By Jyothi Venkatesh
61 year old Superstar Mohanlal of Malayalam Cinema celebrates his birthday every year on 21st May 2019. Believe it or faint, it is the 41st year of his career as an actor in Malayalam films. The humble Mohanlal with whom I have had the opportunity to act as his boss in Priyadarshan’s film Abhimanyu in Malayalam , 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 villain in the Malayalam film Manjil Virinja Pookkal.
Mohanlal speaks to JYOTHI VENKATESH 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?
I like to work only in 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 done 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 Ramuji offered me a role in a Hindi film like Company. When Ramuji narrated the story and told me that the role of Srinivasan, the IPS officer in Company is that of a real person Sivanandan IPS, the Police Commissioner of Mumbai, I was fascinated.
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, the way I know Malayalam, English and Tamil, Ramuji 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? Did you go and meet Shivanandan to get into the skin of his character?
Maybe Ramuji 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 sheer coincidence! Ramuji 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. 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.
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 for good cinema. As in the case of Company , my character was that of a Palakkad Brahmin like you. And Ramuji told me that dubbing in my own voice would be a plus point for the film, as the character speaks with a typical South Indian accent. Like Kamal Haasan had done in Ek Duuje Ke Liye around the time I had made my debut with Malayalam films.
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 was teamed with the Tamil star Prabhu , who is Sivaji Ganeshan’s son 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 ten 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 the 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 him. 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.
Why are you not open 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 want to do only 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 learnt 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.