When it came to versatility and range as an actor it was tough to beat National Award-winning Malayalam actor Nedumudi Venu, who died at 73 on October 11 in a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram.
Venu had recovered from COVID-19 recently, but had reportedly developed a stomach-related ailment that required him to be admitted into the Intensive Care Unit.
Be it playing a foxy uncle in the blockbuster comedy ‘Chithram’ (1988) or an alcoholic and jealous music maestro in ‘Bhartham’ (1991) or a vengeful and wrongfully rape accused in ‘Vandanam’ (1989), Venu could pull it off with remarkable conviction.
The prolific talent, who featured in more than 500 films and has a trophy cabinet heaving with half a dozen Kerala State Film Awards, was one of the rare talents who could do a bit of everything in cinema. Be it comedy, tragedy, or over-the-top drama, Venu was a master of all roles and characters.
He had such a striking command over his craft that even when he didn’t play the central role in a film, he could still shine with his acting prowess. In the 1994 romantic comedy ‘Thenmavin Kombathu’, also starring Mohanlal and Shobana, Venu held his own strongly as the petty ageing village head Sreekrishnan who doesn’t handle being spurned in love gracefully. His character as this petulant patriarch wasn’t always likeable, but Venu made this character endearing despite his obvious flaws. That was the beauty of Venu’s heft over his craft.
Just like the late actor Thilakan, Venu was no oil painting and was not bestowed the traditional matinee-idol looks and physique, but he made good with the way in which he owned each and every fibre of his nuanced roles.
He wasn’t born to an acting dynasty, but he entered the collective consciousness of every Malayali movie fan with his expansive choice of roles and sturdy characters. If his film was a traditional wedding, Venu may never have gotten to play the groom at all points, but he made for a cracking and dependable best man.
This always-dependable veteran actor, who was named Kesavan Gopalan Nair at his birth and later adopted the stage name Nedumudi Venu, made his acting debut in 1978 with ‘Thampu’, a drama directed by G Aravindan.
He was a former journalist who also worked briefly as a college professor before the world of entertainment lured him into its fold. Venu has acted with a raft of A-listers, both old and young in South India, including Mohanlal, Kamal Haasan and Prithviraj.
Film folklore is rich with tales of how Haasan had famously tried to bring Venu into the Tamil film industry after they worked together on the blockbuster film ‘Indian’. Haasan believed that Venu was still undiscovered in Tamil movies and having him in the industry would make his regional cinema richer. Barring a few films, Venu was predominantly a force to reckon with in Malayalam cinema.
In his 1987 award-winning tragedy ‘Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam’, Venu as an ageing professor who is dealt a tough hand in life, will make you reach for your tissues.
He could handle both tragedy and comedy with equal ease. He refused to be slotted or stereotyped and that was the beauty and brilliance of Venu’s rich catalogue of films.
As soon as the news of his death emerged, actors such as Prithviraj, Dulquer Salman and Maniyampilla Raju took to their social media to salute the legendary actor. Every actor who is mourning his absence also spoke about their deep conversations they had with the late actor. Most also commented on his witty personality.
The adage ‘they don’t make them like him anymore’ may ring true for Venu who has made Malayalam cinema richer with his slate of films. Here’s to an actor who made every role his own and memorable — small or big.