THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: If there is one particular frame that defines Murali the actor, it is this. The shot of Murali, as Marxist revolutionary Madathil Appu, stepping out of the Kannur Central jail in Lenin Rajendran’s ‘Meenamaasathile Sooryan’, looking as if he was daring the world to look him in the eye.
Murali was the ultimate outlaw of Malayalam film industry; an artiste in perennial rebellion. It was as if his fury could never be assuaged. Even when he played a soft romantic part, like in ‘Nee Ethra Dhanya,’ his rustic body language generated a kind of nuclear tension. Murali had a sharp forbidding smile, a walk that seemed like a synonym for defiance, and a peculiar movement of the hands that made them seem like scythes beheading imaginary demons.
He exemplified a kind of irreverence, a mighty intolerance, that was at once terrifying and charming. If one aspect was tapped to telling effect by M T Vasudevan Nair and Hariharan in ‘Panchagni’, the other was elaborated by Lohitadas and George Kithu in ‘Adharam’.
It was this roiling energy that made him a perfect foil to Mohanlal. Their combination seemed the very metaphor of cosmic balance; turbulence versus composure, destruction versus creation. Venu Nagavally’s ‘Lal Salaam’, Sibi Malayil’s ‘Dhanam’, Joshi’s ‘Naaduvaazhikal’ and Dennis Joseph’s ‘Appu’ are examples.
Even when he acted alongside an equally mercurial actor like Mammootty, Murali looked the more unsettled of the two. Be it in Bharatan’s ‘Amaram’ or Shaji Kailas’s ‘King’, Mammootty seems to play down a bit, just about to give space to the elemental aggression of Murali.
‘Adharam’ (1992) made him a top-bracket hero. Films with Murali as hero, films like ‘Ardram’, ‘Valayam’, ‘Kanakkinavu’ and ‘Venkalam’, were hits. But since disruption was the essence of his being, he upended the very idiom of age-sensitive stardom. At the peak of his stardom, he played ‘father roles’ in films like ‘Chamayam’ and ‘Achchan Kombath Amma Varambath’. Murali lost, rather spurned, his hero status. He then went after theatre, his first love.
Even while he was doing insignificant roles in films, he played Ravana in Sreekantan Nair’s ‘Lankalakshmy’ to great appreciation.
Then came his great act of vengeance against commercial films. Murali emerged as the superstar of alternate cinema. For young promising filmmakers like Priyanandanan, who could never ever dream of roping in big-ticket stars like Mammootty and Mohanlal, Murali was the superstar. He infused two of Priyanandanan’s award-winning films - ‘Neythukaran’ and ‘Pulijanmam’ - with the turbulence that made the films a brooding experience. It was fitting that Murali won his only national award for playing an ageing, rebellious Communist in ‘Neythukaran.’ Contradictions came naturally to him.
He was part of commercial cinema but held a grudge against it. He was a social being with genuine communist leanings but appeared in commercials of jewellery shops.
When he was confronted about the ad, Murali did not bat an eyelid. ``I don’t have many films in my kitty. I need to survive.’’