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August 4, 1999


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'With dentures inside, you hear only shhhhh... and nothing else'

A still from Ambedkar. Click for bigger pic!
Have you put in so much effort in any other movie of yours?

It is not only the efforts that strained me but the total atmosphere itself that was so alien to me. The places where we shot, the language that they spoke; everything was alien to me.

As all the crew members were from Maharashtra, they talked only in Marathi and it was but natural. But you feel terribly alienated there. The only person who was not a Marathi was [cinematographer] Ashok Mehta, I think. After some time, I could even understand Marathi. See, I shot for nearly two years for this one particular film. It was total alienation for me everywhere.

How did you survive it?

It isn't that they didn't talk to me. They tried to include me in the conversations. But the best thing was those who were acting as my colleagues were upcoming youngsters from the drama school. They treated me so well that I did not feel that bad.

They are struggling youngsters so they felt they had no right to sit next to me since I was a star! But I told them that in our Malayalam industry, anybody could sit anywhere! I should thank them for making me feel comfortable in their group.

When we were shooting in small villages like Mahad, I used to call all these youngsters to the place where I stayed and I used to cook our typical Kerala food for them. Can you believe, all of us used to go to the market together and buy vegetables, fish, etc for dinner? And, I was the cook and they loved our food, especially the fish curry. That was how I escaped boredom.

So, it must have been a totally different experience for you...

Definitely. It was totally different and I enjoyed the company of those youngsters.

When you look back, how do you feel about the last two years?

My! I don't look back at all. I can't. Everything was that difficult for me. Imagine the amount of time one had to spend for a movie! We used to finish one film in Malayalam in just a couple of months and I am used to such pace.

Everything about this film was difficult for me. Because it was a period movie, the costumes were different, the sets were different and the lighting was also different. It took a long time to light up the sets, and till then, one had to wait with the make-up on. I am one actor who hates make-up. But there I was sitting there with cotton stuffed inside my mouth! And for dubbing, one had to do it with special dentures in the mouth. With dentures inside, you hear only shhhhh... and nothing else!

Nobody would understand the strain and difficulties that I had to undergo. It was really a nightmare for me. This one national award is nothing compared to the strain I underwent. I think they should give me the national award for ten years continuously! (Laughs).

Did you celebrate once the film was ready?

What celebration? I just ran away from there. Even after everything was over, they used to call me for some corrections or the other. You won't believe, I felt relieved only after the censor board certified the film because till then I could expect a call from Jabbar Patel anytime! I was under tremendous tension then.

You are such a senior actor, you had put in such a lot of effort in this movie, and finally you had to share the national award with Ajay Devgan. How did you feel about it? What is your opinion about giving awards to two persons? Last year also, they gave the award to two actors, Suresh Gopi and Balachandra Menon.

Click for bigger pic!
It is not right on my part to comment on this. Let one more person get the award. Let more youngsters get these awards. What else can I say?

You have been acting for such a long time. Is it a strain for you as a person to feel the emotions of all the characters that you have portrayed? Does it affect your emotions in anyway?

Not at all. The moment you complete a shot, you should forget about the character and its emotion. See how happy I am sitting at home, enjoying my quiet moments with my wife and kids! Do you know the emotions of the characters should affect you only between 'action' and 'cut'? Yes, the strain is too much during that period. But it takes only a few seconds to recover from the strain. You can't carry the emotions of a character with you. Is it not foolish to do that? Nobody does that. It anybody does that, he is not an actor.

But when we see a film, we experience the emotions of certain characters.

That is because we see a film in totality. But when you are acting, you are more involved with that particular frame and emotion alone. When you are inside the theatre, you are with the characters for three whole hours.

While acting, you get only 50 seconds or at the most one minute to emote. You get into the character only for a few seconds. After that, I am hundred and one per cent Mammootty only.

How do you react when you see a film? Do you see it through the eyes of an actor, or like any other person?

I see a film just like any other person does. I too laugh and cry with the characters. I forget myself when I watch a film, but not my film. I can never detach myself and watch my film. I see only drawbacks when I watch my films. So, I try to avoid watching my films.

I can't believe, even after winning so many awards, you don't feel happy with your performances...

The problem is, you try to look for faults only and sometimes you don't see an emotion on your face that you had in your mind when you were shooting. Whenever I watch my film, I feel that all the others except myself have performed well. If you are distracted, it shows on the emotions.

Others may not even notice it, but you will know where you have faulted. It will make you feel guilty. Till today I have not felt that I was good in any movie. Of course, I like to hear others say that I am good in a movie. It makes me feel happy and satisfied.

If I look critically, I may find a lot of faults in my performance in Ambedkar too. You can never be perfect, can you? Once you feel that you are perfect, you will stop growing as an actor, you will stop improving as an actor.

I don't know how I feel when I see those old films of mine! Oh! (covers his face) I don't like my wife and children also see those films. I look so atrocious in those films. I get scared and tense when those old movies come on television.

Click for bigger pic!
Every film is a learning experience. Every film is like a lesson in a textbook. Or, you can even call each film as one course. So, I am still learning, moving from one course after another.

After three national awards and a Padma Shri, are you satisfied with the roles that you are getting these days?

Just because I got three national awards and a Padma Shri, I cannot say that I will act only in mature roles! I don't believe in that. An actor should do all kinds of roles. You should not look at awards as a kind of fence around you, something that restricts you as an actor. Nobody can say that we should not go near commercial films just because we have won awards. Let me ask, Is award a contagious disease?

An actor like Naseeruddin Shah in his early days acted only in the parallel films. But now that he is acting in commercial films, people criticise him as if he is committing a sin. While in Malayalam, yourself and Mohanlal could manage a fine mix of commercial and art films. Do you feel yourself lucky?

Naseer is very sad about it. He once told me we were lucky to have struck a balance. On the other hand, they condemned the commercial films earlier. We can achieve popularity only if we act in popular films. Only popular films can feed you. You can say that the other kind of films can feed you mentally, I mean, artistic satisfaction.

You have won several awards. Do awards excite you even now?

Of course, they do. Awards thrill you, excite you and make you happy. Is there any artist who does not crave for an award? Even after getting three awards, I long for more. Then, I can imagine the mindset of those who have got only one, or who haven't got any? See, this is a long and arduous race and awards are like cool water we get on the way to quench our thirst. I am still running and I will continue running till I reach the end.

Where do you want to reach?

Where? Everybody dies one day and that is end of his race! This is life and life is full of surprises and suspense.

Have you ever felt that you are not getting any challenging roles these days?

You will not get any challenging roles. Are you surprised to hear that? But that is the truth. All these meaningful roles did not come to me; I went after them. I went in search of them. An artist should be ready to take such an effort. He should be willing to sacrifice many things too. If you ask for lakhs of rupees from these film-makers, you will not get it.

You should be willing to contact good directors and tell them that you are available. Is that not the case in Hollywood? They offer themselves to the producer through their agents. What do the agents do? They go around canvassing for you. Only here, producers and directors come to your house to get dates from you.

Don't you feel that the great actors of Hollywood get more meaningful roles?

The age at which they start getting meaningful roles, an Indian actor fades away. They get a chance to do good roles only after they are forty. But here, if you are past forty, you are an old man! The state of women is even bad here.

Now nobody wants girls who are above 30! But you look at Meryl Streep, Julia Roberts, Jodie Foster... All of them are 30 plus and they act in love stories too. Here, a love story means a teenage love story! Adults are not supposed to love, only hate! (Laughs).

Have you ever felt frightened at the prospect of losing the kind of adulation that you enjoy now?

It is a fact that the adulation that we enjoy now will diminish after some time. It is better for you to realise certain things before others do. If you look like an old man, it is better for you to play such roles instead of making a fool of yourself.

Have you any plans to try for roles in Hollywood?

Let me see what is going to happen to Ambedkar. Only after that, can I go for an agent. I do not want to act only as an Indian. There is no charm in playing an Indian alone. After all, I am doing that here. I think I can be an Egyptian, Mexican, West Asian and to an extent, an Italian! Let's see...


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