for every emotion like best expresser of anger or best romantic actor should be given. I had received that state award just because I didn’t want people to think that I have become arrogant after winning a national award,” says Salim Kumar in his book titled ‘Oru Lookilenne Ullu Bhayangara Budhiya’.

Rule breaker

There is a popular saying that an artist should be a revolutionary too. In that sense, Salim Kumar is indeed a revolutionary who doesn’t hesitate to speak out his mind. It is an unwritten rule that one should only say things that gets the approval of the godfathers of the industry. Actors who courageously speak their opinions are likely to lose opportunities to work or are dropped from movies. However, Salim Kumar has always broken these rules and stands by his opinions. He proudly proclaimed his association with the Indian National Congress, dismissing the left parties that are usually embraced by artists in Malayalam cinema. He would publicly express his displeasure over the stands taken by AMMA. Moreover, he wouldn’t mind handing over his resignation from the actor’s association if it clashes with his political ideals. Salim Kumar even approached the court challenging the injustice when the state movie awards were announced. In the last 25 years, Salim Kumar has never failed to raise his voice against injustice or bias; neither has he compromised on his principles.

Iconic dialogues

There was a time when Keralites relied on riddles or proverbs to express their ideas or as a means of intellectual engagement. Then Ottanthullal legend Kunjan Nambiar introduced funny expressions and one - liners that are sarcastic yet relevant. Later, with the advent of cinema, Keralites began using the prominent dialogues of actor Sreenivasan in their daily life. Now, Salim Kumar holds an undeniable position in the life of an ordinary Malayali who often quotes the actor’s dialogues to explain peculiar situations. Be it happiness, sadness, loneliness, crises or even resistance, they look to Salim Kumar and his countless characters that he has played on screen for the perfect lines that suit the situation.

Political twists

A political satirist or commentator cannot help but use the dialogues of Salim Kumar when he approaches incidents in a critical way and creative way. Besides, these dialogues have conquered the social media too in the form of trolls and memes. Just like Salim Kumar’s novelist in Pokkiriraja says, politics is full of ‘twists’. Manavalan’s dialogues about a cracker shop in Pulivalkalyanam would come handy while describing a political disaster. The witty yet intelligent lawyer in Meesamadhavan comes to the mind when an ordinary Malayali sees a political leader who challenges everyone and lands in trouble himself.

Shades of helplessness

There isn’t another actor who has essayed the emotions of helplessness with such perfection. Salim Kumar’s face amazingly emote the intense pain of the vulnerable. Similarly, khuda gawah, an expression that Salim Kumar uses in one of his movies is often heard in households too, when the family members face uncertainties or financial crunch. This is indeed a sigh of helplessness, but one could find a lighter moment even in crises when it is mouthed like Salim Kumar does.

Thanks to the fire force

Salim Kumar’s hilarious dialogue from Pulival Kalyanam where he proudly thanks the fire force after creating a pandemonium perfectly suits a situation when one messes up by pointlessly creating confusion.

The sambar ‘woes’

From disappointment to desperation, ‘entino thilakkuna sambar’ dialogue from Kalyana Raman sums up a wasted situation despite all the effort and hard work. It amazingly essays the existential crises of life on a lighter yet poignant note.


Salim Kumar’s dialogue delivery is often hailed as spot on. For instance, the way his police inspector in Annan Thambi says ‘entinu’ (Why) to Mammootty’s character fits a tensed moment when someone tries to interfere in an emotionally charged situation. This would be the perfect way to dissuade your dear ones from making grave mistakes that they are likely to regret later.

Who am I?

The dialogue “Aranu Njan?” (who am I) from the movie Happy Husbands often rings as a reminder of our survival, especially when our efforts are rendered fruitless, or become lonely and helpless or even when we are constantly questioned for our choices and stands.

Linguistic master

Salim Kumar deserves credit for making some revolutionary changes in the popular perceptions of language. Usually in Malayalam, an ‘ee’ sound is added to masculine words to make it sound and mean feminine. Linguistic experts have called this a patriarchal trend in the language systems. It is in this context that Salim Kumar’s efforts to create a new and independent masculine term from a popular feminine word deserve applause. In the movie Mayavi, the actor has fashioned a new word ‘niraparadhan’ from the feminine word ‘niraparadini’ (not guilty). In the theaters, the audience had roared in laughter hearing this dialogue. However, this could be called a revolutionary moment in Malayalam cinema where an actor had landed a blow on the patriarchal tendencies of the language.

The credit for the dialogues and situations in a movie are always attributed to the writer or the director. But, these dialogues become intense and meaningful when it is spectacularly rendered by a talented actor like Salim Kumar. This must be the reason why such dialogues and words remain unforgettable from the popular lingo.

Evergreen presence

A classic Salim Kumar character is the perfect embodiment of the common man. From a crafty politician, dominating boss, ordinary worker, a lazy person, the quintessential aliyan (brother-in-law), a lawyer and the policeman to the loving and helpless father, a Dalit person or a broken man, an honest friend and an eager lover, Salim Kumar has done it all.

Advocate Mukundannuni from Meesamadhavan could be easily spotted in a busy court room. Similarly, it won’t be difficult to find a lazy labourer like Chandran in Kunjikoonan who keeps threatening his boss quoting lines from the Maxist masterpieces.

Meanwhile, Pyari from Kalyanaraman who made us roar with laugh, with his jumbled ‘MELCOW’ board is the representative of the ordinary man who is baffled by the English language. Omanakuttan in Thilakkam is the classic brother-in-law who is looking to pick up a fight at their in – law’s house. Usman, the earnest apprentice from Kilichundan Mambazham could be found in your local workshops or stores. Meanwhile, Thabala Bhaskaran, the talented tabla artist who drowns his woes in alcohol is a representative of millions of such real life artists. The eccentric man in CID Moosa has wowed the audience with his intense philosophical musings.

It is very easy to spot a vain and proud person who is a failure in everything just like Manavalan in Pulivalkalyanam. Dance master Vikram’s face would come to our mind whenever we meet an annoying person. Aamu Ilayappan from Perumazhakalam opens his mouth only to say disappointing or discouraging things.

Rafeeq from Udayananu Tharam is the honest man who has nothing but gratitude to the one who has lent him a helping hand. Rajakkannu, the retired thug from Thommanum Makkalum, the helpless Umadathan from Pandipada, Govindan from Rapakal who believes that he is the best mahout in the world, Paradushanam Vareethu from Chandupottu who has nothing else to do other than create rumors, the iconic Kannan Sranku from Mayavi who becomes famous overnight even without his own knowledge, Pappan, the loyal friend in Chocolate, poet Das Vadakkemuri who pens poetry on the spot, chef Koshy from Parakkumthalika and the police officer Kapeesh Induchoodan from Twenty Twenty who is determined to earn the respect that he deserves are some of the unforgettable comedy roles essayed brilliantly by Salim Kumar.

However, the intense performances of the actor in movies like Vathavam, Achanurangatha Veedu, Adaminte Makan Abu and Fireman have earned him a permanent position in hearts of the Malayali audience.

Salim Kumar, the actor, has portrayed on screen, the real struggles and problems of the common man. This didn’t change when he became a writer and a director. Through his comedy roles, Salim Kumar not only entertained the audience but also gave a vent to the existential pangs. He is an actor who proved that grave and pressing matters could be discussed and brought into the public discourse not just through solemn or serious characters but through humorous characters too.

Who is Salim Kumar?

The answer to this question would be the countless characters that Salim Kumar has essayed on screen. In fact, Salim Kumar or his characters is ‘everyman’ who lives an ordinary life. While speaking to this writer about his book ‘Oru Lookilenne Ullu Bhayangara Budhiya’, Salim Kumar had said, “I think one should look at life with two eyes. If you observe only through one eye, life would seem sad and desperate. However, if looked through the other eye, life is a laugh riot. I like to see life through the second eye.”

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