Actor-director Shankar on his journey in filmdom.
Nobody called him a superstar, but he was one. Shankar was not called a superstar because that word had not gained currency in Malayalam when he made a sensational debut in ‘Manjil Virinja Pookkal' and followed it up with several successive box office hits in Malayalam and Tamil too. Shortly before the emergence of the reigning superstars Mammootty and Mohanlal in the 1980's, it was Shankar who reigned supreme in Malayalam cinema. But Shankar could not reign for long.
He explains why in this interview with Friday Review in Kozhikode. He talks about life after superstardom and his plans to direct Mohanlal, who played the villain in his debut film. Excerpts…
How do you look back at ‘Manjil Virinja Pookkal' now, 30 years after the film became a trendsetter in Malayalam?
I was just 20, and barely out of the South Indian Film Chamber School of Acting (which also produced Rajnikanth and Sreenivasan), when I did Fazil's ‘Manjil Virinja Pookkal.' On its release, I watched the movie at a cinema theatre in Thrissur. It didn't look like the film was going to be a hit then. So I was surprised when I was mobbed by people a few days later at Bangalore airport. They told me that they liked me in ‘Manjil Virinja Pookkal.' It was then that it occurred to me that the film was probably doing well in Kerala.
But, of course the magnitude of the success of ‘Manjil Virinja Pookkal' was something I could not have prepared myself for; it remains one of the biggest ever Malayalam hits. My Tamil film ‘Oru Thalai Ragam' was already released and it was a huge hit too; it ran for 365 days.
Before I knew what was happening, I was a star in Tamil and Malayalam, with films such as ‘Ente Mohangal Poovaninju,' ‘Engane Nee Marakkum' and ‘Poochakkoru Mookuthi' becoming hits. I did as many as 29 films in 1984.
You have been accused of not trying to change your image as a romantic hero.
I did try, but the industry and the audience did not allow me to do anything different.
Don't you think it was a mistake not to have dubbed for your characters?
Yes, it is one of the two things I regret in my career as an actor. The other mistake I made was not concentrating on my career in Tamil.
Mohanlal and you started with the same film, so comparisons are inevitable. He is still a superstar but you have had to play second fiddle in films like ‘Ividam Swargamanu.'
I don't grudge his success at all; he deserves every bit of it and he is exceptionally gifted. While working with him in ‘Ente Mohangal Poovaninju,' I felt he had exceptional skills in enacting comedy.
I did ‘Ividam Swargamanu' because I was persuaded to work in it by its director Rosshan Andrews. I will be starring with Mohanlal in Rosshan's ‘Casanova.'
You enjoyed superstardom for about a decade. Was life difficult after that?
Not at all. I believe life is like a circle. There will be good times and bad times. I have had so much success at such a young age; I have no room for complaint.
You made your debut as a director with ‘Keralotsavam' recently. Is direction something you are keen on?
Yes, very much. ‘Keralotsvam' wasn't noticed because it was a small film that was released at the same time as ‘Avatar' and ‘3 Idiots.'
Prior to ‘Keralotsavam,' I had directed a couple of short films. Of them, one, ‘Virus,' has been screened abroad and was well received. I have had a few offers from producers overseas and I am planning to direct a film in English later this year. I would like to cast Mohanlal in my next Malayalam film. I have already spoken to him and he too is interested.