It goes without saying that very few actors of Nedumudi Venu’s generation can match his versatility. His filmography was a treasure trove of numerous acting masterclasses. Venu was fortunate to have a large body of work that ran the gamut from comedy to tragedy. He imparted each character with a distinct identity. Most of his characters managed to leave a mark, even when the films they occupied didn’t. What’s also remarkable about Venu was how he could create a huge impact even while playing a character that appeared for a short duration. He felt as comfortable in a lighthearted role as he did in a serious one.
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Venu was sometimes adept at masking the intentions of his characters, which came in handy when playing someone with a negative shade. Take, for instance, his character in Ee Thanutha Veluppaan Kaalathu or the one in Vandanam. Both films came with a year between them, and both had the actor playing a character haunted by a similarly devastating past. Perhaps in another actor’s hands, it could’ve turned into a repetitive performance but not in Venu’s. He played them as two different characters that could’ve found comfort in each other if they ever crossed paths.
Director Padmarajan gifted Venu with arguably his most memorable character, in Kallan Pavithran, one of the films which broke the notion of what a conventional ‘hero’ is supposed to be. It’s the sort of well-rounded character that one rarely sees these days. And Major Nair in Priyadarshan’s Odaruthammava Aalariyaam is, to this viewer, Venu’s finest comical performance. Speaking of, if one were to list the number of impressive turns he delivered in Priyadarshan’s filmography, it would be a long one.
And if one were to list some of the actor’s most poignant moments, the immediate ones that come to mind are those born out of his onscreen interactions with Mohanlal, notably in Chithram, Thalavattam, Dasaratham, Akkare Akkare Akkare and His Highness Abdullah. His most devious role? That has to be Sikhandi Pillai in director KG George’s Panchavadi Paalam.
Venu used his wonderfully evocative eyes to great effect. They could alternate effortlessly between mischief, compassion, and romance—a quality that proved advantageous in films like Kallan Pavithran, Odaruthammava Aalariyaam, Thenmavin Kombath or Chithram. Fans of the actor were pleased to notice the early Nedumudi Venu recently in ‘Rani’, the segment directed by Aashiq Abu in the anthology Aanum Pennum.
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At other times, his eyes revealed the immense torment under which his characters reeled. The distraught faces of Kurian Fernandez in Vandanam, or Unni Thampuran in Perunthachan, or Ravunni Nair in Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam haunt us even to this day. Venu’s departure has left a huge void that no one in contemporary Malayalam cinema can fill.