April 8, 2002


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The Officer and Gentleman Actor

Mohanlal plays cop in Company Mohanlal is a very busy man.

The last few months have seen him moving between Mumbai, Kerala and Chennai, shooting for Ram Gopal Varma's Company. Now that the film is complete, his trips to Mumbai, too, have stopped. The film releases Friday, April 12.

Now, Mohanlal is working in actor-director Nasser's Tamil musical Pop Corn with Simran near Coimbatore. He then had to rush from the shooting site for two days to finish dubbing for his Vishu (Malayalam New Year) release, Onnaman.

He takes a break from his busy schedule to speak to Shobha Warrier:

A couple of weeks ago, there was a news item in the papers about this astrologer predicting that you would win an international award. Are you aware of this?

Yes, I saw it. Anyone can make such predictions. See, astrologers had predicted the world would come to an end and there would be a flood!

I am told the astrologer who predicted [my winning an international award] had also predicted [Tamil Nadu Chief Minister] Jayalalithaa's comeback! *laughs* It's good if good predictions come true. But I don't give much thought to them.

Even after so many years in the industry, do you feel embarrassed if someone praises you? At the Lux-Asianet Awards recently, singer Usha Uthup called you the Great Mohanlal, and you seemed to be quite uneasy...

I was. I get very embarrassed. No amount of praise should go to your head. You should always remain humble.

You once said you were not interested in acting in other language films. But you agreed to act in a Hindi film. What made you agree to Ram Gopal Varma?

I do not look at Company as a Hindi film; it is another film of mine.

Mohanlal in Vaanaprastham See I consider this also as a happening in my life. Like I made [Shaji N Karun's] Vaanaprastham. I am destined to make such films, win a lot of laurels and lose a lot of money!

Like the Sanskrit play I did. I never, ever dreamt I would do a Sanskrit play [Karnabharam. ]in my life. But it happened. I still cannot understand how I prepared myself and learnt the Sanskrit dialogues in just eight days. I feel there is an unknown energy pushing me to do certain things in life.

There are so many actors in India. Why did the role in Company come to me? I believe in destiny.

Anyway, it happened like this. One day, Ram Gopal Varma called me and said, "I want to talk to you. I am coming to Chennai." He told me that he was planning to make a Hindi film, and the name of the film was Company. He narrated the story to me and said, "I want you to do the role of the police officer."

What I liked was the way he was planning to treat the role of the police officer.

I told him I was not very comfortable with the language. I had studied Hindi up to college. I can read and write but not speak. But he was not bothered. He said the police officer was a South Indian. When we were dubbing the film, he told me to dub the way I spoke while shooting. He said it had come out well. Let's see.

As a director, I respect him. In fact, he wanted me to do a Telugu film some three-four years ago. That didn't happen.

Another aspect about Ram Gopal Varma which attracted me was his passion for films. Like the Coca Cola ad, he sleeps, thinks, eats and drinks cinema. We have not talked about anything except cinema. I saw in him the same passion I saw in Mani Ratnam when he asked me to do Iruvar. These are the factors that made me say yes to Ram Gopal Varma.

I have read that you did not meet Joint Commissioner of Police, Mumbai, D Sivanandan [on whom Mohanlal's character is based on], till the shooting was over. Was it a deliberate decision?

No, it was not. Somebody from the press asked me whether I met Sivanandan, I said no. That's all. I didn't feel the necessity to meet while we were shooting. People know him as a police officer. Nobody knows how he behaves in the office or at home.

Mohanlal plays Sivandan in Company After the shooting of the whole film was over, I told Ram Gopal Varma that I wanted to meet him. I was curious to meet the person whom I portrayed on screen. On the last day, a dinner was arranged at the Taj Mahal Hotel, Mumbai, and that was where I met Sivanandan.

He said he had seen several of my films like Iruvar, Vaanaprastham, Kaalapani. Then he said some of my mannerisms were exactly like his in the film; the way I sat, the way I looked, etc. He was surprised to see the way I looked with my glasses on. He said what I did was the exactly like him! It was quite funny, you know.

When I met him, I remembered that I had seen him in the front row at the Shanmukhanada Hall when I was doing my Sanskrit play.

Did you enjoy working in Company?

Definitely. Like I enjoy doing all my other films, I enjoyed this, too. Now one has to move on.

Ram Gopal Varma described you as the Robert de Niro of Indian cinema in an interview.

Oh! what can I say? *embarrassed laughter* Robert de Niro is my favourite actor.

Of late, you have been playing super hero roles in Malayalam films. Was acting in Company more enjoyable than doing super hero roles?

My role in Company is very human. I am going to do a very ordinary human being in Malayalam, with Sreenivasan.

What can I do if I don't get to portray ordinary human beings? I alone cannot decide certain things. Otherwise, I will have to produce all the films I act in. Let us hope that such roles will come back to Malayalam films soon.

Don't you feel frustrated portraying such roles?

No, no. This is my job, my profession. I have been doing this for 22 years. I have been fighting, loving, showing all kinds of emotions. Can I say I am frustrated? I enjoy what I am doing. To me, all my roles are the same.

I will now produce a children’s film. The truth is that I have lost a lot of money from the good films I produced. The loss is quite huge. I am recovering all that I had lost. Once I make some money, I will finish it off by making some more good movies. *laughs*

If I had not made a film like Vaanaprastham, I would not have been able to go to Cannes or any other festival. I would not have had a chance to act as a Kathakali artiste. I would not have had a chance to be with some of the greatest Kathakali artistes. I consider all this my good fortune.

You are once again acting in a Tamil film, Pop Corn, after Mani Ratnam's Iruvar

Mohanlal After Iruvar, I had decided that I would not do another Tamil film. But Nasser made me change my decision. Like me, Nasser is also passionate about films. Like me, he has also lost a lot of money making good films.

So when he asked me whether I would do the role, I said okay. What attracted me about the film was the story, which is about two performing artistes. Unlike many other Tamil films, this has a storyline; there is drama, too.

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