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September 7, 2000


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'Acting is like firing a bullet'

Shobha Warrier

What do you call an actor who is so involved, so passionate about his craft that he sometimes gets enraged to the point of wanting to kill his costars if they are any less involved?

Mammootty What do you call an actor who says you might as well not act if you don't like stardom?

One word: Mammootty.

The actor has, today, acted in over 250 films over two decades. He has, until recently, adeptly managed to run alongside the two parallel tracks -- 'good cinema' and commercial cinema.

We uncover the essence of being Mammootty:

Two decades and over 250 films... Did you, at any point of time, feel bored?

Only when there's no shooting. How can you feel bored when you are doing something you like? Well.... it does happen sometimes. Very rarely, though.

Does it happen when you don't find the roles challenging enough?

There won't be any excitement, then, that's all. You still work but without any excitement. Tell me, doesn't everyone feel that way? Are you excited about your work all the time?


See! You might be excited about interviewing me. You may not be as excited when you interview someone else! We all have ups and downs in our career.

There are times when you get several great exciting roles, there are times when you don't.

Have you experienced these phases often?

Do you think I would have been here if I had got uninteresting roles all the time? Everyone has ups and downs. You can't always get exciting roles.

How do you tackle uninspiring roles?

You do them. How does one drink bitter medicine? You close your eyes and gulp it down, right? It's the same with such projects!

So does a good role like in the recent Arayannangalude Veedu, excite you?

I don't consider any film of mine bad. I give all my films the importance they deserve. I look at all my roles with the same kind of seriousness.

A product can turn bad, not the production. When you start a film, you feel it will be great. But sometimes, as it progresses, it fails somewhere. You can't blame anyone for that. You can blame only your own intelligence!

Mammootty Actually, I wasn't asking about the final product. Do you feel special about certain characters? For example, Ambedkar?

You mention Ambedkar. Tell me can you change anything about Ambedkar? You can't.

What I was referring to was your portraying a character like Ambedkar...

I was, too. Look, you can't afford to have too many diversions when you portray such roles because he was not a fictitious character. I agree you're lucky if you get to portray such roles.

Okay, take Basheer in Mathilukal...

There is already a graph for these characters. Your job as an actor is to follow it.

You will not, indeed you cannot, move away from certain realities. The problem arises only when you have to create new characters.

In a commercial setup, you often portray characters alien to you. These characters might not have a strong foundation. That is when authenticity takes a back seat. You may not be able to understand nor interpret such characters well.

It could be bad luck; it could be because your calculations went awry; it could be because your imagination failed you... It could also be because you didn't approach those roles skilfully.

Roles like Ambedkar or Basheer follow a written graph -- so you can't falter.

When do you get the feeling that certain characters in the commercial setup lack proper foundation? In the beginning?

For any actor, on screen or stage, acting is like firing a bullet from a gun. Once the bullet leaves the gun, you have no control over it. It has to reach the target.

Sometimes, it does. Sometimes, it doesn't.

Similarly, once the camera is on and the director says 'Action!', you fire the bullet. You will stop only when you hit somewhere.

In a fraction of a second, you have to decide how you are going to emote, how you are going to deliver the dialogue, how you are going to modulate....

At that moment, you are all alone in front of the camera. Nobody can help you. Nobody can judge you, too. There is no audience in front of you to decide whether what you are doing is right or wrong, good or bad.

Do you get me? When an actor acts, he alone is judge.

But cinema affords you retakes...

Isn't it the same? You still have to go through the same process again. All alone. When you give a shot, you are all alone. Nobody else can come in-between the camera and you to correct you.

So many things have to function at the same time: coordination between your thinking, your imagination, absorption of the character, emotions, dialogues, expressions... Okay, you bungled the first time and want to redo the shot. But it is the same again.

Can't you improve?

You need judgement for an improved performance at that particular moment. Whether you are giving the shot for the second time or the hundredth, you are all alone in front of the camera.

What helps an actor: reflex or sense of timing?

I don't think we can explain what is called the intelligence of acting or the skill involved in acting. The turmoil that you go through all alone in front of the camera till the director says 'Cut', is indescribable.

It's like you're all alone in the middle of the sea -- and you see only water all around you. Or you are captain of a sinking ship and to save those in it, you have to take a decision on the spur of a moment. Acting is like that.

And after you give a shot, you feel drained, but relaxed.

What about the contribution of other actors? Do they help you perform better?

Years ago, I had coined a term 'contributory acting'. What it means is that the other actor's acting contributes to yours.

But that happens only if you look into his eyes. When you do, you can feel the wavelength. You no longer see the actor, you only only the character.

You also forget that you are yourself. You become the character.

Who have contributed the most to your acting?

There are so many. Names are immaterial.

Is luck a factor in making your performance click?

It can be -- nothing is in your control. Sometimes, something strikes you like lightning, and you perform. You can feel the electricity passing through you, through your whole body.

In some shots, you get so angry with the other actor that you feel like hitting him hard or killing him. He may be your close friend but while performing, you feel as if he is your biggest enemy. You just can't describe the feeling.

Of course, it abates after the shot is over. You forget all that animosity, and you see him as your friend again.

Mammootty Do you always feel so involved? Or is it only when the characters are real and strong?

It's always the same. Once the curtains are up or a director shouts 'Action', an actor is a transformed person. One advantage that a stage actor has is immediate reaction from the audience.

He knows immediately where he has gone wrong, because he is in front of people. In films, the verdict of the audience is realised only when the film is complete and released.

So acting in films is more difficult...?

I'd say it is difficult to judge your acting. This is the opinion that I have formed after two decades of experience.

Does lack of continuity affect your performance?

With experience comes continuity. You only don't feel it because artistes are familiar and comfortable with the media.

How do you manage that if you have to portray various characters for various films at the same time?

Could be because of a memory chip in your brain! You can't explain why. The switch turns on automatically when you're in front of the camera.

I never had any difficulty understanding a character even after a long gap.

I once worked with the late Padmarajan after a gap of one-and-a-half years. After the shot was canned, he praised me a lot for my ability to get into the character. And that happened in the beginning of my career.

That's not because I'm great. It reflects the quality of your acting. The quality of your product.

Did you expect yourself to be a success?

No, I never imagined I would have the intelligence or understanding to talk about acting itself. I'm not being modest. Neither am I joking. But I did have the burning desire in me to be an actor.

To be a superstar?

Come on! These terms are all thrust on you.

In the beginning of my career, I was associated with 'good cinema'. And without disassociating myself from the 'good cinema' setup, I entered the commercial scene.

I have been running along two parallel tracks, until now.

Did the fact that you started with good cinema contribute to your being a good actor later?

Many believe acting in 'good cinema' is difficult. Not true.

Acting in good, realistic movies is very easy. It is very difficult to act in a commercial setup.

In realistic films, you only have to assay the role realistically. In commercial films, you have to work really hard to give it a realistic touch.

As for me, I adopt the same acting style in both setups. I never exaggerate or make acting more dramatic. I act as naturally as I can. Acting is never unnatural, situations and events might be.

When situations become dramatic, will it not affect the acting style, too?

Thanks to dramatic situations, you experience drama!

And it isn't just because we act dramatically. See how loudly I am talking to you! (Laughs loudly)

In real life, too, we sometimes exaggerate emotions. When I am angry, I talk loudly. When I am happy, I talk loudly. Actually, I talk loudly all the time!

That is why I said you can't have two types of acting; one for realistic films, another for commercial films.

That stems from prejudice, and you can't be prejudiced to any kind of cinema. You cannot say, 'Ha! This is an art film. So I have to act a little more.' Or, 'This is only a commercial film. So I need not be that good.'

Which set up satisfies the actor in you more?

Frankly, the artiste in you won't be able to differentiate between art cinema and commercial cinema. Tell me, who doesn't like stardom? I don't want to be hypocritical. I like stardom. If I didn't, I wouldn't have entered this field at all. No one dragged me into this. I'm enjoying every minute of it.

Why should I degrade commercial films? They made me a star and I enjoy stardom.

But once you become popular you lose your privacy, too right? Some celebrities criticise people for intruding into their private lives.

This is rubbish. If you think you lose privacy by acting, don't act then. Who asked you to act in movies?

Look, if I'm walking on the streets nothing will happen. But if I send two three people first to announce to all and sundry that the road should be cleared for me, people will then assemble to see what the commotion is all about.

If you move around in your vehicle without any fanfare, nothing will happen. And if people recognise you at a junction, you acknowledge and smile, that's

I agree things might become unmanageable if you happen to be in the middle of an unexpected crowd. If people start pinching you, touching you, hugging you, you are get disturbed. It is also true that they do it because they like you.

But that's also a part of stardom, is it not?

Well, you have to put up with it. It comes with the package.

Do you get angry in such situations?

What will you achieve by getting angry? But I do confess I get angry sometimes. You wonder, why do they pound on the car? Why can't they get satisfied with the films? But then again, that's unavoidable.

See, you are so close to all of them. They know you by your name. They know everything about you. They are familiar with the minutest aspect of you. But you do not know any of them. You interact with them inside the theatre but they can't. And they want to.

Don't you think you would have been a very successful lawyer if you had not entered the film industry? You have been arguing with me throughout the interview...

(Laughs) I was quite successful at it. I studied law because the profession interested me. A lawyer has to interpret the written law, and his success lies in the way he interprets it and convinces the judge! Yes, I do like to argue about what I believe in.

Do you enjoy arguing with others?

Not very much. If I'm really convinced, I argue my point. Otherwise I just keep quiet.

If you were to lose an argument?

If I'm not convinced, I don't argue at all. Tell me, who likes to lose an argument? No one. I am no exception.

Your passion for vehicles is well-known...

As a young boy, I used to dream about cars that flew!

What about flying planes? Have you flown an aeroplane?

I just flew a two-seater plane! We were shooting for Dubai in Dubai. Actually, it was a motorised glider. It was like driving a boat -- very easy.

Was it because you were handsome that you wanted to act in films?

(Laughs) I was fat when I was a kid! By 16, I became very thin. Even when I started acting, I was a thin fellow.

It was only later that I changed. So, no, as a youngster, I wasn't handsome at all.

But now, people describe you as a handsome man...

Mmm. Some people say that.

Are you scared of growing old and acting as another actor's father? Mammootty

Hey,everybody wants to make me old even before I grow old! Why should I?

See, if you look young, you can play young roles. But if you look old, you can only play old roles. Your looks matter, not your age!

Did you know I acted as Mohanlal's father very early in my career? If I could do it in my 20s, why balk now?

So will you agree to act as Kunchako Boban's (the current teen heartthrob) father now?

I won't act as Kunchako Boban's father. But he can certainly act as my son!

Also read:
'People want entertainment'
'Why would I harbour any jealousy?'
'He is king!'
'He is a courageous actor'
'I would have been surprised if he hadn't won any National Award'
'He made my job easy!'
'I felt relieved only after the censor board certified Ambedkar''
'Ambedkar was a humanist. I am also for the human race'
The dalit messiah
'Gandhi pushed Ambedkar to the edge'
Mammootty and Mohanlal to act together
Team of 48
Pick of the pics

Do tell us what you think of this interview