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August 29, 2000

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'Mohanlal is the best actor India has ever produced'

Shobha Warrier

Priyadarshan Priyadarshan was the director who first presented a humorous Mohanlal to the people of Kerala. Together, they made several slapstick comedies. They stopped when film-makers hopped on the comic bandwagon, making a series of crude and vulgar comedies.

It has been years since they made films like Chitram or Kilukkam, but even now, Malayalis name these two films as their favourites. Here, Priyadarshan talks about his childhood enemy-turned-friend, Mohanlal:

Mohanlal was my sisterís classmate, and I was three years his senior in college. Even though we lived in the same area, both of us played cricket for different colleges and clubs. I was the opening batsman for our college cricket team, and he was the opening bowler for his. So we were always on the opposing sides.

We were real enemies then. We went to college in the same bus. But we would pick fights there too, mostly over girls!

We became friends only because of cinema. A common friend of ours made a film called Thiranottam, which we were both associated with. That was the beginning of our friendship.

I found him hilarious company. Later on, when I came into films, I wanted to make use of that talent, even though he began as a villain in Manjil Virinja Pookal.

And so in Enginey Nee Marakkum, people came to know about this facet of his character. Through humour, he became a hero.

I've made 27 films with him. In each, I have seen at least two new expressions that I hadn't seen in any of his earlier films. That is how much he surprises me.

I know that his contribution has got a lot to do with the success of most of my films, especially the humorous ones. There is a thin line between buffoonery and humour. He goes to the edge but never crosses that.

I admire his spirit with all his coartistes. He has no ego hassles with anyone. He is ready to do anything for a film. Many people have asked me whether he really licked Amrish Puriís shoes in Kalaapani. He did. He felt the scene would look realistic only if he did it. He wanted the shoe to be cleaned properly, thatís all!

He never prepares for any role or scene. He is not bothered how he looks or what he does. Once the camera is on, he is a transformed person. As he does only one film at a time, he knows everything about the film, nothing more.

All you have to do is tell him what the shot is just before you shoot. He immediately changes into that character. I haven't seen this ability to transform completely, without any preparation, in any other actor in my entire career. And, mind you, I have worked with almost all the actors from the South and the North.

This man is amazing.

I remember Mani Ratnam telling me, "Hereafter, I will never work with a man of whom I am a fan." I asked why. He said he often forgot to say 'Cut' in Iruvar. Mani said he did not expect him to perform at that level.

Priyadarshan He stunned me in two films: Vaanaprastham and Vaasthuhara (the late Aravindanís film).

I saw a different Mohanlal in both. A Mohanlal I don't see normally. You see him as a man carrying a heavy heart. From his body language, you could feel that he had a heavy heart. I donít know how conveyed it to us. It was so real.

I didn't ask him to analyse it. Because, knowing Lal, it would be stupid of me to ask such things. He never plans for anything or prepares anything. It just happens.

Take Thalavattam. After he becomes mad, he doesn't blink his eyes. I didn't notice it when I shot the film. Only when someone asked me whether we did it purposely, did I notice it.

Both of us -- Lal or I -- didnít know that mad people rarely blink their eyes. In the climax scene of Kireedam, you see him clenching and unclenching his jaws. People do that when they're tense. All this comes to Lal so naturally.

Recently, Madhavikkutty said that Lal was born in the wrong place. I agree. His potential is so much that I don't think an Indian director can ever make use of it totally.

Do we have any other actor in India who is accepted by the common man and the critics? He is a superstar. People adore him. They throw coins at the screen when he appears, like they do to Rajanikant.

At the same time, he is a super actor, too, having won three best actor awards at the national level. But we are yet to see the full potential of Mohanlal. Mohanlal is a unique phenomenon in Indian cinema.

In fact, he is the best actor India has ever produced.

Photographs: Sanjay Ghosh

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