When I learned that Malayalam's great actor Madhu Sir is turning 90 this September 23, I could not believe it at first. His image and expression in my mind, still, was that of a 55-year-old – the tall, white, plumpy Madhu Sir, who usually approaches sporting an unsure soft smile on his elegant face, keeping an edge of the dhoti in his hand and holding his head like Guruvayur Kesavan. How can I then relate his persona to one who has turned ninety?
And when I saw him on TV recently, I was devastated. The Madhu ‘spring’ in my mind has become so tired, with his hair and beard turning grey, while his frame has attained a different shape altogether.
Time is like a great magician, isn't it? What changes do the universe and time bring about in the human body? Then only I remembered that the wonders that time brings are the same as the wonders in cinema. I always had in my mind his hero's image that overwhelmed my stories and scripts.
I'm trying to recollect my old memories. It was during my teen days that Gowreeshapattam Madhavan Nair, alias Madhu, stepped into the filmdom reigned by Sathyan and Naseer. It was a rare confluence of three residents hailing from the state capital.
My concept of hero worship changed when I first saw Madhu, who possessed a natural acting style, coming with the natural habits and styles of an ordinary man. As I watched films like Bhargavinilayam, Chemmeen, and Olavum Theeravum, I immediately shifted my stance. It didn't take long for a young man named Madhu to become my idol. I became a regular viewer of Madhu Sir's films. The actor impressed my friends, like John Paul, Sebastian Paul, Artist Kitho, Eastman Antony, R K Damodaran, Erali, and Peter Lal as well.
Over the years, I, too, came to bask in the ‘silver light’ of cinema. When I came to the filmdom as a scriptwriter, it was Madhu Sir who played the hero in the first story I wrote (the film Anubhavangale Nandi directed by I V Sasi). Madhu Sir was the hero in my subsequent films, like Abhayam, Tharavu, Sambhavam, Witness, Ayudham, Yuddham and Raktham.
When I think of Madhu sir, travelling back in time, a special moment pops up in my mind. Its historical record is as follows. Madhu Sir was selected as one of the two heroes for the film Raktham, produced by Jagan Pictures Appachan and directed by Joshy. I felt no actor, other than Madhu Sir, could play the robust character of Viswanathan. Naseer Sir played the role of a police officer in it.
There is this fact about the film that is not known even to many in the filmdom. Had it not been for Madhu Sir's goodwill, there would not have been a scriptwriter named Kaloor Dennis in Malayalam cinema today. Raktham was a multi-starrer film starring Madhu Sir, Naseer Sir and Soman. We went and met Madhu Sir in Thiruvananthapuram and booked him early. Then, a month-and-a-half later, before the film shooting commenced, we again went to meet him. But Sir didn't show interest in acting in this film then. He didn’t give any reasons either. I was shocked.
"If sir doesn't act in this film, this project won't work. It's the first big-budget I'm getting. Please, sir."
He remained silent for a moment after hearing my request and then said: “I'll come, Dennis, you can proceed with confidence.”
(It was only later I came to know there were unpleasant happenings that prompted him to say ‘no’ first. I’m not writing all those here.)
That's how the movie Raktham was made. It was a roaring success. Then, I didn't have to look back. I had my hands full. Madhu Sir played the powerful role of an elephant doctor in Kudumbasametham directed by Jayaraj, which won me a state award in 1992. Madhu Sir also won a special jury award for his performance in the movie. At the same time, there is another joy that fills my mind on this Navathi Day.
Perhaps, I have written the most number of scripts for Madhu Sir. Anubhavangale Nandi, Idavelakku Sesham, Akalangalil Abhayam, Witness, Sambhavam, Tharavu, Ayudham, Raktham, Karthavyam, Chakkarayumma, Yuddham, Katha Ithuvare, Alakadalinakkare, Kudumbasametham and Ezhupunna Tarakan.
Madhu Sir was an artiste who became a film actor before the awards were born. Judging by the early films that he acted in, I had often wondered how many central and state awards should have been in his way for his sterling performance in films like Olavum Theeravum, Ummachu, and Yuddhakandam. Even after so many years, why are the governments and intellectual and cultural leaders here not ready to bestow upon him the recognition and respect that he deserves? Madhu Sir is a perfect example of those who refuse to toe the lobbying culture to get awards, being forced to lie on the bed of neglect. But the most interesting thing is that he has no interest in these awards. Talking about awards, Madhu Sir jokingly says that it is like a 10th-grade student checking degree exam papers and awarding marks.
Sivaji Ganesan, the acting legend of Tamil cinema, who is the lexicon of acting, was not given the Bharath award, and instead, it went to MGR, who excelled in fights and other such things. Our award committee members are the ones who did all these. What to point out beyond that? Even after pondering so much, I don't understand what is the criterion for being a good actor. The status of the Padma awards is no different.
In a stingy act, Madhu Sir, who made a mark in all fields of cinema for over 60 years, was only recently given a Padma Shri award by the Central Government. I see this 'Padma Shri' as a dishonour to the personality who should have long ago been honoured with a Padma Bhushan or a Padma Vibhushan. I’m of the opinion that Madhu Sir should have never accepted this 'Padma Shri' award. Madhu Sir went and received it without showing any dissent, and it shows how big-hearted he is.
In my film career, I have met a lot of actors and got close to them. Madhu Sir is the number one actor among a few who influenced me so much personally. Madhu sir is a favorite actor of Malayalam cinema who has maintained the same character from the time I met him till date.
I have only one thing to say about Madhu Sir. Madhu Sir is one of the most fortunate people in Malayalam cinema. When Malayalam cinema reaches the age of 85, God has showered his blessings on the great actor to be able to remain a full-fledged presence in it for 60 years.