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March 11, 1999


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'Nothing, neither criticism nor compliment, affects me'

Mohanlal Click for bigger pic!
Yesterday you showed me the personal album you have made on your costumes for this film. Do you feel very special about this film?

Tell me do you get to act in such costumes often? That is the only reason why I have kept an album for myself. As an actor, it was my fortune to don Kathakali costumes, and in this film, I have enacted almost all the major Kathakali characters. How many could do this? Let me say again, I feel I am fortunate enough to be a part of this film.

Your previous production was Harikrishnans, an out and out commercial film. Do you regret having made such a film? Yes, I know that it was very, very successful commercially...

I could complete this film only because Harikrishnans was a huge commercial success. I don't know what I would have done if it were not a success. We made that film with all the ingredients, with all the tricks needed to make it a success commercially. We were actually making a good product to sell. How could one survive as a producer if one were to make only Vaanaprasthams all the time?

Why should I regret having made a successful movie? Did I buy several houses or estates with the money I earned? No. I invested all that I earned in another film, which is a good film. It is like a cycle to survive as a producer in the film industry. You should also understand that I never felt Harikrishnans was a bad film. It is also a film. Didn't many people like the film? Did you see the film?


Now you tell me, did we commit any crime in the film? The girl tosses a tulsi leaf in the end to decide her lover, that's all. But the commotion created by some people and the media over that end was unimaginable. Did you feel anything of that sort?

No, I didn't, But the problem started only because you had two different ends.

It was our misfortune that people gave religious connotations to the end.

That's true. But it gave the film a lot of publicity too.

I agree. It gave the film a lot of publicity. But don't forget the tension that we underwent! Do you remember, 25 years ago in M T's Nirmalyam, the velichapaad (oracle) spat on the deity? Do you know who the actor was? P G Antony!

Nobody objected it in the name of religion then. Even now the ordinary people of Kerala are least bothered about all these things. I have met so many people after the incident. All of them asked, what has happened to these narrow-minded critics?

Let me ask, did we take money from their pockets and make the film? If you don't like it, don't see it. Does anyone force you to see my movie? See, when two people meet, religion or caste will be the last thing in their minds. Now both of us are talking here. But did we ever think of the religion or caste we belong to? No.

A still from Vaanaprastham. Click for bigger pic!
You said, you feel satisfied after producing a good film like Vaanaprastham. Do you say the same thing about Harikrishnans too?

I don't think I have made a bad film. Many worse films were made here. I myself have acted in films worse than this. Good and bad are highly debatable. And there is no yardstick to measure a good film or a bad film. A film which has collected 40-50 million rupees cannot be a bad films, can it? I am not ashamed of producing Harikrishnans .

It is an innocent film, which does not hurt anyone. It is just an ordinary film, a stupid film made to entertain people. Why did the critics go to the theatres expecting a great film? They wrote reviews criticising the film and me as if I had done the most heinous crime in the world. Let me ask these critics one thing: Why can't they give as much importance to a good film like Vaanaprastham?

I have made Kaalapaani earlier and it had won seven national awards too. When good music was saying goodbye to Malayalam films, I made His Highness Abdullah and Bharatam , with very good, classical and semi-classical songs in it.

Okay, will it be possible for me to make a film like Vaanaprastham even if I have Rs 100 million with me? I'll give you the answer myself. No. You just cannot control these things. It just happens.

It seems the role in Vaanaprastham has given you immense happiness. Shaji also said, you had given a very charged-up performances. As an actor, do you have any more ambitions?

Like I said in our previous interview, I don't plan anything. I don't yearn for anything. You can say, I have become even more philosophical about life now than I was two years ago. I have reached the Vaanaprastham stage in my life too (laughs).

From our day-to-day mundane life, I have learnt that you just cannot plan anything in life, you cannot predict anything too. So, why should we plan so many things when we have no idea at all about what will happen next?

Then what gives you happiness?

Everything makes me happy. See I am very happy talking to you (laughs). I am celebrating every moment of my life. That reminds me, I took a photograph of Zakir Hussain yesterday when he was at home. It was just his silhouette. The photograph has come out so beautifully that I made a big print and gave it to him. That photograph too made me happy.

You said the Kunjikkuttan of Vaanaprastham ran away to Varanasi from his village. You are also surrounded by people, sound, light and many such things. Did you ever feel like running from all this to a world where it is quiet and where you can be all alone with your thoughts?

Click for bigger pic!
I do that whenever I feel like it.

To which place do you escape?

I do not call it escape. When I feel like sitting alone, I sit. See I am an actor. So, you are always occupied with the thoughts of some other character, mouthing somebody else's dialogues and behaving as if you are that's somebody else'. An actor's life in one way is blessed and in another way tough. So, when I get some free time, I try to be myself and in my own world. But I cannot say where I go to or what I do because I feel all those activities of mine are very, very personal.

I believe in fate but that does not mean that I leave everything to fate. I feel life is like driving a vehicle. You have to drive carefully and cautiously not to hit anyone or anywhere to reach the finishing point. I am also driving my life like that!

Do your children not complain about your long working hours and absence?

Whenever I get time, I go home. I talk to them over telephone too. You see, they will feel your absence only if you play with them for a long time and pamper them a lot.

Don't you pamper them?

I give only what is necessary. No more than that.

Are they not missing anything?

Why do you have such unnecessary thoughts? They don't miss anything. They are happy growing up like all the other kids. Only those who go through child psychology use cliched terms like quality time, quantity time, etc.

Tell me did we all grow up like that? I don't think anyone of our generation grew up like that in Kerala. Long back when we had the joint family system, nobody used to care about the children. They just grew up. And it was those people who have reached the top level in India now. Today some people sit with their child everyday from 7 to 9 and watch a film!

I cannot live such a regimented and planned life. I still belong to that old generation! I am 38 years old, you know. I believe the children will grow up and grow up well.

You could complete this film only because Harikrishnans was a success. Could you keep your cool when it was first released? Or, were you tense?

I was not at all bothered about its success or non-success. Somehow I felt, everything would be sorted out soon. See would it have helped the film or me if I went on worrying about its fate? No.

When I interviewed Nedumudi Venu sometime back, he said, he felt he was stagnating as an actor. You have also been acting for a very long time. Do you feel uninterested or bored now?

Mohanlal Click for bigger pic!
Yes, Venu chettan [elder brother] has been getting the same kind of roles for quite some time. In my case, luckily, I've got some good projects. It could be because I produce films. A project like Vaanaprastham might not have happened if I had not taken the initiative.

Even though I am not laughing loudly all the time, I feel happy inside because I could do the role. Now I am going to take a film of mine to the outside world! Is it not an achievement?

But let me ask you something. Why do you ask about stagnation to an actor alone? Does not a person working in a bank for 20 years feel the same? Does not a woman who has been cooking for the last 25 years feel the same? Does not a bus driver who has been driving for the last 50 years feel the same?

He also can complain, I have been driving the vehicle for the last 50 years and I am bored. But the problem is, you cannot help these things.

But you are an artist.

Is driving not an art? Is cooking not an art?

Did you ever feel bored while acting?

No, never. Our mind should be like a child's. Have you ever seen children getting bored? They are always occupied, trying to find new things, enjoying themselves.

But you looked very bored and detached in Harikrishnans. I have not seen you like this in any other film.

Is that so? But I enjoyed shooting for the film?

How do you take criticism?

Recently somebody wrote an article in an English film magazine that Mohanlal was libidinous and he had AIDS. I don't think I ever talked to that person. He has written the piece as if he has interviewed me. All those insinuations have not affected me. My relatives and wife also read that but they just left it there because they know my attitude and me.

Did it hurt you?

When you are hurt, you feel like hurting the other person too. If I tell somebody to beat that chap up, they will do that. But why should I do all that? Even if I beat him up when I meet him next, nobody will do anything to me. But the question is, will that man change if somebody beats him or I beat him? No. He will go on doing the same thing. I feel, before you criticise, you should ask yourself whether you are worthy to criticise or not.

That was about personal attacks. But what I asked was, how would you react if someone were to criticise your performance?

Many people have told me that one movie was not good, I was not good, etc. But what can I do about the film or my acting after everything is over? Will I be able to act in the film again and make it better? No.

If you are praised for your performance...

I cannot make my performance worse too, can I? So, you do not have to give that much importance to criticism or appreciation. Only if you think seriously about your roles and performances and do post-mortems of everything you do you feel the pressure. I don't do all that.

People may criticise me. That's fine with me. They may appreciate my work. That's fine with me too. But the truth is that nothing -- neither criticism nor compliment -- affects me.

Please don't think I am arrogant. I am like this.

Photographs by Sanjay Ghosh


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