Referred by the media as "The Complete Actor" and one of the finest actors of India, Mohanlal has won five Indian National Film Awards – two Best Actor Awards, two Special Jury Award, and one Award for Best Film as producer; along with six Kerala State Film Awards for Best Actor and eight Filmfare Awards for Best Actor. In 2001, the Government of India honoured him with the Padma Shri, India's fourth highest civilian honour, for his contributions towards Indian cinema. In 2009, he became the first and the only actor to receive the honorary rank of Lieutenant colonel in the Territorial Army of India and in 2010 he received an honorary doctorate from Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit, Kerala.
Mohanlal Viswanathan Nair was born on 21 May 1960 in the Elanthoor village of Pathanamthitta district, Kerala, at his maternal house, as the youngest child of Viswanathan Nair, a former bureaucrat and law secretary with the Kerala Government, and Santhakumari. He grew up at Mudavanmugal, Poojappura, at his paternal house, in Thiruvananthapuram. Mohanlal studied at Model School, Thiruvananthapuram, and graduated with a B.Com. degree from Mahatma Gandhi College in Thiruvananthapuram. Mohanlal's first role was as a sixth grader for a stage play called Computer Boy in which he played a ninety-year-old man.
During 1977–78 he was the Kerala state wrestling champion.
Mohanlal made his acting debut in 1978 with the film Thiranottam which was produced and made by Mohanlal and his friends—Maniyan Pilla Raju, Suresh Kumar, Unni, Priyadarshan, Ravi Kumar and few others. Mohanlal played Kuttappan, a mentally disabled servant. Due to some issues with censorship, the film was not released in time. It took 25 years to release the film.
In 1980, Mohanlal was cast in the lead antagonist role in Manjil Virinja Pookkal – the directorial debut of Fazil. The film became a major success. Mohanlal's friends had sent his application in response to an advertisement released by Navodaya Studio. He auditioned for the role in front of a panel that included professional directors. Displeased with his appearance, two of them gave him poor marks but Fazil and Jijo Appachan gave him 90 and 95 marks out of 100. In an interview with Reader's Digest in 2004, Mohanlal said that his looks as a young man might have fit the villain's image.
By 1983, Mohanlal was credited in more than 25 feature films, most of them had him playing negative roles. Films such as Ente Mohangal Poovaninju, Iniyengilum, Visa, Attakkalasham, Kaliyil Alpam Karyam, Ente Mamattukkuttiyammakku, Engane Nee Marakkum, Unaru, and Sreekrishna Parunthu changed his villain image. Through Sasikumar's Ivide Thudangunnu, he became a successful hero with a "good heart". Mohanlal played his first comic lead role in an ensemble cast in the 1984 comedy Poochakkoru Mookkuthi directed by Priyadarshan, as a young man in love with a girl whom he mistakenly believes to be rich. It also marked the beginning of the Mohanlal-Priyadarshan duo who as of 2016, have worked together in 44 films.
In 1985, he recorded a song for the film Onnanam Kunnil Oradi Kunnil. Uyarangalil, Nokketha Doorathu Kannum Nattu, Boeing Boeing, and Aram + Aram = Kinnaram were some of his films in this period.
During this period, Mohanlal played very different roles in films "made by the great masters" like G. Aravindan, Hariharan, M. T. Vasudevan Nair, Padmarajan, Bharathan, and Lohithadas. Mohanlal, along with actor and scriptwriter Sreenivasan, who played his sidekick in several films, showcased the angst of unemployed, educated Malayali youth forced to adapt to hostile environments in many realistic social satires, some of which were written by Sreenivasan himself.
In 1986, he starred in T. P. Balagopalan M.A., directed by Sathyan Anthikad, for which he received his first Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor. He portrayed an unemployed young man who shoulders the responsibility of his family. His performance in Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam as a harassed house-owner won him the Filmfare Award for Best Actor (Malayalam) in the same year. Mohanlal was given the status of a new Malayalam superstar by the public after the box-office success of Rajavinte Makan (1986) in which he played an underworld don, Vincent Gomez. He also starred in the tragedy Thalavattom, playing Vinod, a young man who becomes mentally ill upon witnessing his girlfriend's death. He played the role of Solomon in Padmarajan's Namukku Parkkan Munthirithoppukal. Mohanlal's association with Padmarajan was very well noted, because their films told stories which were well and truly ahead of their times and broke many conventional stereotypes prevailing during that time in Malayalam film industry. In 1986 alone, Mohanlal appeared in 36 Malayalam films.
The following year, Mohanlal starred with Sreenivasan and Shobana in the Sathyan Anthikad comedy, Nadodikkattu, which became a box-office success. Mohanlal and Sreenivasan reprised their roles as the detectives Dasan and Vijayan respectively in its sequels, Pattanapravesham (1988) and Akkare Akkare Akkare (1990). Thoovanathumbikal, directed by Padmarajan, in which he portrayed a person torn between his twin love interests, broke many stereotypes in Indian films, such as, the leading man falling in love with a second woman immediately after he is rejected by the first, and of a man falling in love with a sex worker. The romantic comedy, Chithram, released in 1988, played for 366 days in a theatre, becoming the longest running Malayalam film. Mohanlal won a Kerala State Special Jury Award in 1988 for his acting in Padamudra, Aryan, Vellanakalude Nadu, Ulsavapittennu, and Chithram.
In 1989, the combination of writer Lohitha Das and director Sibi Malayil created the character Sethumadhavan, a person who dreams of becoming a police officer but ends up as a criminal, in the tragedy Kireedam. The role earned Mohanlal a National Film Special Jury Mention. Mohanlal later recalled that his portrayal of Sethumadhavan's mental agony, commended as a natural performance, was spontaneous and that he "did what Sethumadhavan, my character, would have done in such a situation", adding that acting was "akin to entering another person's body." In the same year, he acted in a film which became a commercial success, Varavelpu, which tells the story of a man who earned money working in Gulf and came back home to enjoy his life with his family. He bought a bus, which eventually gets him into trouble. The former Prime Minister of India, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, mentioned the film as an example of ignorance by Keraliites towards global economic changes during the inauguration of Global Investor Meet held at Kochi on 18 January 2003. In 1989, he starred in another one of Padmarajan's movies, Season.
In the early 1990s, Mohanlal acted in a number of commercial films, such as His Highness Abdullah, Midhunam, and No.20 Madras Mail. His Highness Abdullah was the first independent production of Mohanlal, under his Company, Pranavam Arts International. Mohanlal appeared in Bharathan's Thazhvaram in 1990, as a widower seeking revenge for the murder of his wife by his most trusted friend. His romantic comedy Kilukkam in 1991 won him a State Film Award for Best Actor. The film is considered as one of the greatest comedy films of all time in Malayalam. It also became the highest-grossing Malayalam film of the time. In 1991, Mohanlal produced and starred in Bharatham which is interpreted as a modern-day adaptation of the Ramayana from Bharath's perspective. The film was a critical and commercial success, with his role as a Carnatic singer who is burdened by a jealous brother earning him the National Film Award for Best Actor for that year. His role in Bharatham was listed among the "25 Greatest Acting Performances of Indian cinema" by Forbes India on the occasion of celebrating 100 years of Indian Cinema. He portrayed a Bharatanatyam dancer in Kamaladalam(1992). He took help from his choreographer and his co-actors and professional dancers Vineeth and Monisha for enacting the dance scenes. Rajashilpi, Sadayam, Yoddha, and Vietnam Colony were the other films released in 1992. The drama Devaasuram (1993), written by Ranjith and directed by I. V. Sasi, was one of Mohanlal's most successful films and is regarded as a cult classic.
In 1994, Mohanlal starred in the lead role as Dr. Sunny Joseph in Fazil directed cult classic Manichitrathazhu, as a psychiatrist. Spadikam was a 1995 work for which he won his third Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor and fifth Filmfare Award for Best Actor (Malayalam) for his portrayal of Thomas "Aadu Thoma" Chacko, a young man who becomes a thug, estranged from his father, upon failing to meet the latter's high expectations. In 1996, Mohanlal starred in Priyadarshan's Kaalapani, an epic film about the prisoners in the Cellular Jail of Port Blair and Lohithadas's Kanmadam (1998). He played the lead role in Guru directed by Rajiv Anchal in 1997. The film was chosen as India's official entry to the Oscars to be considered for nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category for 1997.
Mohanlal acted in his first non-Malayalam film in 1997, in the Tamil biographical film Iruvar directed by Mani Ratnam. The film, in which Mohanlal depicted an actor who turns to politis (based on the life of M. G. Ramachandran), was a critical success and won many awards including the Best Film award at the Belgrade International Film Festival and two National Film Awards. In 1998, he produced and starred in Harikrishnans co-starring Mammootty and Juhi Chawla. The film was a commercial success but was not well received by critics. The film had dual climaxes which were screened in different regions based on the popularity of the two lead actors in that particular region. This, however, became controversial and took a communal turn when lawsuits were filed claiming that prints exhibited in Hindu-dominated areas showed Mohanlal marrying the heroine, whereas the ones in Muslim-dominated areas showed Mammootty marrying her. The major case was that the film showed uncensored scenes, as the submitted cut of the film to the Central Board of Film Certification was the version in which Mohanlal wins the leading lady. Hence they were forced to remove the Mammootty version from theatres, replacing it with the original. Though in television premieres it still shows both film versions alternatively.
Mohanlal depicted a Kathakali artist whose personal life is a tragedy in the 1999 Indo-French period drama Vanaprastham produced by him and directed by Shaji N. Karun. It won him the second National Award for Best Actor and was the first film that got him international recognition by screening in various Film festivals. The film was selected for the competitive section at the Cannes Film Festival and his performance was critically acclaimed. It also earned him his fourth Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor, second National Film Award for Best Actor and sixth Filmfare Award for Best Actor (Malayalam). Vanaprastham was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the AFI Fest. Vanaprastham was screened in retrospective, during the 2014 International Film Festival of India in the 'Celebrating Dance in Indian Cinema' section.
In 2000, Mohanlal starred in Narasimham, playing a rogue with a good heart. It became the highest-grossing Malayalam film of all time. In the next two years, Mohanlal was typecasted in similar larger-than-life action hero roles in films such as Ravanaprabhu (2001), Praja (2001), Onnaman (2002), Thandavam (2002), and Chathurangam (2002). Except for Ravanaprabhu, these films were widely criticised for their repetitive plots, lewd dialogues, punch lines and male chauvinistic outlook. A critic from The New Indian Express wrote, "The Narasimham hangover is terrifically strong and it has, at least for the moment, killed the prospects of good films. I don't see any other reason for the failure of well made female-oriented films like Mazha and Madhuranombarakkattu".
In 2002, Mohanlal played the role of Sreenivasan IPS, a Mumbai police officer, in his first Bollywood film, Company, which introduced him to the Hindi-speaking audience in India and for which he won the International Indian Film Academy Awards (IIFA) and Star Screen Award for Best Supporting Actor. The film dealt with the real-life story of two underworld dons who ruled Mumbai (played by Ajay Devgn and Vivek Oberoi). Mohanlal's performance was well received. The Hindu noted that the actor is "at his natural best" and "does not look stifled or anxious as other South Indian stars do when they appear in a Hindi movie for the first time". In a 2010 online poll by Hindifilmnews.com, Mohanlal's performance in Company was chosen "The Finest Performance of a Bollywood Actor in the Last Decade (2001–2010)". He was No. 1 in the audiences' list and maintained No. 6 in the critics' list.
The following year, Mohanlal, trying to change his action hero image, returned to comedic roles with Kilichundan Mampazham, Balettan, Hariharan Pillai Happy Aanu and Mr. Brahmachari. Kilichundan Mampazham, promoted as a comeback vehicle for the actor, received good reviews and a decent box-office collection. Balettan, directed by V. M. Vinu, was also a commercial success. Mohanlal played the role of Athanipparambil Balachandran, a bank employee always willing to lend a helping hand to others, who is forced to hide many secrets after his father's death leading to his family's mistrust. In 2004, Natturajavu was his only commercial success and Mambazhakkalam became a hit.
Mohanlal appeared in the 2005 black comedy Udayananu Tharam as an aspiring film director. It was well received by critics and performed well even in places where Malayalam films do not run in regular shows, like Vadodara, Rajkot, Pune and Ahmedabad. In the same year, he appeared in director Blessy's second film Thanmathra, a film that tells the story of an individual suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The film received positive reviews and Mohanlal's performance was highly praised by critics. Mohanlal won his fifth Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor and seventh Filmfare Award for Best Actor for his performance. In the movie, his character does not speak in the second half.
In 2006, he worked with the director Sathyan Anthikkad in Rasathanthram, a family drama. Mohanlal also acted in Kirtichakra by director Major Ravi, in which he plays the role of an Indian Army officer, Major Mahadevan. The film was shot in Kashmir, and was a notable commercial success. A dubbed Tamil version of the film was released in Tamil Nadu as Aran, but Mohanlal disassociated himself with the film since his voice was not used, stating that "I prefer to speak for my role in the film." Mohanlal also acted in the sequels Kurukshetra (2008) and Kandahar (2010) in Major Mahadevan series. In 2009 the Indian government conferred him with the honorary title of Lieutenant colonel in the Indian Territorial Army.
In 2007, Mohanlal won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor for his performance in Paradesi directed by P. T. Kunju Muhammed. Sify.com stated that "Mohanlal is mesmerising and reinvents the idiom of acting once more with feeling." His July release Hallo became one of the highest-grossing Malayalam film of the year. In August that year, he appeared in his second Bollywood film, Aag (also called Ram Gopal Varma Ki Aag), a remake of the Bollywood classic Sholay (1975). Mohanlal reprised the role played by Sanjeev Kumar from the original. In 2008, Mohanlal did the lead role in the multi-starrer blockbuster Twenty:20 and in 2009 he co-starred with Kamal Haasan in the Tamil film Unnaipol Oruvan. His last film of the year Evidam Swargamanu was directed by Rosshan Andrrews.
In 2010, he acted in five films, the first being Janakan, a crime thriller in which he co-starred with Suresh Gopi, written by S. N Swamy. In the film, he played Adv. Surya Narayanan who encounters some runaway suspects as they approach him for justice. Alexander the Great directed by Murali Nagavally was a comical racy entertainer released in May. Oru Naal Varum directed by T. K Rajeev Kumar, scripted by Sreenivasan and produced by Maniyanpilla Raju, was a social satire about the corruption in India. It reunited the much-adored classic combo of Mohanlal-Sreenivasan onscreen. His next film was Shikkar, a dark revenge thriller directed by M. Padmakumar, in which he played a lorry driver who is haunted by his past. The film topped at the Ramzan box-office. It was followed by Kandahar, a war film directed by Major Ravi, based on the hijacking of Indian Airlines Flight 814 in 1999. Mohanlal reprised the role of Major Mahadevan in the film. It was the third installment in the Major Mahadevan film series, and the debut Malayalam film of Amitabh Bachan.
Mohanlal's first release in 2011 was the multi-starrer Christian Brothers, an action drama directed by Joshiy and scripted by Udayakrishna-Siby K. Thomas, in which he co-starred with Suresh Gopi, Dileep, and Sarath Kumar. Released worldwide in March across 300 screens, which was the largest release for a Malayalam film at the time, this racy film was a commercial success and one of the top grossing Malayalam film of the year. His Vishu (April) release was China Town, another multi-starrer he co-starred with Jayaram and Dileep which was a comedy film directed by Rafi Mecartin. Despite mixed reviews, the film ran over 100 days and became one of the highest grossing Malayalam films of the year. He starred in Pranayam released in August, an off-beat romantic drama directed by Blessy. It was a love story between three aged characters played by Mohanlal, Anupam Kher, and Jayapradha. The film was highly acclaimed by critics and Mohanlal's performance as Mathews was well appreciated. His next film, Snehaveedu, was directed by Sathyan Anthikkadu, a family film in the background of a village in Palakkad. For the first time, yesteryear actress Sheela shared screen space with Mohanlal. She played the role of his mother. Snehaveedu is credited as his 300th film. The film was a hit. His last movie that year was Oru Marubhoomikkadha, directed by Priyadarshan, which was an action-comedy thriller entirely plotted in Middle East. It marked the return of Priyadarshan-Mohanlal-Mukesh combo of the late 1980s and 90s. The film performed well at the Christmas-New Year's box office.
In 2012, he acted in six films. His first release was the much hyped big-budget romantic thriller film Casanovva, directed by Rosshan Andrrews and written by Bobby-Sanjay. He enacted the role of Casanova, a serial womaniser and the owner of Casanova's Eternal Spring – an international chain of flower boutiques. Later he appeared in a cameo role in the Bollywood movie Tezz, which was released in April and directed by Priyadarshan. His next film was the B. Unnikrishnan directorial Grandmaster, a neo-noir crime thriller about a cop who is forced to investigate a series of murders. Mohanlal's well tempered, calm and subdued acting was appreciated by the critics. Produced by UTV Motion Pictures, it was the first Malayalam film to be released through Netflix, and made available in the United States and Canada. Spirit directed by Ranjith talked about the increasing habit of alcoholism in Kerala. The film was exempted from entertainment tax by the state government for creating social awareness in the society. The film completed a 125 day theatrical run in Kerala and became a commercial success. Run Baby Run released during the Onam festival, was a comedy thriller directed by Joshiy. It featured news media as the background. The film was well appreciated by critics, remarking it as an example of a well crafted thriller. It became one among the highest-grossing Malayalam films of the year. The year ended with the Christmas release Karmayodha directed by Major Ravi, an action thriller in which he played Mad Maddy, an encounter specialist who is assigned to investigate the missing of a teenage school girl in Mumbai. The film dealt with the discrimination against women.
2013 was a remarkable year for Mohanlal, it was the year in which the all-time blockbuster of Malayalam film Drishyam released. His first film of the year was Lokpal, a vigilante thriller in which he played a vigilante nicknamed "Lokpal". It was directed by Joshiy and written by S. N. Swamy. Red Wine directed by Salam Bappu, was a non-linear investigation thriller based on a political murder. Ladies and Gentleman directed by Siddique was a romantic comedy film set in the backdrop of IT companies. Geethaanjali, a horror thriller directed by Priyadarsan was a spin-off of Malayalam classic film Manichitrathazhu, in which he reprised the role of Dr. Sunny from the original. His last release was Drishyam directed by Jeethu Joseph. It grossed ₹75 crore worldwide and became the highest-grossing Malayalam film ever, until 2016.
In 2014, he starred in the Tamil action-drama Jilla alongside Vijay, directed by R. T. Neason and produced by R. B. Choudary. The film was a commercial success grossing over ₹85 crore worldwide, and completed 100 days theatrical run in Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Mohanlal's first Malayalam release of 2014 was Mr. Fraud, a heist film directed by B. Unnikrishnan. He appeared in an extended cameo role in his next, Koothara directed by Srinath Rajendran, a coming-of-age mystery film set in an untold period. He played a mysterious character in the experimental film, who at the end of the film revealed himself as a merman. His next was a comical political satire film Peruchazhi, written and directed by Arun Vaidyanathan. He played a young political kingmaker who is assigned to make a governor candidate win the California state gubernatorial elections, where he uses standard Indian political gimmicks to win the election in USA.
In 2015, his first release was the Kannada film Mythri. His performance as the revenge seeking DRDO scientist Mahadev was well appreciated by the critics. His first Malayalam release was with a cameo appearance in Rasam. Ennum Eppozhum directed by Sathyan Anthikad was his first leading role in the year, co-starring Manju Warrier. The film was a success at the box office. It was followed by the action thriller Lailaa O Lailaa directed by Joshiy, both of which failed critically and commercially at the box office. His next was the Ranjith directorial thriller Loham. Though it met with the mixed critical reactions, the film was a commercial success and grossed ₹15 crore at the box office. The revenge thriller Kanal was his last in the year. It also received mixed reviews from critics.
In 2016, Mohanlal had four releases, which had a combined gross collection of ₹378 crore worldwide, making him fourth (behind Aamir Khan, Akshay Kumar, and Salman Khan) among the top Indian actors with highest box office receipts in the year, and in top position among South Indian actors. His first release in the year was the Telugu-Malayalam bilingual, Manamantha, (Vismayam in Malayalam), a family drama directed by Chandra Sekhar Yeleti. His following release was another Telugu film, Janatha Garage, an action drama directed by Koratala Siva. It became the highest-grossing Telugu film of 2016 and one of the highest-grossing Telugu films ever, with a gross collection of over ₹135 crores worldwide. His first Malayalam release that year was the Priyadarshan directed crime-thriller, Oppam, in which he played a blind man. The film became the highest-grossing Malayalam film of 2016 within its 2 weeks of theatrical run. It crossed ₹50 crore mark at the box office within one-and-a-half month, and grossed over ₹65 crore worldwide. He acted as a hunter in his following release, the action film Pulimurugan. It became the highest-grossing Malayalam film ever and is the first Malayalam film to gross over ₹100 crore at the box office. The film has so far collected ₹152 crore worldwide.Next year he acted another 50 crores movies "Munthirivallikal Thalirkkumbol"
Mohanlal will feature as Bheema in the adaptation of Mahabharata titled 'Randamoozham' penned by MT Vasudevan Nair. The movie is produced by BR Shetty who heads many businesses in the Middle East. The project is expected to be made at a budget of Rs 1000 Crores (USD 10 Million).
Mohanlal had acted in several amateur plays before entering into films. In 2001, he debuted in professional drama playing Karna (a character from the Indian epic Mahabharata) in Karnabharam, a Sanskrit-language play directed by Kavalam Narayana Panicker. It premiered at the Siri Fort Auditorium in New Delhi on 29 March 2001 as part of the National Theatre Festival of National School of Drama. The play depicts Karna's mental agony a day before the Kurukshetra War, as he thinks about his past and his faith. Mohanlal said, "You cannot compare Kavalam's play with the amateur plays I did. Though there are other characters in the play, the theme revolves around Karna. It is almost like a solo performance. Some of the scenes are really touching and challenging". He acted without payment, saying "I performed for the joy of it ... for my love of our history".
Kadhayattam was a presentation enacted by Mohanlal, performing ten classic characters and situations from Malayalam literature, selected from ten Malayalam novels written by O. Chandu Menon, C. V. Raman Pillai, S. K. Pottekkatt, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai, P. Kesavadev, Vaikom Muhammad Basheer, Uroob, O. V. Vijayan, M. Mukundan, and M. T. Vasudevan Nair over a 100-year period. The play directed by T. K. Rajeev Kumar premiered at the Senate Hall of University of Kerala on 1 November 2003, and later staged in Kozhikode, Bangalore, Chennai, and Delhi. In 2008, Mohanlal along with Mukesh performed in Chayamukhi, written and directed by Prasanth Narayanan. Mohanlal and Mukesh portrayed Bheeman and Keechakan respectively, the characters from Mahabharata. It had a play within a play narrative style. It premiered at the Lulu International Convention Centre in Thrissur on 12 March 2008, and later staged in Thiruvananthapuram, Bangalore, Kollam, Kochi, and Kozhikode. A critic from The Hindu wrote, "Chayamukhi is, arguably, the finest work on Malayalam stage in recent times". In the same year, Mohanlal voiced Hanuman in the English ballet Maya Ravan directed by Shobana.
In 2014, Mohanlal and musician Ratheesh Vegha formed the music band, Lalisom - The Lal Effect. Its maiden show was at the 2015 National Games of India. The band drew flak from social media initially for charging an amount of ₹1.63 crore and later for lip-syncing. Following the criticism, Mohanlal returned the amount to the government, which they refused stating that the government's morality would not allow to take back the money and Mohanlal had not personally benefited from the amount which he received since it was meant to meet the stage expenses and remuneration for the artistes. Despite that, Mohanlal did not take back the money he dispatched.
In 2015, he collaborated once again with Mukesh for Naga, but this time as the narrator. The play, based on Girish Karnad's Kannada play Nagamandala was directed by Suveeran. Naga was a combination of myth, superstition, fact, and fantasy. It was premiered at the Parish Hall of St. George Church, Kalady on 9 August 2015.
Mohanlal has been a goodwill ambassador for the government and other nonprofit organisations mainly for public service ads and humanitarian causes. In March 2007, he was made the goodwill ambassador of AIDS awareness campaign by Kerala AIDS Control Society for which he acted in short awareness videos. In October 2009, Mohanlal was appointed as the goodwill ambassador of Kerala State Athletics by the Kerala State Athletics Association. In March 2010, Mohanlal accepted the plea of Department of Industries and Commerce of Government of Kerala to be designated as the goodwill ambassador of Kerala's handloom industries. In July 2015, the Government of Kerala made him the Goodwill ambassador of "Subhayatra 2015", a project developed to create awareness about traffic rules. He was appointed as the Goodwill ambassador of "Mrithasanjeevani" in September 2016, another project by Government of Kerala aimed at promoting organ donation in the state.
He has also appeared in several television commercials and advertisements for Malabar Gold and Diamonds, Oceanus etc. Mohanlal was the first movie star in India to endorse the ubiquitous dhoti after he was made the brand ambassador of MCR in 2001. MCR manufactured 30,000 coloured dhotis which had been featured in the film Narasimham (2000), which was a market success. He still continues to be the chief brand ambassador of MCR. Mohanlal signed as the brand ambassador of Kanan Devan in 2002, a tea brand owned by the Tata Global Beverages. His contract was renewed after its rebranding in 2014. In July 2010, LG Electronics India enlisted Mohanlal for the endorsement of the brand's Onam festival offers for Kerala customers lasting till September 2010. In the same year, he was signed as the brand ambassador in the state for Manappuram Finance Ltd., a non-banking financial company. Mohanlal endorsed the coconut oil brand KLF Coconad in 2013.
In September 2013, the direct-broadcast satellite television provider Tata Sky announced Mohanlal as its brand endorser for its Kerala market. Mohanlal, along with Milkha Singh and P. T. Usha were the brand ambassadors of the event Kochi International half marathon in 2013, a half marathon organised by Kochi Municipal Corporation and Push Integrated Communication Pvt Ltd., He continued in its second edition in 2014, along with cricketer Harbhajan Singh. In May 2016, as part of expanding its market to the South Indian audience, the entertainment company Hotstar that is a platform for streaming media and video on demand, announced Mohanlal as its brand ambassador for its Malayalam contents. He endorsed its six-week multimedia campaign on television, print, outdoor, and digital medias.
Mohanlal has started and associated with several business ventures related to film production and distribution, restaurants and packaged spices among others. He owns Maxlab Cinemas and Entertainments, a film distribution company. He started Vismayas Max, a film pre and post-production studio headquartered in Trivandrum and a college for dubbing artists at KINFRA Film and Video Park, Trivandrum. The company's management was later taken over by Sohan Roy of Aries Group, which has now been renamed to Aries Vismayas Max. Mohanlal continues to be its brand ambassador. He has produced films under the production house, Pranavam Arts International.
He owns restaurants in India and overseas, including a chain in Dubai called Mohanlal's Tastebuds, established in 2002, and a spices, pickles, condiments, and curry powder brand with the same name launched in February 2004 in the Middle East. From 2007, the Eastern Group owns the majority stake in the brand. In 2006, he opened a seafood restaurant named The Harbour Market in Bangalore, and a hotel named Travancore Court in Ernakulam. His other business ventures include Uniroyal Marine Exports Limited – a Kozhikode-based seafood export company, where he is a non-executive director since 1992. He is the co-founder, partner and chairman of Jose Thomas Performing Arts Centre (JTPac) in Thrippunithura, Kochi, an arts centre for performing arts and music established in 2009 . He is an independent director of Clenergen India Private Limited, a company for production and supply of biomass feedstock for biomass gasification.
In 2009, Mohanlal, along with Priyadarshan, tried to bid for an Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket team based in Kochi; they withdrew the bid on failing to source enough funds after a change in rules was introduced. Mohanlal was the captain of the Kerala Strikers team in the Celebrity Cricket League (CCL) held in 2012 and 2013.
In 2008, Mohanlal secretly underwent 18 months of escape artist training under famous magician Gopinath Muthukad. He had planned to perform a stunt called 'Burning Illusion' in Thiruvananthapuram. However, due to pressure from various quarters including his fans, the act was cancelled later on criticisms and allegations that it is extremely dangerous. The event was jointly organised by the Kerala Police, State Tourism Department and the Kerala State Youth Welfare Board. The open-air "fire escape" stunt, which should have been held at the Chandrasekharan Nair Stadium, was a curtain raiser for the four-day 'Vismayam 2008', an international convention in which nearly 1,000 magicians from across the world took part. The meet started on 1 May. In the stunt, he was to be handcuffed and the whole body wrapped in chains with the keys in the hands of dignitaries watching the show. The actor would then be put inside a box, which would be then thrown into a ball of fire from where he had to escape.
The news shocked and split the magician community in Kerala. Before the commencement of the act, internationally acclaimed magician Samraj advised Mohanlal against performing the stunt. Samraj approached the Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) with a memorandum signed by 300 magicians, requesting it to urge Mohanlal to withdraw from the performance. AMMA president and actor Innocent, requested Mohanlal to withdraw from the stunt from endangering himself. He said "Mohanlal is a pillar of the Malayalam film industry; he has no right to go and do such a risky show". The stunt was also to inspire the youth to overcome debacles in life with sheer determination. Briefing about the act in the press conference organised in Trivandrum, Mohanlal said "The risk factor is fifty-fifty for the escape act. I hope that I can make it with the blessings of all". About the objective of the act, the Merlin Award winning magician Gopinath Muthukad said "Counted as one of the most dangerous acts, the 'Burning Illusion' will find Mohanlal inspiring the youth to overcome debacles in life with sheer determination. He has been practising for a while to perfect it".
In 2014, the actor decided to perform a risk-free item for the inaugural function of Magic Planet, a magic-themed complex at Kinfra Film and Video Park in Kazhakoottam, Trivandrum. It was a project of the Academy of Magical Sciences, founded by his teacher, the internationally acclaimed magician Gopinath Muthukad. The function was inaugurated by the then sitting Chief Minister of Kerala Oommen Chandy and the first magic performance was done by Mohanlal. In the trick, he lifted a girl on air. Opposition Leader V. S. Achuthanandan along with other supreme leaders and high-profile international magicians were present at the function.
Mohanlal has been described in Indian media as one of the most versatile actors and has been lauded for his natural acting style. Reader's Digest India described him in 2004 as "cinema's jack of all trades and master of many". He was also listed 80th in India's Most Trusted Persons, in a survey conducted by Reader's Digest in 2010. Director Ram Gopal Varma has described Mohanlal as "one of the finest actors in the country who can slip into any role easily".
In 2003 on the 25th anniversary of Mohanlal's film career, a week-long celebration and a stage show were held in Thiruvananthapuram, by his fans and friends. The proceeds from the stage show were donated to charity. Malayalam television channels, Asianet and Surya TV also held separate stage shows to celebrate the anniversary.
Mohanlal has often been accused in the media for causing a crisis in Malayalam cinema due to the "superstar" effect. In 2005, Mohanlal along with Mammootty, Dileep, and Suresh Gopi controlled 95% of the box-office revenue of Malayalam cinema. He had been criticized for the high remuneration, preference for formulaic content and larger-than-life male-oriented roles that characterized most of his movies during that period. Mohanlal's many fan clubs which are present throughout Kerala help in creating a buzz around new releases and ensure a good opening in movie screens, a crucial factor to the success of films in Kerala.
In 2007, some social activists protested against Mohanlal for appearing in a whisky commercial, to which he responded that, it is unfair to single him out when so many other Indian actors do the same. In 2010, during a public spat between actor Thilakan and Association of Malayalam Movie Artists (AMMA) regarding a labour issue, social critic Sukumar Azhikode supported Thilakan and criticized leading Malayalam stars, urging them to step aside since they are old, specially mentioning Mohanlal, that he is "a hypocrite who hid his advancing age to act with younger heroines". Mohanlal responded that Azhikode might be having "hallucinations" and is ignoring it as a joke. This led to further personal remarks by Azhikode against Mohanlal. The two later sorted things out. Azhikode watched Mohanlal's Pranayam in theatre and praised his performance, Mohanlal also visited him in his death bed in 2012.
The forest department filed a case against Mohanlal for keeping an elephant tusk at his home under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972. The case was first dismissed by a local Court in Perumbavoor and later by the High Court of Kerala in 2012. An individual from Thrissur filed a petition that the officials had gone out of the way to favour Mohanlal. It was alleged in the petition that actor and former minister K. B. Ganesh Kumar and forest officials were trying to save Mohanlal and overthrow the case related to the discovery of four elephant tusks at the actor's house during an income tax raid. The petitioner went to Kerala HC, but the Court dismissed the case and observed that "there was nothing to show that the State government or its officers had acted in favour of the actor. Besides, the petitioner had not been able to point out any illegality or irregularities in the investigation." "Mohanlal's lawyer senior advocate M. K. Damodaran informed the court that police are investigating the case and the final report has not yet been submitted. When the lawyer of the plaintiff mentioned that the tusks are still kept in his house, the defendant's lawyer explained that a receipt for the tusks has been obtained and is kept with Mohanlal". Dismissing the petition, the court criticized the petitioner for approaching the High Court even without inquiring about the present status of the case. "There is no public interest in the petition, but it is aimed only at publicity", the court had held.
Mohanlal resides with his family in Thevara, Kochi in Kerala. He married Suchitra, daughter of Tamil Film producer K. Balaji on 28 April 1988. The couple has two children – Pranav Mohanlal and Vismaya Mohanlal. He later recalled in an interview that Suchitra used to send him cards because she wanted to marry him. Their horoscopes did not match at first, but later it was found that the astrologer erred. Pranav has acted in a few films, debuting in Mohanlal's Onnaman (2001). Mohanlal did not object when his son expressed a desire to act, as "kids may have many such ambitions. If we can help them realise something, what is the problem ?." He owns a house in Ooty, a villa in Arabian Ranches and a flat in Burj Khalifa at Dubai. Mohanlal is a self-described foodie. He also enjoys melodious music. Mohanlal is a strong believer in destiny and spirituality. He describes himself as a religious and spiritual person, and likes to read Osho, J. Krishnamurti, Aurobindo and Ramana Maharshi. He has often stated that the turn of events in his life, including his film career, was accidental. His elder brother Pyarelal died in the year 2000, during a military exercise.
Mohanlal's career spans four decades, during which he has acted in over 320 films and produced or co-produced films under three production houses—Casino Films, Cheers Films, and Pranavam Arts International. He works predominantly in Malayalam cinema, his acting credits also include some Bollywood, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada films. Mohanlal has occasionally acted in some professional plays, and has also appeared in few short films. He has recorded over 30 songs, most of them for the films in which he has acted in.
In a career spanning near forty years, Mohanlal has received numerous accolades and honours both competitive and honourary, among them are five National Film Awards, nine Kerala State Film Awards and Filmfare Awards South. In 2001, the Government of India honoured him with the Padma Shri, the fourth highest civilian honour in the country for his contribution to the arts. He was conferred with an honourary Doctor of Letters by Sree Sankaracharya University of Sanskrit in 2010.
In 2008, while filming for Kurukshetra in which he plays the role of an Indian Army officer, Mohanlal expressed his interest to join the Territorial Army of India. But he could not as men above the age of 42 are not eligible to join the volunteer force. On 9 July 2008, he was formally inducted to the Territorial Army in the honourary rank of Lieutenant Colonel by then Army Chief Deepak Kapoor. He is the first actor to receive the honour. In 2012, he was bestowed with an honourary title of Black belt in Taekwondo from Kukkiwon, South Korea. He is the first South Indian actor to be honoured with the title.