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November 7, 2001
Will Aamir play a blind singer?
What do Kalabhavan Mani, a Malayalam actor; Vikram, a Tamil actor and Aamir Khan, a Hindi actor have in common?
The answer -- Vaasanthiyum, Lakshmiyum, Pinne Njanum (Vasanthi, Lakshmi and I).
A film devoid of the usual colour, glitz and glamour of the industry. A film only of poverty, suffering and tears.
It was a tough climb to the top for Kalabhavan Mani. A mimicry artist and folk singer from the farmers’ community, he has matured marvelously to become the sensitive actor that he is today. His career took off as a comedian with a few forgettable crass comedies that ruled the Malayalam film scene in the 90s.
But the spark in this unconventional actor was spotted by a director called Vinayan who had made some commercially successful films before he made Vaasanthiyum....
Vinayan gave Mani one of the toughest roles in Vaasanthiyum…, a blind singer from a very poor family. Filmed along the lines of the 60s tearjerkers, every shot in the film was intended to make people cry. And, it did. People flocked to cry for and with Mani, and the melodrama became one of the most successful films in the year 1999.
His performance as the long-suffering, blind singer was hailed as superlative by the junta and the critics, and overnight, Kalabhavan Mani, the comedian transformed into an artist.
He deserved every one of the accolades, for his characterisation of the blind singer was indeed merit-worthy. Unlike the usual actors (barring Naseeruddin Shah in Sparsh), Kalabhavan Mani did not once look into the camera.
He rolled the pupils of his eyes, so that only the whites were visible, literally making him blind. It is said that his eyes were in agony by the time the final scenes were wrapped up.
Every newspaper wrote that this was an award winning performance; Mani believed them. And when the Kerala state government announced that Mohanlal bagged the trophy for his role in Vaanaprastham, a shocked Kalabhavan Mani fainted on a film set and had to be hospitalised.
At the National level also, Mohanlal walked away with the highest honour but Kalabhavan Mani was given a special award for his performance.
The film had a strong impact on a number of actors too. Vikram, after the stupendous success of his Sethu, was so enamoured by the film that he contacted Vinayan immediately and expressed his desire to act in its Tamil remake.
Kaasi, the Tamil version of Vaasanthiyum…. will hit the Madras marquee this December.
Vikram is the only Tamil actor other than Madhavan who has a big hit this year in Dhil, and Kaasi will be one of the highlights of his career. Those who have seen the Kalabhavan Mani's performance, have their fingers crossed, hoping Vikram will be able to match up to Mani.
We also hear that Vaasanthiyum… will soon be remade in Hindi with Aamir Khan playing the lead role of the blind singer with Vinayan as director, yet again.
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