Madhu, who has created a permanent space for himself in the Malayalam film industry as an actor, director, producer and studio owner, celebrates his ninetieth birthday on September 23. On this happy occasion, leading Malayalam actors of the present times Mohanlal and Mammootty recall their association with the legend, who has been entertaining movie lovers for over 60 years.
A fatherly figure: Mohanlal
For superstar Mohanlal, Madhu is a fatherly figure in both cinema and real life. “I could learn so many things from Madhu Sir’s life on and off the screen,” he says.
Despite their age difference, Madhu and Mohanlal became thick friends. “He was also a Guru to me,” says Mohanlal.
“We enacted the roles of father and son in several movies and many people said that we had an excellent chemistry between us by way of physique as well as acting method,” he says.
Mohanlal considers Madhu as a stalwart of Malayalam movie industry. “He appeared as numerous characters which influenced as well as entertained us as children and youth,” he adds.
“In the movie ‘Bhargavinilayam’, it is only Madhu Sir who is seen on the screen for the first 30 minutes. The attention of the audience is sustained during this period not only thanks to the script of the legendary writer Vaikom Muhammed Basheer but also to the exemplary acting skills of Madhu Sir,” adds Mohanlal.
Other roles of Madhu which are still remembered by Mohanlal with pangs in his heart are Kochu Muthalali in ‘Chemmeen’, Bapputty in ‘Olavum Theeravum’ and the doctor in ‘Hridayam Oru Kshetram’.
Moreover, Mohanlal admired Madhu as both had appeared in notable villain and anti-hero roles. “My debut was as a villain. Gradually, I became an anti-hero and later a hero. I felt Madhu Sir was a path-breaker in this regard. He was the villain in the first film he directed, ‘Priya’. He was an anti-hero in ‘Kaamam Moham Krodham’ also directed by him and ‘Theekkanal.’ He was a cruel villain in ‘Etha Ivide Vare’ by I V Sasi-Padmarajan team,” says Mohanlal.
Madhu was also a regular in the new-gen movies produced during Mohanlal’s youth. “He acted in ‘Swayamvaram’, which changed the course of Malayalam cinema and ‘Cheemmeen’, which earned national recognition. He was also there in landmark films such as Vincent Mash’s ‘Chenda’ and P N Menon’s ‘Chembarathi’ and ‘Nakhangal.’
Another contribution of Madhu as a producer and studio owner to Malayalam movies is the encouragement he offered to several directors such as P Chandrakumar. Madhu’s actions as producer helped shift all work related to films from Chennai to Kerala.
At the same time, Mohanlal was more surprised by the comic roles enacted by Madhu. “He performed comedy effortlessly in films such as Kainikkara Kumara Pillai’s ‘Manysree Viswamithran’; ‘Angam’ and ‘Simhavalan Menon’, which had Prem Nazir Sir as co-actor and Sethumadhavan Sir’s ‘Arorumariyathe,’” says Mohanlal.
“Nobody expected that Madhu Sir would take up such roles. However, those who are close to him know that Madhu Sir has a huge sense of humour beneath a serious exterior. Under his big figure, Madhu Sir was almost a child. Whenever he did some naughty things, Madhu Sir’s eyes would become narrow, similar to that of a cat’s and a triangular-shaped wrinkle appeared at the corner of his eyes,” says Mohanlal.
“He looked very sweet and innocent on such occasions,” adds the actor.
Mohanlal could observe Madhu at close quarters as he both had a close relationship which went beyond acting. “Madhu Sir gave me special consideration. Once, his daughter Uma told me, ‘Please call my father occasionally. He loves you so much.’ I consider that statement as one of the biggest recognitions I have received. I call him whenever I have time. I also visit him when I am in Thiruvananthapuram,” says Mohanlal.
Mohanlal concludes his account by relating an incident during the shooting of ‘Khandahar ’ produced by him.
“The location was Ooty and the legend of Hindi cinema Amitabh Bachchan arrived on the sets to act in the movie. One day, between the shooting, we spoke about Madhu Sir. ‘Saath Hindustani’ by K A Abbas was Amitabh Bachchan’s debut movie. It was also Madhu’s first Hindi film. Madhu Sir had studied at National School of Drama in Delhi and had close contacts with many Hindi and Bengali filmmakers. When I mentioned the name of Madhu Sir, Bachchan Sir remembered some old incidents. He said that he had not met or spoken to Madhu for years. I immediately picked up my phone, dialled Madhu Sir’s number and gave it to Amitji. What followed was something extraordinary. Two old friends exchanged memories, that too in Hindi. Madhu Sir spoke fluently in that language to Amitji and the conversation was filled with laughter and happiness. My joy knew no bounds,” says Mohanlal.
Mohanlal’s first movie with Madhu was ‘Padayottam.’ Later, they appeared together in I V Sasi’s ‘Nanayam’ and ‘Varnapakittu’ and some multi-star films; Joshhy’s ‘Naran’, ‘Naduvazhikal’ and ‘Twenty20’; Priyadarshan’s ‘Geethanjali’; Sethumadhavan’s ‘Ariyatha Veedhikal’; Baby’s ‘Kurissu Yudham’; P G Viswambharan’s ‘Pin Nilavu’; Venu Nagavally’s ‘Lal Salaam’; Rafi Macartin’s ‘Hallo’; B Unnikrishnan’s ‘Madambi’ and Ranjith’s ‘Spirit.’
“Each of these movies was a big experience and a lesson in acting. However, I feel that Madhu Sir and Nazeer Sir did not receive the recognition they deserved. Still, they have lost nothing. All the awards which were denied to them have lost their lustre. Madhu Sir has found a permanent place in the hearts of movie lovers. The history of Malayalam films is incomplete without Madhu Sir,” says Mohanlal.
“As Madhu Sir turns a nonagenarian, I have only one wish for him. Let him celebrate more birthdays, for which God may give him a long life,” says Mohanlal.
My handsome superstar: Mammootty
Meanwhile, superstar Mammootty considers Madhu as his idol. “Madhu Sir is my superstar; a handsome actor. He is also the first film actor I saw in real life. At that time, I was a student in class 6 or 7. The shooting of ‘Kattupookkal’ took place at Murinjapuzha river, near Chembu at my native place Vaikom. I took a country boat along with a friend and rowed to the location to watch the shooting. While we were waiting in the boat, all of a sudden Madhu Sir came and sat in our boat. I was so thrilled. He became a superstar in real life too for me,” recalls Mammootty.
Madhu was also the first actor to whom Mammootty penned a fan mail. “I wrote a letter to an address at Gowreesapattom or some similar place to Madhu Sir and told him that I was his big admirer. In fact, I dreamed about him even from a young age. We dream only about people whom we feel really close to. Madhu Sir is one such person,” says Mammootty.
Later, while he was a student at Maharaja’s College in Ernakulam, Mammootty saw Madhu again. “The shooting of Vincent Mash’s ‘Thulabharam’ was taking place near S H College, Thevara and I went to watch it. During the picturisation of the song ‘Thottu thottilla’, Madhu Sir’s foot became immersed in the mud. Madhu Sir told Vincent Mash that it had happened inadvertently. However, Vincent Mash wanted that scene. I forgot that I had to attend classes witnessing those funny retakes,” says Mammootty.
Later, Mammootty and Madhu acted together in a host of movies. “I revealed my admiration for him during the shooting of ‘Padayottam.’ That was also the beginning of our close friendship. Madhu Sir has told several people that ‘Mammootty loves me so much more than my love for him.’ I consider these words a great honour,” adds the superstar.
Mammootty admires Madhu also for creating an equal space for him at the top when Prem Nazir and Sathyan were dominating the Malayalam movie industry. “Everyone was in awe of Madhu for having trained at the School of Drama. However, he has maintained a relaxed attitude to life. He never speaks unnecessarily and his interactions with people are always dignified. He has never been arrogant,” says Mammootty.
“When we met recently, I told Madhu Sir that he still had plenty of hair on his head. ‘You can stop colouring it,’ I said. Maybe because of that, he stopped dyeing his hair,” says Mammootty.
“Even then, on his ninetieth birthday, Madhu Sir is elegantly handsome. He is still my superstar. I wish him health and all comforts in life,” says the actor.