A single dialogue or scene sometimes propels an actor to the frontline of Malayalam cinema, but it did not somehow happen in the case of Manikandan Pattambi, who delivered his "Krishnavilasom Bhageerathan Pilla, valiya vedi naalu, cheriya vedi naalu" line in the superhit Meeshamadhavan, only his second film, nearly two decades ago.
Neither the 80-odd films the effortless performer has acted in since then nor his strong presence on the miniscreen, particularly his character in Marimayam - a weekly satire that exposes the hypocrisy in our society - helped much.
But Manikandan seems to have made the desired cut at last with Sufiyum Sujathayum which, like a beautiful feather, landed amid us silently and has caught our attention. Manikandan’s see-through role of gravedigger Kumaran, a character which makes significant interventions, is winning him applause.
“To be honest, I don’t think it’s the most challenging role I have done so far, and this is not my arrogance talking,” says Manikandan, a product of Thrissur’s School of Drama. "In fact, I had told director Shanavas (Naranipuzha) that it would be more convenient for him to cast someone else as the shoot location was near the Karnataka border and I had a shoot going on in Thiruvananthapuram. But later (producer) Vijay Babu too insisted on me doing the role. In hindsight, they were right. The movie delivers a message which could help wipe out the negativity that has engulfed us, and I’m happy to see my performance getting noticed."
Sufiyum Sujathayum was released on OTT platform on July 3, and it could be destiny that Manikandan would find his breakthrough in through a ‘small screen’ movie. "You may be talented, you may have performed roles that could bring out the best in you, and you may have people willing to support you. But the most important aspect is your popularity. For example, I had found the transgender character in Odum Raja, Adum Rani, for which I also wrote the script, interesting and challenging but the film didn’t do well at the box office. I liked the roles in Chapters, Ee Adutha Kalathu and Chapters too," he adds.
Manikandan had caught critics' attention with his performance in his debut film Mankolangal (2000) which made it to the IFFK, Toronto and Dhaka film festivals. Any other actor of his calibre would have got frustrated by this time, but Manikandan seems to have taken things in his stride. For, life had taught him many lessons, in a tough way.
Manikandan feels that as an actor, he got the right acknowledgement in Mankolangal. When editor Ranjan Abraham saw the film, he asked him to meet director Lal Jose, who is from Valapad. Manikandan took the film’s videotape when he went to see him.
Lal Jose asked him to get into commercial cinema and retained him on the sets of Meeshamadhavan so that he could study its making in detail. "Looking back, I’m content as an actor because I’ve been honest in giving my best to whichever roles I got," continues Manikandan.
"Success is something else. When I introspect, I feel I didn’t come up with that extra energy, say, like Joju George, to make things happen. I’ve not seen anyone with a bigger passion for acting than Joju. We had endured so much in the initial days, and I’m happy to see him becoming popular and winning recognition. Joju has potential and consistency.Ambilychettan (Jagathy Sreekumar) sometimes exaggerates 10 or 20 per cent more than what’s needed for a character, but we fall for it because there’s a thread of consistency he maintains throughout that role," he added.
At his new house in a quiet corner of Mulanthuruthy near Tripunithura, the 50-year-old spends the lockdown days by revisiting some of the childhood memories he has carried with him from Pattambi and jotting them down as pieces of anecdotes for future use. The neighbourhood folks correctly point you in the direction of his house as they all know him through Marimayam.
"Most people refer to me as a Marimayam actor and it shows its impact. We always wanted each episode to be vivid and pure, something that all age groups could enjoy. Marimayam has a lot of dimensions. Mammookka (Mammootty), during a chat on the sets of Thappana, asked me not to give up that platform because he finds it special. I would call Marimayam my lifeline because it helped me survive my tough days," he signs off.