Who is the most successful Bollywood star in Malayalam Cinema?

Mollywood – Malayalam film industry is known for small budget but great movies with brilliant scripts and actors. As Malayalam cinema is constrained to a small mass comparing other south Indian language films, high budget films may not collect its expenses through box office collections and satellite rights combined. For the same reason Malayalam cine artists get low remuneration compared to Bollywood, Tollywood and Kollywood. That may be the reason why Bollywood stars with international mass appeal hesitate to work in Malayalam cinema, where they get only a narrow audience. 
Though many south Indian heroines have successfully migrated to Bollywood, it is not the case vice versa. South Indian male actors too don’t get enough success in Bollywood, with only exception being Dhanush in the recent times. Megastars Kamal Hassan and Rajinikanth too have done a few successful films in Bollywood. But they failed to make big names in Bollywood. Only exception is actor Madhavan, who started off his journey with Hindi soaps. Same is the case of Bollywood actors too, who occasionally appears in south Indian cinema. Only a few such artists have worked in Mollywood, and fewer have received attention also. 

Zarina Wahab is the most successful Bollywood star in Mollywood


Zarina Wahab of Chitchor fame is one of the earliest Bollywood stars who appeared in Malayalam cinema. Though she hails from Visakhapattanam, she is mostly associated with Hindi cinema. She has done remarkably well in Malayalam cinema and her roles in Madanolsavam, Chamaram, Palangal and Adaminte Makan Abu were critically acclaimed. She was one of the leading ladies of Malayalam cinema in the early 1980s, and received major success in Malayalam cinema than Bollywood. Read more about the successful Bollywood heroines in Mollywood.

Male actors mostly play villain roles in Mollywood

Numerous character artists of Bollywood have worked in Malayalam and most of them worked in negative shaded roles. Most of them appear in Malayalam cinema, when their Bollywood career witnesses a downfall. Only rare artists have worked in Mollywood in between their busy schedules of Bollywood. Also, only a fewer artists have got opportunity to play a full-fledged positive role, except villain roles. Female character artists of Bollywood are rarely seen in Malayalam cinema.

Javed Jaffrey in Picket-43 – A brilliant performance in the recent times 

In 2015 Mayor Ravi directed one movie named Picket – 43 which told the story of an unusual friendship between two soldiers at border, one from India and the other from Pakistan. Prithviraj played Indian soldier’s role while Javed Jaffrey marked his Malayalam film debut with this film. The film met with critical acclaim and was a box office hit too. Luckily Javed Jaffrey played a full-fledged role, and well fitted into the shoes of a Pakistani soldier.   

Big B’s debut to Malayalam cinema 

Mayor Ravi who introduced Javed Jaffrey to Malayalam cinema with a meaty role had earlier made one film, Kandahar (2010) which marked the magic debut of Amitabh Bachchan to Malayalam cinema. The movie also witnessed the screen sharing of two iconic actors of Indian cinema – Big B and Mohanlal. After a lot of anticipations the film failed to impress audience. 

Anupam Kher is most successful among male stars 

Soon after Amitabh Bachchan’s debut to Mollywood, next big star who entered Malayalam cinema was Anupam Kher. The movie also witnessed the comeback of actress Jayaprada to Malayalam silver screen after a break of 11 years. This film too, had Mohanlal in the key role and Jayaprada played his wife’s role. They earlier together worked in 2000 for the critically acclaimed film, Devadoodan which was a box office failure. The movie directed by Blessy was one of the major hits of the year, and the Bollywood actors – Jayaprada and Anupam Kher excelled in their roles as divorced aged couple who meet after years. 

Other major roles of Male actors

Amrish Puri played male antagonist in Priyadarshan’s Kaalapani and he shined in his negative role. Though the movie met with critical acclaim, it was a box office failure. This epic film was also released in Hindi. Naseeruddin Shah shared screen space with Mammootty for National award winning film – Ponthanmada in 1994. It’s Shah’s single Malayalam film, and he played the role of colonial landlord Sheema Thampuran of British origin. Om Puri is among Bollywood’s talented actors who appeared in a few Malayalam films – Puraavrutham, Samvalsarangal and most recently, Aadupuliyaattam. Amol Palekar played male lead in Olangal, the movie best known for its evergreen song – Thumbi Vaa.
Jackie Shroff, Suniel Shetty and Anil Kapoor are other A-grade Bollywood actors who played brief roles in Malayalam movies, mostly associated with Priyadarshan. Dev Gill played antagonist in Mohanlal starrer Fraud (2014), while Atul Kulkarni played villain’s roles in several Malayalam movies.

Juhi Chawla is among the successful names of 1990s 

Apart from Zarina Waheb as described above, many leading A-grade actresses have worked in Mollywood. Among all, Juhi Chawla is one of the leading names who worked with Mohanlal and Mammootty for the film, Harikrishnans in 1998. She did this movie at the peak of her career and hence need to be appreciated. It was the first Indian film to have two climaxes shown at different theaters to please Mammootty fans of Malabar region and Mohanlal fans down south Kerala. Quite co-incidence the film’s plot was quite similar to Juhi’s Bollywood film – Deewana Mastana released in 1997, where two heroes fight each other to win heroine’s heart. As planned, if third climax was released, where Juhi was to marry Shah Rukh Khan, it would be had been the exact climax of Deewana Mastana!

Bollywood heroines mostly worked with megastars since 1990s

Juhi Chawla got opportunity to work with both the leading stars in a single movie – Harikrishnans. Except a few cases, since 1990s Bollywood heroines mostly worked with Mohanlal and Mammootty in Malayalam cinema. In fact Aishwarya Rai made her acting debut through a Tamil film opposite Mohanlal, before she made it big way to Bollywood.
Urmila Matondkar played female lead of Mohanlal in Thacholi Varghese Chekavar, exactly the same year Rangeela hit theaters. The movie was a box office hit. Two Bollywood beauties Pooja Bhatra and Priya Gill worked with Mammootty in Megham (1999) which failed at box office. Pooja Bhatra had earlier worked with Mohanlal for the blockbuster hit Chandralekha, which was successfully remade to Hindi as Har Dil Jo Pyaar Karega. 

Tabu played female lead opposite Mohanlal in Kaalapani. Since 1990s Jayaprada worked in only two Malayalam movies, and both these movies starred Mohanlal in lead role. Bhumika Chawla played female lead of Mohanlal in Bhramaram. In fact she worked in a few south Indian movies before she moved to Bollywood. Bhramaram was her debut Malayalam film. 

Bollywood actress Meera Vasudevan started her Malayalam film journey with Thanmatra opposite Mohanlal, and later she acted in several movies. But Thanmatra still remains her career best. Kanchan of Sanam Bewafa fame played female lead in comedy-action film Gandharvam opposite Mohanlal, and the movie was a commercial hit. 

Actress Ramba who worked in south Indian movies as well Bollywood was paired with Mammootty for Chronic Bachelor and also Sidhartha. Ramba started her film journey in 1992 where she worked in one Kannada film and two Malayalam movies – Sargam and Champakkulam Thacchan, and both were box office hits. Bollywood diva Katrina Kaif made her Mollywood debut through Balram Vs Tharadas, and it was a box office hit. Huma Qureshi marked her Malayalam film debut in 2016 in White starring Mammootty. But this delayed release was a box office failure.

Actress Jayaprada had earlier worked in Malayalam movies in 1980s. She marked her Malayalam film debut through Iniyum Katha Thudarum opposite Mammootty. Namrita Shirodkar of Pukar fame played female lead of Mammootty in Ezhupunna Tharakan, before she turned a busy star in other language films. Mansi Sharma (Acha Din), Gracy Singh (Loud Speaker), Tisca Chopra (Mayabazaar) and Tulip Joshi (Mission 90 days) are other North Indian actresses who started their Mollywood career in a Mammootty movie. 


Heroines who worked with Prithviraj

Genelia D’souza played female lead opposite Prithviraj in critically acclaimed film – Urumi. But this expensive film couldn’t collect its huge investment from theatres. Vidya Balan also made her Malayalam film debut through Urumi, though it was a brief cameo role. Vidya Balan is a Malayali by origin while Genelia started her film career through south Indian films before she settled in Bollywood. Yami Gautham marked her Mollywood debut through ‘Hero’ where she played female lead opposite Prithviraj in 2012. After that she moved to Bollywood.

Prithviraj too has tried luck in Bollywood films. Though his debut film, Aiyya opposite Rani Mukerji failed at box office, his pivot role as police officer in Aurangazeb received positive reviews from critics. 

Other leading names


Sridevi played female lead opposite Aravind Swamy in Devaragam, while she was busy in Bollywood. Though she is associated with Malayalam cinema since late 1970s, it was her comeback film after she became an established star of Bollywood. She played a traditional Brahmin girl in this film. 

Manisha Koirala played female lead in 2016 release – Edavappaati directed by Lenin Rajendran. This offbeat movie had a delayed release following Manisha’s sick conditions. Isha Shervani of Kisna fame was seen in a lead role in the anthology film – 5 Sundarikal. Nandita Das made her Malayalam debut through woman-centric offbeat film – Kannaki in 2000. Though a North Indian, she is one among those rarest artists who got acceptance among Malayali audience, as she looks a simple Malayali village girl.  

There were many artists in 1980s and 1990s who worked simultaneously in South Indian films and Bollywood – Madhavi of Ek Duje Ke Liye fame, Revathy of Love fame, Bhanupriya, Gauthami, Madhoo etc are among those. 

Asin, a Keralite started off her career with Malayalam films in the year 2000, before she moved to Tamil cinema and Bollywood. She is thus an exception.

To conclude

Bollywood actors have occasionally worked in Malayalam cinema and most of them worked in a single movie or so. Though they have received success most number of times, only a few artists have returned to Mollywood later. This condition should change. Good films and acting skills should always be beyond all language barriers and stereotypes. Then only silver screen can witness some brilliant performances where looks and language are less significant factors.

Read a few more articles on Malayalam cinema, on different general discussions. Here is the page link. Click on the images in the gallery to read


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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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