Calm, unassuming and devoid of any starry airs, Mohanlal belies his superstar stature. In Dubai on the eve of the celebration to mark his 30 years in the film industry, the Indian actor tells Sneha May Francis his long and eventful journey is just a process of life.
I must’ve been as young as eight years old when I was first fascinated by the world of Malayalam cinema. And like every little girl, even I dreamt of rubbing shoulders with famous actors. Surprisingly the dream came true when I was given the opportunity to meet one of the greatest actors of Malayalam cinema – Mohanlal – on the eve of the celebration that marked his 30 years in the film industry.
Lal needs little or no introduction to his South Indian audience. His contribution to Malayalam cinema is unrivalled. His dedication to acting has earned him fame and recognition. From a heart-broken Bharatanatyam dancer in Kamaladhalam to a simpleton cop in the rib-tickling Pattanapravesham series, to the loving brother in Bharatham, to an eccentric psychiatrist in Manichitrathazhu, to an Alzheimer patient in Thanmatra, his roles have been extremely diverse and he’s shown his versatility.
I walk into the Manhattan Hotel one Monday afternoon to meet the Big M. The lobby was decked out for Lal’s film shoot. The actor was delayed, as is the norm, but I wasn’t complaining as I was thoroughly entertained by the bustling activity on the set. An hour later, Lal, dressed in a simple brown shirt and jeans, walked in, greeted the crew and chalked out his interview schedule with his publicist.
My wait soon ended when Lal, with absolutely no prompting from the publicist, finished one part of the shoot and proceeded with the interview. He was at his gracious best, devoid of any starry airs. Quick introduction over and we got down to looking at his 30 year cinematic journey.
"I don’t want to look back, I only want to look forward. Thirty years is definitely a great thing for any actor, but as an individual it’s only a process of life… I give all the credit to my colleagues, my directors, my script writers and my audience," says Lal.
The humble actor is quick to point out that there have been other actors who’ve worked for a greater number of years, and he’s just one among them. But unlike most actors who take on film directing after such a long span, Lal shows no inclination, at least for now. "Direction is an entirely different field. Right now, I’ve no plans. But I may do it if I get a good proposal."
For an actor who studies each character intrinsically, whether it’s learning Bharathanatyam (classical Indian dance) for Kamaladalam or carnatic music for Bharatham, I wonder if he feels the younger generation lacks such dedication. "It’s got nothing to do with dedication. It’s the role. I was lucky to get such brilliant roles. The ’90s had some amazing films, and even now there are good films... films of Blessy, Roshan Andrews or Major Ravi." He’s quick to shoot down any talk about the dearth of good films today. "If you ask, ‘why isn’t anyone making films like Bharatham?’, then I’ll ask you to go watch Bharatham. You can’t make a film like that again," he asserts.
I prod further about the lack of good comedies in Malayalam cinema nowadays, but the actor disagrees: "It’s how you view a film. Even now, there are good films. There may be times when I find something funny but you don’t. But that doesn’t mean there are no good combination comedies."
Still on the subject of comedies, Bollywood has sparked a trend of rehashing Malayalam comic classics – Short Kut, Hulchul, Garam Masala and Bhoolbhulaiya, to name a few – some of which are Lal’s films. "It’s a remake and they incorporate a lot of masalas, according to their taste. Even the entire scenario changes, locations change. So you cannot go back to your film and claim yours was the best. For the Hindi audience it’s a new film. So I have no complaints." Interestingly, Lal is part of a Bollywood remake. He and Kamal Haasan will take on A Wednesday in Tamil with Unnaipolorruvan.
Through his film career, there’ve been talks about his fondness to work only with a select group of people. The actor, however, ridicules the observation and says it’s created by gossip magazines. "There’s no truth to it. We are only a handful of people in the Malayalam industry and we are all friends. So we are bound to work with one another," he adds. Lal also rubbishes reports that senior artistes steal roles from the younger actors. He suggests it might occur among some actresses, but definitely not among the male gang. "I can’t do a 15-year-old boy’s role or a 60-year-old man’s role. We do only five to six films a year and since there are only a few of us we share the films. So there is no question of that!"
The close knit film fraternity leads us to ask about the other undisputed king of Malayalam cinema – Mammooty. "We are friends. We’ve done around 53 films together. Only in our industry would such a thing happen – where filmmakers put two big actors in one frame," he claims. Another actor who is known to get along well with Lal is Sreenivasan. Their on-screen fun chemistry has tickled us silly. And now there’s more to look forward to in the fourth sequel to Nadodikattu, titled Dasannum Vijayannum. "It’s a pipeline project. As of now, we’ve plans to do it."
While his contemporaries were trying their hands at other regional film industries, Lal remained exclusive to the Malayalam industry. It’s only recently that he ventured out to Bollywood with Ram Gopal Varma’s Company and AAG.
"I’m doing some films for Priyadarshan and there are other offers but I can’t take them because I cannot shift from Malayalam to the Hindi film industry. So when I find time and the offer is irresistible, I will do it," he adds.
On the subject of his personal life, there’s talk about his son Pravan’s initiation into films. "He did a small scene while we were shooting in Dubai last time. It was what the producers wanted. My son is more interested in theatre. But there’s no compulsion that he should join films. It’s entirely his decision."
Lal’s association with Dubai dates back nearly 25 years. "I’ve done many films, many shows and many businesses in Dubai. I stay here, I’ve lots of friends. And we’ve 1.5 million Keralites in the GCC or maybe even more. So it’s like a home for me… a second home."
Talking about business, I ask whether he considers himself a better actor or a better businessman? "I’ll say no to both. But I can say I’m a better human being."
Side-tracking from his film life, I pitch the news about his plans to start an IPL team. "Priyadarshan and I have a small cricket team in Kerala and some of the players do play in the IPL. We had a get-together recently but the media assumed that we were planning for the IPL, but that’s not true."
As we wrapped up the interview, his assistant director waited patiently near our table to whisk away the actor for the film shoot. However, despite a waiting film crew, Lal was kind enough to oblige for a few photographs before rushing out. And there ended the dream... with him walking away into the spotlight.
Published in e+, Gulf News (July 30, 2009)