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July 22, 1997


'Ambedkar was a humanist. I am also for the human race'

Mammotty as Ambedkar
Moustacheless, in military green jeans, corduroy shirt and leather sandals, south Indian superstar Mammotty is waiting for shots to be called on the Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar sets this sultry, summer day.

The pre-shoot preparations are just about peaking (cinematographer Ashok Mehta, in his trademark cowboy hat, jeans, jacket, and smoking cigarette in hand, is studying camera angles; art director Nitin Desai is dedicatedly touching up the sets; and director Jabbar Patel is flitting around with script in hand and a frown on his brow), and there is more than enough time for him to get into costume.

With Sonali Kulkarni, who plays his first wife
So Mammotty decides to get a couple of unwelcome jobs -- namely, interviews -- out of the way: there is somebody who wants him to talk about 'comedy in Indian film' for a documentary, and there is this other chappie who had been chasing him right from the Mahad location.

But first, there is a minor fixing to be done. "Can I fix a moustache before we record?" he asks the documentarian, who nods.

A little later, moustache firmly in place, the star is back. "Comedy --" he begins, leaning with one hand on a fragile structure, supposedly belonging to the Ambedkar era, "-- is appreciated by everyone..."

A couple more minutes of comedy-talk, and he is ready for the second interview. But, alas! it is make-up time now. "We will do it after the shot," he tells the waiting scribe as he moves towards the dressing room, "We will talk during lunch time..."

And talk he did, at lunch time. Still in his Ambedkar costume -- even down to the thick glasses -- Mammotty, alternating between English and Malayalam, answered Chindu Sreedharan's queries:

How much of a milestone do you consider Dr Ambedkar to be in your career?

I can say that only after the film is released. But I will definitely get a lot of mileage.

What does the role hold for you? What made you take it up?

It is an interesting project. A very big one. It offers international exposure. It is about the currrent hot hero. In short, it is a challenge.

How do you rate your performance in the film till now? A good job?

I can't say I have done a good job... I am struggling to do it. I am trying to bring it all out. I have done as best as I can.

Meaning, you are happy with your performance to date?

Can't say I am happy... I am still tense. It's not a question of happiness, anyway. If you are happy, it will affect your work. You shouldn't be really cocky. Otherwise, you won't try hard... that extra-effort will be missing.

Any shot/shots which you found particularly tough?

Every shot was tough. You can't really say one scene was particularly tough and another less so. Everything was tough.

About the efforts you put in preparing for the role...

I don't prepare or rehearse. I give everything in the shot. I go through the script very thoroughly. After all, the film is based on it. I can't deviate from it, I can only improve in the script. That I am doing.

Do you in any way identify with the character you are playing?

Yeah. Ambedkar was a humanist. I am also for the human race.

Any incident which remains in your mind?

In Nagpur, while I was in costume there were people touching my feet... I couldn't really believe it. Of course, it was not Mammotty's feet they were touching, it was Ambedkar's... It goes to show how much reverence they had for him.

As an actor I want to have that kind of love... I don't want people to fall on my feet or anything. But I want their love. I am expecting -- hoping -- for that.

As the ageing Ambedkar
What about the heavy make-up for the role? Did it limit your performance?

The first part where Ambedkar is young is all right. There isn't much make-up. But the scenes when he is old were really bad. It took about four hours to be made up. And there were too many physical restrictions. I couldn't move, couldn't speak properly as my mouth was full of pads... I couldn't shoot for long in the makeup -- at a stretch for only four hours. After that, the make-up would start running... I had to overcome all these and perform. It was very tough.

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