Mohanlal’s birthday: Remembering ‘Bhramaram’—the masterpiece

The hallmark of a good actor is consistency within a complicated role, which Mohanlal achieved to heightened perfection in 'Bhramaram'.

BySujatha Narayanan

Published May 21, 2024 | 11:52 AMUpdatedMay 21, 2024 | 1:02 PM

Remembering Bhramaram on Mohanlal's birthday

In Indian cinema, there has been a long list of superstars, who are still at the top of their game after more than four decades. One such star celebrating his birthday on Tuesday, 21 May, is Mohanlal.

This is an attempt to pick a film released after 2000 (just one!) from Mohanlal’s oeuvre of 400 films and counting. Well, he is currently filming for L360 with director Tharun Moorthy.

While Mohanlal’s films post the path-breaking Drishyam (2015) and record-making Pulimurugan (2016) and Lucifer (2019) are the films that may come to mind, I am compelled to move further into the first decade of the millennium.

No, I’m not going in for the most loved and splendid Thanmathra (2005).

It was a film where Mohanlal gave an in-depth character study of performance as Sivankutty in Blessy’s 2009 film, Bhramaram (Buzz of the Beetle).

Much like its title (the wings of the beetle are always aflutter), we see its protagonist in his most flustered, agitated, anxious, and dangerously active state right through the entire duration of the film.

The hallmark of a good actor is consistency within a complicated role and this consistency Mohanlal achieved to heightened perfection in Bhramaram.

Wait, I can hear your mind’s voice. You’re telling me that this is not just an ordinary actor, this is “The Mohanlal”, who had by 2009, long crossed many a career milestone and recognition and reward for his acting talent. So, what’s new with him performing well?

Yes, but some performances, even from the greatest of actors, go beyond the set level of excellence.

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Kerala’s Most Popular Icon

Blessy's directorial Bhramaram

Blessy’s directorial ‘Bhramaram’. (X)

By 2009, Mohanlal had a “been-there-done-that” career with regional, national, and international glories. He was also voted as Kerala’s Most Popular Icon (as per CNN IBN poll).

Even earlier, in the early 90s, I recall a specific television commercial for a telecom company that featured the actor as its brand ambassador.

In that commercial, Mohanlal said this tagline first, “Daivathinte Swantham Naadu” (God’s Own Country) thus bringing to life the whole spin on Kerala and its tourism!

By 2002, Ram Gopal Varma had cast him in Company (2002) and it was his role and acting that propelled the film to greater cinematic heights.

Such was the reach and popularity of the actor whose fan following transcended Kerala and the Malayali population across the world.

He, like his predecessor by a few years—Mammootty, had also by then done films in Tamil and Hindi. Together, they had pushed the market boundaries for Malayalam cinema to newer horizons.

In fact by mid-millennium, one wondered what more was left to achieve for an actor who enjoyed such legendary status.

Especially when Mohanlal was (and still is) a “messiah” of a hero whose films made the maximum noise at the box office, was he even “allowed” to star in a non-masala film?

But then Malayalam cinema always gave its icons a lot of room to experiment with their movie choices, unlike other languages.

Malayalam actors could star in serious melodramatic narratives or musical comedies or jump straight into a punch-line spewing dishoom dishoom saga.

Depending on how well that particular genre of film engaged its audience, all kinds of cinema were and will always be accepted by the Malayali and now by the general audience too.

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Bhramaram‘s Sivankutty

Mohanlal's character got sidelined in a mayhem of screenplay critiquing

Mohanlal’s character in ‘Bhramaram’ got sidelined in a mayhem of screenplay critiquing. (X)

It was no different in 2009. Into this whirlwind of (epic) expectations landed this rather quaint, serious film—Bhramaram.

Blessy (who made this year’s true-life saga Aadujeevitham) penned and directed Bhramaram. It was a film that followed the much-acclaimed Thanmathra (2005), which also showcased Mohanlal’s acting prowess as a man with Alzheimer’s.

Yet, I’m not taking that film as my pick to focus on because Bhramaram and Sivankutty (Mohanlal’s character) sort of got sidelined in a mayhem of screenplay critiquing.

Further, it didn’t get the love Mohanlal’s performance deserved at the box office, albeit it did fetch him many a Best Actor Award for that year.

Bhramaram is a heartbreaking tale of a man whose sole mission was to prove his innocence to his family and society.

Sivankutty’s needs were simple; he only wanted to be able to live in peace with his wife and child in his village without the stigma of being labelled a “murderer”.

He was not dreaming the big dreams and his daily goal wasn’t to make riches to hoard. He only wished to leave his past behind and live a new life with his loving family.

In what I reckon was a tightly woven character arc (the logic of the plot points remain debatable) here was a hero who was acting unlike a hero.

Mohanlal’s introduction in Bhramaram was not a fan-friendly moment. His character was an unwelcome sign in his friend’s home and Sivankutty was all things obnoxious in a serious way.

This character had so many problems with his persona that it wasn’t easy to like him or even ignore him.

Here was a man who revealed little but who had to shoulder much of a backstory in the present setting and from this sort of a character-brief emerged a masterclass of a performance from a seasoned actor.

As a man who hides his real feelings and puts on an act within an act, Mohanlal aced the role that came with much mystery and nuance.

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A stellar performance from Mohanlal

Sivankutty was an intense role

Mohanlal’s Sivankutty in ‘Bhramaram’ was an intense role. (X)

This was a film where an actor held the narrative together, just by “being” inside the frame.

The tight close-ups with darting eyes, the disturbing reactions when something doesn’t go his way, the intensity of a moment conveyed by a sheer movement of the shoulder—the way a mass hero like him sells an innocent villager, who is carrying the weight of the world and its harshness inside his heart—this is one role where you understand what Sivankutty was “deliberating” even before he did what he did in the film.

Bhramaram‘s story pays its homage to Bharathan’s Thazhvaram (1990), where Balan (Mohanlal in a more violent, explosive act in the climax) comes searching for his long lost friend (Salim Ghouse) only to take revenge on him for having killed his wife back in his village.

In Bhramaram, too, there is a backstory for Sivankutty. In his childhood, Sivankutty is made to take the blame for a murder (of a girl, his classmate) committed by two of his other friends (whom he comes looking for in the city under a fake identity).

The changeover in Mohanlal’s demeanour from the time he comes knocking on the door of the first friend till he nabs both his classmates into a jeep and huddles them off to his hilltop house is a testament to how a good actor can maintain suspense and thrill by sheer performance alone.

Mohanlal and Bhumika in Bhramaram

Mohanlal and Bhumika in ‘Bhramaram’. (X)

The brooding tone of the film does not make it a natural choice for a repeat watch (the film is available on Disney+ Hotstar). But the trance-like acting from its leading man does make it a standalone film in his repertoire.

We are in 2024, and Mohanlal has had an experimental film this year so far in Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Malaikottai Vaaliban, where the best acting moments were in his silent closeups and agile stunts (which he did after turning 60, three years ago).

While Neru (2023) saw him play a righteous lawyer and walk away in the end (expressing a lot in his silence as well), the comedy track in Bro Daddy (2022) still makes it one of the best “go-to” films on OTT.

Mohanlal’s films to look forward to hereon, of course, Prithviraj Sukumaran’s L2: Empuraan and his directorial venture Barroz in 3D and along with it, a legion of films he has with new-age filmmakers (L360, a film with Sathiyan Anthikad, and so on).

I’m sure this will herald a newer innings for the superstar and a whole new bunch of memorable performances from him for film fans.

On that note, a very happy birthday, Mohanlal!

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