Mammootty, a lawyer by qualification but he always wanted to be an actor. Mammootty's first screen appearance was in 1971 in Anubhavangal Paalichakal, directed by K. S. Sethumadhavan. However his role was uncredited. He was a student at the Maharajas College then. In 1973, he got another role in Kalachakram, a Prem Nazir movie directed by K. Narayanan.
His professional film career began in 1979, when he played his first lead role in Devalokam, directed by M. T. Vasudevan Nair. However, this film was never released.
Vilkanundu Swapnangal, written by M. T. Vasudevan Nair and directed by M. Azad was Mammootty's first notable film. His roles in films like Mela by K.G. George where he played a Circus artist, and Thrishna , directed by I.V. Sasi got him noticed. His first super hit film as a hero was Thrishna, released in 1981. After the success of Thrishna, Mammootty and I.V. Sasi together created many hits such as Aavanazhi and Inspector Balram.
The role of a police officer in the investigative thriller Yavanika (1982) directed by K. G. George cemented his position as a hero in Malayalam cinema. The film was a big commercial success and Mammootty's role got rave reviews for its style and dialogue delivery. This was the beginning of a trend whereby Mammootty would play the role of a tough cop in many action and investigative thrillers in the coming years.
In 1981, he got his first award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Ahimsa.
The period 1982-1984 saw Mammootty evolve into a commercially viable hero in mainstream Malayalam cinema, Padmarajan’s Koodevide and Joshy’s Aa Raathri were highly successful in the box office. His performances in films like Aalkootathil Thaniye and Adiyozhukkukal, scripted by M.T.Vasudevan Nair established him as an actor of substance. Mammooty was noted for his controlled acting, never crossing the limits, and his presentation of M. T.’s dialogues, which were always pregnant with meaning.
In a period of five years from 1982 to 1986 Mammootty acted in more than 150 films as the hero. During this period, Mammooty managed the rare distinction of appearing as the hero in an astonishing 35 movies released in a single year, 1986.
His role as Karunan in Adiyozhukkukal directed by I.V. Sasi, written by M. T. got him the Best Actor State Award and Filmfare Award. Mammootty won the State special jury award and best actor Filmfare award for Yathra directed by Balu Mahendra. The film proved to be one of the best in Mammootty's career. In 1985, his role as Ravi Varma in Nirakkoottu, directed by Joshy, penned by Dennis Joseph got much acclaim and also created box office history.
For a short while during mid 80's, Mammooty saw a decline in his career. Many of his films during this period saw him portraying very stereotypical roles as a familyman or a businessman.
Mammootty made a comeback with New Delhi and Thaniyavarthanam, both released in 1987. New Delhi was a very important movie in his life as an actor. The film was loosely based on the novel, "The Almighty" by Irving Wallace. His portrayal of a victimized journalist, who systematically took revenge on politicians who flattered him, was noticed and well accepted by the masses. Meanwhile, his role as Balan mash in Thaniyavarthanam, written by Lohithadas and directed by Sibi Malayil, was critically acclaimed.
In 1988 Mammootty delivered one of the biggest hits in the history of Malayalam Cinema with his Oru CBI Diary Kurippu. Oru CBI Diary Kurippu went on to create box-office history in Kerala as well as in Tamil Nadu. Mammootty's role as a CBI officer in this film got him critical acclaim. Following the success of the first CBI film Oru CBI Diary Kurippu, three more murder mystery sequels were produced with the same cast of characters: Jagratha (1989), Sethurama Iyer CBI (2004) and Nerariyan C.B.I (2005), all directed by K Madhu, penned by S.N. Swamy with Mammootty as Sethurama Iyer, an intelligent but unassuming CBI officer. The films by M.T. Vasudevan Nair and Padmarajan, arguably among the best of Malayalam writer-directors, widened Mammootty's acting horizon. Two of M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s films with autobiographical elements were acted by Mammootty. One was Aksharangal directed by I.V. Sasi and the other was Sukrutham directed by Harikumar.
Mammootty touched the pinnacle of his career in Oru Vadakkan Veeragatha; the film was directed by T.Hariharan and penned by M.T.Vasudevan Nair. His depiction of a Chekavar (mercenary warrior) of distinguished valor but vilified by circumstances won him the National Film Award for Best Actor. Along with the huge commercial success of the film, Mammooty was given rave reviews about his lead role in the film, which required heavy physical and phsychological preparations. Mammootty's performance in Mathilukal directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan was also considered for the award. His role as a hunter Varunni in Mrugaya, directed by I.V. Sasi, and another film Mahayanam, was also scanned for the State Award. Mammootty won the Filmfare award for Amaram directed by Bharathan. He played the role of an uneducated fisherman who dreams of making his only daughter a doctor.
During this time, Mammootty appeared in many of the films directed by Adoor Gopalakrishnan's. He starred in three of his films, Anantharam ('Thenceforth'), Mathilukal ('Walls') and Vidheyan ('The Servile'). His portrayal of the protagonist in Mathilukal (based on 'Mathilukal', a novel by the ace Malayalam novelist Vaikom Muhammad Basheer) was instrumental in getting him his first National Film Award for Best Actor. Mammootty also portrayed the roles in Adoor Gopalakrishnan's Vidheyan and TV Chandran's Ponthan Mada. He received the National Film Award for Best Actor and State Award for his roles in both films. His performance in Valtsalyam directed by Cochin Haneefa was also considered for the State Award. The King, scripted by Renji Panikkar, was released in 1995 and was directed by Shaji Kailas. Mammootty played the central character as a District collector and it turned out to be the biggest hit of the year.
Mammootty won his third National Film Award for Best Actor for Dr Baba Saheb Ambedkar, an English language movie about the life of Ambedkar, directed by Jabbar Patel Sponsored by National Film Development Corporation of India and the Ministry of Social Justice, the film was released after a long and controversial gestation period.
Mammootty's commercial hits in early 2000 include Chronic Bachelor(2003) and Sethurama Iyer CBI(2004). Mammootty won the State Best Actor Award for his potrayal of Operator Madhavan in Kazhcha, which did well at box-office too. Mammootty’s career graph raised spectacularly after the release of Rajamanikyam directed by debutant Anwar Rasheed. Released during Ramadan 2005, the movie broke all collection records and became the biggest hit of 2005. Rajamanikyam was also touted as the biggest hit of all time ever produced in the Malayalam cinema. In 2006, Mammootty continued his success with the film Thuruppugulan.
Mammootty's action comedy Mayavi became the top grosser of 2007. His portrayal of Dr.Nathan in Shyamaprasad's Ore Kadal(2007) was critically acclaimed. In 2008, Mammootty delivered another blockbuster Annan Thambi. The film released in 75 centres across the state and completed 50 days in nearly 61 centres. Also, his recent movie "Mayabazaar" holds the record for highest channel right collecting film in Malayalam Film Industry, by selling the channel right for 1.3 crores. The record breaks his own record of 1.1 crores for the film Annan Thambi.
Mammootty had crossed the boundaries of Malayalam cinema and acted in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English films. in 1989, he made his Tamil debut in Maunam Sammatham, directed by K. Madhu . He has acted in Tamil films with front-line directors of the industry like K. Balachander(Azhagan) and Mani Ratnam(Thalapathy). His performance along with Tamil Superstar Rajinikanth in Thalapathi made him a favorite among the Tamil audience followed by a string of interesting films in Tamil. Fazil directed Kilippechu Kekkavaa(1993) had mammootty in his rarest avatar of a romantic hero. In 1995 Mammootty had a surprise blockbuster in the form of R.k.selvamani directed Makkal Aatchi. In Kandukondain Kandukondain, directed by Rajiv Menon, his performance as Captain Bala opposite Aishwarya Rai was considered the showstealer despite a big cast including Ajithkumar, Tabu and Aishwarya Rai. Aanandam directed by N. Linguswamy had Mammootty in the role of a family man.
Mammootty has acted in few forgettable films in Tamil . Puthayal(1996) (a film on treasure hunt), Junior-Senior(2002)(a love triangle), Viswatulasi (2004)(a mature love story) were all made with impressive starcast but were critical and commercial disasters.
He made his foray into Hindi films through Thriyathri in . However, his maiden Bollywood film as hero, Dhartiputra went unnoticed., nonetheless made his presence felt on the national level with the biographical film on Dr. Baba Saheb Ambedkar directed by Jabbar Patel. Mammootty's Sau Jhooth Ek Sach won critical acclaim but the film didn't do well at the box office. Mammootty's Telugu film Swathi Kiranam an offbeat venture was well received by the audience and critics.