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Actor, superstar, change: The case of Mammootty

www.hindustantimes.com | December 15, 2023

There is no other Indian superstar to parallel Mammootty's filmography in current times.

Several superstars in Indian cinema are not necessarily good actors or consummate performers but whose superstardom rests on factors extraneous to acting such as an immediate mass appeal, careful construction of a persona and selection of subjects eschewing what could be construed esoteric or difficult by regular viewers. The actor and superstar seldom dwell in the same figure in Indian cinema. There is a pattern to the trajectory of superstars in Indian cinemas. Often their character preferences or film choices help to embellish an image or persona that could translate into mass appeal. Superstars are also wary about upsetting their fan base by doing something out of the ordinary or divergent from their established style.
The same formula is rehashed and repackaged in film after film. Think of Rajnikanth and Amitabh Bachchan. Or Salman Khan. Even an otherwise decent actor like Ranbir Kapoor had to resort to the cringe-worthy Animal to propitiate his fan base or gain a new following altogether. The audiences return to the theatres to see their favorite star dole out similar fare. There are very few from this pantheon of superstars who have diverged from such a trajectory.

Mammootty, the Malayalam actor, can be an interesting case study in this regard. Like the other "stars", he too has a list of those films that catapulted him into superstardom, many of them with regressive content. However, his recent filmography suggests that the superstar is being subversive through his onscreen portrayals, thereby asserting the privileges of the vantage position available to him. In the last year, Mammooty has acted in films such as Puzhu, Bheeshma Parvam, Rorschach, Nanpakal Nerathu Mayakkam, Kannur Squad - each one different from the other in terms of narrative structure and performance arc. These reveal an actor superstar willing to reinvent himself.

In his most recent film, Kaathal - The Core, Mammootty plays a closeted gay man who is forced by his wife to come out. The film directed by Jeo Baby shows how suffocating small towns can be in these situations and the shame that surrounds same-sex love or even its very mention. The portrayal of relationships is so nuanced. The wife, played by Jyothika, explains she had to take such a drastic step for her own liberation but he too ought to live a life of his liking with a man that he has loved all along. It is a highly progressive film that explores relationships beyond straight-jacketed labels. Superstars are not messiahs. But there is no denying the fact that they have an enormous reach. Therefore, when actors like Mammootty play such roles, perhaps it might help to mainstream these conversations. Can one film change everything or how people think? Certainly not! Look at the way Mammootty is being trolled online. Kaathal has also been banned in the Gulf. It is unlikely that the actor was unaware of these repercussions.

There is no other Indian superstar to parallel this filmography in current times. Perhaps, Mammootty is able to experiment because of his seniority and the position he enjoys in the Kerala film industry has been a "hero" for over four decades. Imagine how mainstream Indian cinema could transform if superstar figures throw their weight behind new scripts and fresh ideas and not be held hostage to a curated image!

This article has been authored by Prof. Kunal Ray, Faculty of English Literature, FLAME University.

(Source:- https://www.hindustantimes.com/opinion/actor-superstar-change-the-case-of-mammootty-101702650455609.html )