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Mohanlal: “Language is not at all a barrier to good cinema”

65-year-old Superstar Mohanlal of Malayalam Cinema is all set to celebrate his birthday on 21st May.




By Jyothi Venkatesh

65-year-old Superstar Mohanlal of Malayalam Cinema is all set to celebrate his birthday on 21st May. Believe it or faint, it is the 46th year of his career as an actor in Malayalam films. The humble Mohanlal with whom I have had the opportunity to act in his film Malayalam Abhimanyu directed by Priyadarshan his favourite director, way back in 1991 in Mumbai itself has never struck a false note since he began his acting career in 1980, not as a hero but as a hard-core villain in the Malayalam film Manjil Virinja Pookkal.

To mark his 65th birthday this year, we dig out an old interview of his, in which, after nearly four decades of his stint with Malayalam, Tamil films and Hindi films, Mohanlal speaks to Senior Correspondent JYOTHI VENKATESH for Cine Blitz about Malayalam Cinema, his entry in Hindi films with Company, his future plans in a no holds barred interview.

 Why are you very choosy about your films?

That is only because I like to work only on one or two films at a time.

With Company, you became a multilingual actor, after working in Malayalam, Telugu and Tamil films.  Why did you choose Company as your first film in Hindi?

I had worked in films in other languages before. I had acted opposite Tabu and Aishwarya Rai (in her very first film Iruvar in Tamil which was directed by Mani Ratnam) and a Telugu film directed by Priyadarshan. Regarding my entry into Hindi, believe it or not, it was for the first time that Ramu offered me a role in a Hindi film like Company. When Ramu narrated the story and told me that the role of Srinivasan, the IPS officer in Company is that of a real person Sivanandan IPS, who was the Police Commissioner of Mumbai, I was fascinated.

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How did you find Ramgopal Varma as a director?

He has a lot of conviction within him. He likes making films with passion. In fact, I find filmmaking has become an obsession with him. He knows his craft well. Though it is a fact that I did not want to cut a sorry figure and make a fool of myself earlier by working in Hindi films because I do not know the language properly, Ramu convinced me and I had no other alternative but to agree to work in Company. I am glad I did.

To what extent do you think you resemble the real Shivanandan?

Maybe Ramu thought so. But I never wanted to see him before the film was completed. I tried to be natural and did not want to imitate his mannerisms. But later, I was happy when I met Mr. Sivanandan and he told me that even the way I wore the reading glass was exactly the way he did, which was by the way sheer coincidence! Ramu arranged a meeting with Mr. Sivanandan after the shooting and dubbing of the film. He told me that he had seen my Sanskrit play Karnabharam when it was staged in Mumbai at the Shanmukhananda Hall in Sion. We showed him the rushes of Company and he was happy with the way it had shaped out. He thought that I would have resembled him more if I were a little thinner. (Laughs)

How good is your Hindi? Did you dub in your own voice for Company?

For me, working in Company was just like doing another film. Language is not a barrier to good cinema. As in the case of this film, my character is that of a Palakkad Brahmin like you are. And Ramu told me that dubbing in my own voice would be a plus point for the film, as the character speaks with a South Indian accent. Like Kamal Haasan had done in Ek Duuje Ke Liye around the time I had made my debut with Malayalam films.

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You were seen first by the Hindi audiences in Saza-E-Kala Pani, the Hindi dubbed version of the Malayalam hit Kaala Pani directed by my dear friend Priyadarshan for the first time!

Yes. I received a lot of fan mail from all over the country after Saza E Kaala Pani was released all over India. I had acted with Prabhu from the South and Tabu in the film, which dealt with a chapter from the freedom struggle of our country.

Wasn’t a Malayalam film of yours dubbed into Marathi about fifteen years ago?

My Malayalam film Dasaratham was dubbed into Marathi as Majha Mulga. I was surprised when I received some fan letters in Marathi. I do not know how they managed to get hold of my address and send me letters.

What has been your experience as a producer?

It was a wonderful experience making an award-winning film in Malayalam like Vanaprastham, with Shaji Karun as the director. I have also produced several films earlier too in collaboration with my colleague Mammootty, who is still going strong as a star and late director I.V. Sasi. I set out to produce films not only to make money but to whet the appetite in me.

People refer to you as the Robert De Nero of Indian Cinema. In fact, in a recent interview Ram Gopal Varma has said that he had never worked with a more natural actor than you.

It feels nice when you are compared to someone much greater than you. But honestly, I don’t know how to comment on this. I have always tried to be natural in my acting, whether I play the role of the leading man, a cameo role or a negative role, all through my career till date.

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How open are you to do more Hindi films, after Company, Ramgopal Varma Ki Aag and Priyadarshan’s Tezz?

I don’t think I fit in there, either by way of looks or acting style. The role in Company was just right for me. After Tezz bombed at the box office, I decided to concentrate on my commitments as far as Malayalam films are concerned, though I did receive a few offers from filmmakers in Mumbai.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

I’ll be around doing one or two films a year. Nothing was ever planned in my life. I just float with the current, with the events. In fact, I’ve learned

that one can’t plan or predict anything. I believe in fate, though it doesn’t mean I leave everything to it. Whatever happened to me till now is destiny and I want to live life for today. Let’s see what happens tomorrow and face it.

Is it true that you own a chain of restaurants in Dubai too?

I have a chain of restaurants called Mohanlal’s Taste Buds in the Middle East. Maybe I’m the first actor in India to own a restaurant outside India! I am trying to expand it to Europe and the US. Recently I even started a Studio in Thiruvananthapuram, besides a company to produce and distribute films in Malayalam. All these activities of mine will keep me busy in the years to come.