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April 23, 2002
Mohanlal: Company's Hero!
George Iype in Kochi
For the filmgoers in the southern Indian state of Kerala, Ram Gopal Varma's Company, released April 12, is special.
For them, it is not Ajay Devgan or Vivek Oberoi, but Mohanlal who is the supreme star of Company.
For the last ten days, Varma's latest tale of underworld mobsters has run to packed cinema halls across Kerala. Extraordinary for a Hindi film, especially when many of the vernacular Malayalam movies starring Mohalal and other superstars like Mammootty, Suresh Gopi and Jayaram have been floundering at the box-office in recent months.
In Company, Mohanlal acts as Sreenivasan, an IPS officer. Varma says the character of Sreenivasan has been inspired by the southern India-born former Mumbai Police Commissioner (crime) D Sivanandan. Though Mohanlal has a significant presence in the film, it is Devgan and Oberoi who are portrayed as the stars, as the film's mafiosi chieftains.
How come, then, that while a variety of Malayalam films with superstars have failed at the box offices, Varma's Company is doing exceptionally well in Kerala? Film critics say it is a deft marketing strategy unleashed by Company that has won the film praise and accolades.
"The story of jousting underworld dons is not something Keralites are very excited about. But Company is doing very well because of the superb marketing of the film. They simply projected Mohanlal as the hero of the film in Kerala," points out Kamal Suresh, a film critic.
A drive across the state of Kerala proves the point. Walls are replete with posters projecting Mohanlal as the hero of Company, while the underworld protagonists --- Devgan and Oberoi --- are cast as minor characters. "Many in Kerala do not know anything about Devgan and Oberoi. They must be thinking that Devgan and Oberoi are the villains and Mohanlal in police uniform is the hero of the film," says Suresh.
Nearly a dozen Malayalam film magazines and newspaper supplements have already published interviews with Varma and Mohanlal on Company. 'I am very happy with the film. Mohanlal is very happy with the film. He is eager to act in more Hindi films,' says Varma in one of the interviews.
Why did Varma select Mohanlal? 'His flexibility. Mohanlal is an exceptionally gifted actor. It was fun working with him. I am sure the people of Kerala would love Company,' said Varma.
Mohanlal, who has forayed into Bollywood with his first Hindi film, is thrilled to bits. "Company has been a great experience. I got congratulatory calls from Amrish Puri, Aamir Khan and Abhishek Bachchan as soon as the film was released," the actor said.
One film magazine has even proclaimed that Varma is planning to direct a Malayalam film with Mohanlal as hero because of Company's success in Kerala.
Officials at Chandana Release, Kozhikode-based distributor for Company in Kerala, say the publicity blitzkrieg of the film helped. "Generally, Hindi films have not been doing well in Kerala. Even Aamir Khan's Lagaan ran for just a week in the state. But we knew Company would be a hit here if Mohanlal were projected as hero," a senior manager with Chandana Release said.
Days before the film's release, vernacular newspapers were full of advertisements announcing Mohanlal's debut in Company. Frightened that Company would destroy their chances at the box-office, Malayalam director Thampi Kannathanam who has just completed the Mohanlal starrer Onnaman (Number One) postponed its release. Interestingly, in Onnaman, Mohanlal is portrayed as an underworld don.
A production executive with Onnaman said the film was also to be released on April 12. "We wanted to release it for the Vishu Festival [Kerala New Year, April 14], but we postponed it for a few weeks because we feared that Company would demolish our film. We did not want to take a financial risk," he said.
Mayalalam directors' concern is understandable, considering that many recent releases of superstars like Mohanlal, Mammootty and Suresh Gopi have flopped at the box-office. In the last two years, most films of these actors have been miserable failures, which has now prompted directors and producers to scout for new talents.
Some filmgoers and theatre owners say Keralites are attracted to Company not because of the false conception that Mohanlal is the film's hero. "In Company, Mohanlal is portrayed as a suave police officer. The film is a welcome change as far as Mohanlal is concerned because in the last two years the actor has been depicted as a superhuman in some Malayalam films," said Thomas Issac, owner of a few theatres across Kerala.
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