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The Rediff Interview
'I may be the first actor brand of pickles!'
Shobha Warrier | April 26, 2003
Mohanlal's latest film Mr Brahmachari has fared well at the box office. The initial response to the Vishu (Malayalam New Year, April 15) release, Kilichundan Mamabazham, from the Mohanlal-Priyadarshan team has also been encouraging.
Mohanlal, who has just returned from a vacation in the United States with his family, will be working on Geneva-based filmmaker Anup Singh's Malayalam movie. Singh earlier directed the award-winning film on Ritwik Ghatak, Ekti Nadir Naam (The Name Of A River) in Bengali.
The Malayalam star speaks to Shobha Warrier about his career, the Malayalam film industry, life beyond films, and his new business:
You have played a superman in most of your latest films.
All those filmmakers tried to ape one success, of Narasimham. Several films of the same genre came after that. They thought a film like Narasimham would be a sure hit.
But why did you agree to do repetitive roles?
I generally have confidence in my directors. I never argue with any director. When they say something will click, I believe them. Usually what happens is, when they tell you the story, it sounds good. But once you start shooting, you realise that it is not shaping up the way you expected it to.
If you take the last few films which did not do well, you will see they were directed by top directors; the stories were written by top scriptwriters. If those films had done well, you would have seen more such films.
People tell me, Lal, we will make a film like T P Balagopalan MA, Gandhi Nagar 2nd Street. My question is, why should you make a film like my earlier films when those are there for people to see?
Did you, at any time, realise that you were falling into a trap?
I did. But there are no good Malayalam writers. Priyadarshan makes good films because he is a good writer. That is not so with others.
It has been ages since Srinivasan wrote a script for me. Several of my huge hits were written by him, including Kilichundan Mambazham.
After playing superhuman characters, how did it feel acting as an ordinary person inKilichundan Mambazham?
I do not find any difference. Acting is my profession; I enact all roles with sincerity. Still, working with Priyan for Kilichundan Mambazham was a good experience.
The film was made beautifully, with a lot of care. But after that, I have not started shooting for any film. People tell me stories, but, unfortunately, nothing excites me these days.
Do you feel frustrated?
Oh no, not at all! That is not my nature. I do not analyse my films or career. I have always felt that an actor has to be extremely fortunate to get good stories, directors and technicians. I had the good fortune to work with some very great people in the last 22 years, but I must tell you, I never planned anything. They just happened.
Similarly, whatever has to happen in future will also happen.
Recently, when I was sitting with Srinivasan, a journalist asked, what has happened to the old Mohanlal? Srini replied, 'All of us, including Mohanlal, are at a crossroads, not knowing which direction to take. We have to decide which way we want to move.'
Why does Anup Singh want to make a film with me? Because he wants to make something different, something which most Malayalam filmmakers do not want to do these days. There are no new filmmakers.
I was telling him that even after 20 years, I work with the same directors.
Are you at the crossroads of your career?
Frankly, I have no problem. Anup Singh came from Geneva to make a film with me. Satish Menon from Chicago [whose first Malayalam film Bhavam won the Kerala State Award for this year's best film] wants to make a film with me. So, things are happening for me. I am always happy to do these kinds of films.
Why do you think new filmmakers are not entering the field? Do you not encourage new people?
I love new projects! But I do not know why we do not see new blood. There are many new directors in the Tamil film industry making new kinds of films. But there is no attempt to make different films in the Malayalam film industry.
Some say you need money to make experimental films. If it is a good attempt, we are ready to support such endeavours. After all, we have been in this profession for over 20 years.
You once said hits and flops do not affect you. That was when most of your films were doing well. Now that your last films have not done well at the box office, how do you feel?
I will answer your question with all sincerity. I don't feel bad at all. My last few films were made by successful directors like Joshi, Thampi Kannanthanam, Shaji Kailas, etc. Still, the films did not do well.
Do you think it is my fault?
But those films were described as Mohanlal films. When the films flop, people say a Mohanlal film flopped.
Yes, I know that. What I can do now is select stories with utmost care. But a director can make a good story look horrible on screen. Ultimately, it all depends on the ability of the director to make a good film.
In fact, many of my films started with absolutely no script. When you ask for the script, they say everything will be ready on the sets. I have even fought with some directors for the script.
Nagesh Kukunoor'sBollywood Calling makes fun of such filmmaking.
What he has depicted in the film is not an exaggeration; it is the truth. I have had the same experience many, many times in the last two decades [laughs].
Have you decided to stop producing films, afterVaanaprastham?
Yes, but that does not mean that I will not produce films anymore. You know, I am in Vaanaprastham mode now. I may go for sanyasam [laughs].
A new generation of actors in their early twenties has entered the Malayalam film scene. Do you feel old in front of them?
Is it not part of life to grow old and die one day? Why should anyone worry about growing old and feel sad about it?
I have lots of grey hair in my beard and I have no qualms about others seeing them.
Finally, what made you start a chain of restaurants?
Like films, this venture, Mohanlal's Taste Buds, also happened. We will come out with a lot of branded products like masalas and pickles. We have identified around 300 products. The bottle labels will have my face on them.
So far, actors have lent their faces to perfumes and beauty items. I may be the first actor brand of masalas and pickles! Whenever women open their kitchen shelves, they will see my face! Isn't that great?