August 4, 2001


 Search the Internet
 Sites: Actresses, Actors
E-Mail this report to a friend
Print this page

Mohanlal: A portrait of the artiste

''Let me do it myself. I'm more comfortable making my own coffee,'' Mohanlal tells room service.

Mohanlal ''Can I make one for you, too?'' he asks me, even as he pours milk into my cup.

Room service has not left yet. The young man shuffles his feet before mustering the courage to ask for an autograph.

''My name's Lobo,'' the young chap adds nervously, hoping to have his name included.

''Noel Lobo,'' Mohanlal says, with a smile. ''I remember. You told me the other day.''

Lobo attempts to hide his pleased shock and leaves the room, stammering thank-yous.

Mohanlal, three-time National Award-winning Malayalam actor, is so unassuming, soft-spoken and humble that you wonder whether it's all a sham.

Minutes into the conversation, he dispels all such doubts. He comes across as someone as genuine as the characters he portrays.

Mohanlal preparing for his role in Vaanaprastham The actor was in Bombay recently to shoot for his first Hindi film, Company. It coincided with the Bombay premiere of his National Award-winning Malayalam film, Vaanaprastham, directed by Shaji N Karun and coproduced by him.

In an interview with Anjum N, the superstar speaks of his foray into Hindi films and his realistic expectations from it:

Welcome to Bombay. Looks like you've decided to expand your horizons.

I've worked in Bombay before. I have shot for quite a few films here. Only, they were all in Malayalam *laughs*

Company is my first Hindi film.

What made you sign a commercial Hindi film?

I had heard a lot about Ramgopal Varma. I'd also read about his style of filmmaking. So when he contacted me, I agreed.

Was it a prior understanding that you would be doing a film for him and Company came up, or did he approach you with this particular script?

Mohanlal He approached me for this role. There's no point deciding to work in a film with him without knowing what exactly he'll be making next.

Were you open to doing Hindi films or did he have to convince you?

"There are enough actors in Bombay. Why do you need me to do a role in a Hindi film?" I asked him.

His answer convinced me: It was the role of a South Indian, and he wanted a South Indian actor to portray it. So I said yes.

Can you tell us more about the role?

I'm playing an assistant police commissioner. It's a serious character.

Did you undergo any Hindi diction classes for the film?

No. I can read, write and speak Hindi. I've learnt the language in school.

And as for diction *smiles mischievously* I'm playing a South Indian police officer. Remember?

So language won't be a problem?

Iruvar, with Mani Ratnam, was a Tamil film. I don't normally converse in Tamil.

Mohanlal on the sets of Vaanaprastham I also acted in a Sanskrit play, Karnabharam, in Delhi this January. We plan to perform in Bombay on September 22. Again, I don't talk in Sanskrit.

So it's not the first time I'm attempting something like this.

Do you have a family for Company? I mean, life outside uniform in the film?

I do have a family in the film, but there aren't many scenes with them. The film deals more with my professional life. However, I'm not in police uniform throughout.

Who are your costars other than Ajay Devgan and Vicky Oberoi?

I don't watch Hindi films regularly. So I'm not too familiar with them. Besides, there are many newcomers. There's Seema Biswas. And Sadashiv (Amrapurkar). I'm sorry, I forget his full name.

Is it easy getting along with your costars, considering some of them might not have seen your earlier work and might not know your capabilities?

Mohanlal I haven't seen much of theirs either *laughs*. But that doesn't make a difference. We just have to play our roles well.

So aren't you very excited about your foray into Hindi films?

I'm anxious, of course. But whether Hindi or Malayalam, the effort remains the same, doesn't it? It's just that wider audiences watch Hindi films.

You are also working on two more Hindi films.

Both these films might be bilingual, in Hindi and Malayalam. But they are still in the planning stages. So you can't be so sure.

One is based on T Padmanabhan's Malayalam novel Kadal (The Sea), to be directed by Shaji N Karun. I'm playing Jaya Bachchan's husband. We're in the process of finalising locations for the shoot, probably Kargil, Leh, Ladakh and some other places.

The other film will be based on another Malayalam novel, M Govindan's Sarpam (Snake), which will be directed by Kumar Sahani.

Mohanlal with his family Many South Indian superstars have tried unsuccessfully to make a career in Hindi films. This includes actors like Kamal Haasan, Rajnikanth (Tamil), Chiranjeevi, Nagarjuna, Venkatesh (Telugu) and Mammootty (Malayalam). Do you think you will be accepted?

It's not a question of being accepted. Hindi films have many good actors. There are enough big stars here, too. Why do you need me here? I will be accepted only if a particular role requires me.

But South Indian heroines are accepted in Hindi films. Isn't there a bias against South Indian men?

*smiles* Hindi film heroines are also accepted in the South. But is there one Hindi actor who has had any success in the South?

The audience here does not accept male actors from the South, just like actors from here are not accepted there. You can't change that, can you?

Which directors would you like to work with here?

There's no use naming anyone. I could say, "I want to work with Subhash Ghai" or "I want to act with Amitabh Bachchan." But what's the purpose?

Mohanlal If a director has a project for me, and if I feel I should do it, things will work out. Else, it's just a waste of time. Why should I plan things when it's not in my hands?

Many of your Malayalam films are being remade into Hindi. The latest is Sanmanasullavarkku Samadhanam...

*interrupts* Yes, I know. It's called Yeh Tera Ghar, Yeh Mera Ghar.

They also remade Kireedam (Gardish), Kilukkam (Muskurahat), Chitram

*interrupts again* Priyadarshan is also planning to remake Thaalavattam with Shah Rukh Khan.

Have you seen any of these?

I saw parts of Gardish and a few others. But I haven't been able to see all of them. We don't get these films in many theatres in the South.

Did you like what you've seen?

*looks away with a smile* Did you? A film is written with a particular audience in mind. There's a certain setup, a certain look for the characters, some situations unique to a region.

Like the poor landlord in Sanmanasullavarkku Samadhanam. When you remake that into Hindi with an urban setup, some compromises have to be made. Because the budget is higher, the audiences are varied and the expectations, different. The original effect might be lost.

But we should understand it's a new product. We can't compare the two. It could be better or worse than the original. Better, I'm not so sure.

Do you know any remake that's better than the original?

If one of your films were to be remade in Hindi with you, which film would you choose?

None. Why would I want to play the same role twice? I'd rather do something new.

You have essayed a variety of roles -- ranging from romantic to comic to serious to emotional. Which do you enjoy doing the most?

The lighter ones. We all love a little laughter, don't we? When you essay a comic role, there's a light mood even on the sets. Even though it's hard work, the atmosphere is not serious and you feel relaxed.

Is that why you give some of your characters a lighter shade? Like the psychiatrist in Manichitrathazhu, who indulged in a lot of slapstick mannerisms. Do you go beyond the script to make your characters light? Mohanlal

Sometimes, the way an actor sees a role may be different from what the writer or the director might have had in mind.

So when you start performing it that way, the director sees a new dimension to the character. He might think that this is better and go with it or stick to his original plan.

You started off as a villain in 1981. You then moved to supporting roles to hero to superstar to producer. You also picked numerous State and National Awards in the last two decades. What next?

I've never planned anything in my life. I did my first film, Thiranottam, while still in college (1978). That film was never released.

Then Manjil Virinja Pookal happened. That led to more films.

There is some power that has planned a lot for me. Whatever is in store will happen. I don't want to interfere with that.

Any plans to direct a film?

I have my own production house, Pranavam Arts. We've produced some films, including Vaanaprastham, which received the National Award for Best Film last year.

So the setup is there.

I can direct a film today if I want to. But I don't see any reason to do so.

Tomorrow, if I feel I should take up the responsibility, I might. But as I said, I don't plan anything. I'd rather wait for it to happen.

'I have no roots!'
Payback time!

Do tell us what you think of this interview