Unni Mukundan, the new face in South Indian cinema, talks about life before and after his entry

Lohitadas's death devastated Unni Mukundan. For two years he was a regular at ‘Amaravathi', Lohitadas's home in Lakkidi. The scenarist-director had even created a role for Unni in his incomplete film ‘Bheeshmar.' The death shattered Unni's dreams.

Being middle class made it tougher. Unni had tried to squeeze in something that was a little out of reach for boys with this background. This was a huge setback.

But the Lohitadas link got him his first film. From out of the blue, Unni got this offer to act in the Tamil film ‘Seedan,' a remake of the Malayalam ‘Nandanam'. It was the start of a dream journey.

This journey had its origins in Ahmedabad, Maninagar to be precise. Unni's family migrated from Thrissur. His father worked in a textile company and his mother worked as a school teacher here. “We belong to Villadam, Thrissur. I was born here but from the time I can remember we were in Maninagar. My father had a successful business in Thrissur but fell into bad days forcing him to seek his fortune elsewhere. Life was not easy for us,” remembers Unni.

Films were not Unni's priority while in school and college. “Like most boys there I decided to work. For me it was a necessity. First it was distributing pamphlets and by the time I reached Plus Two I found a job in a BPO.”

Athletics was Unni's first love. He attended training sessions and hoped to make it big. “By the time I started out I was 18. This was a bit late. And somewhere down the line I stopped attending training. My father had to spend Rs. 40 everyday for this and I felt very bad that I had wasted so much money.”

Unni's father (Mukundan) has been a huge influence and inspiration. They shared a special relationship. “I used to share all my secrets and hopes with him. He has never said ‘no' to me, never tried to dissuade or counsel me against it. When I told him about my cinema plans the only thing he told me was to go ahead if I was confident.”

Need for security

Coming from a middle class family, troubled by setbacks, there was always this need to be steady, and secure in life. “So, naturally my mother was a bit apprehensive of my choice of career. I don't blame her as she had seen what happened to my father. And she saw streaks of his character in me.”

Unni tried his hand at modelling, his first exposure to the world of entertainment. “One of my neighbours sent my photographs to ‘Sensations,' in Surya TV. I participated in the 143rd episode and was picked as the model of the week. After this I convinced my parents and travelled to Jaipur for the Desert India Fashion Week, where from among nearly 4,000 contestants, I was chosen Mr. Physique and Mr. Photogenic. Those were early recognitions and surely a motivation.”

Meeting Lohitadas was a turning point. That one name in his otherwise blank resume would go on to open many doors in future. “A friend of my father's got me the address and I came down and met him. I had worn a new, tight-fitting shirt that accentuated my well-toned body. He asked me if I always dressed like this. When I said no, he told me to be what I was and not to act in life. He gave me confidence that even a small-time guy, from such a background, could make it big in the field of glamour.”

Interestingly, the makers of ‘Seedan' had known of Unni's Lohitadas connection. Unni told them he had not acted, nor assisted Lohitadas. “I don't have a portfolio or any visuals. The director (Subramania Siva) asked me to act, which I did. The producer was GoodKnight Mohan. But I still believe that I got this role because of my Lohitadas link.”

Nandanam remake

Unni, who was christened Krishna in ‘Seedan,' played Prithiviraj's role in this remake of the Malayalam ‘Nandanam.' It had a huge star cast and did fairly well. “After every film I take a short break, do a detailed rewind of it, my acting, the whole process, in fact. That was the first time I saw myself act and I felt I was not all that bad.”

Two Malayalam films, ‘Bangkok Summer' and ‘Bombay March 12' followed. Unni did a negative role in the first, while in the Mammootty-starrer he played a sensitive Shahjahan. Incidentally, when Babu Janardhan, the director of ‘Bombay March 12' saw Unni's photos he rejected it saying ‘he was all muscle and not his character.' But fate willed otherwise. Babu perhaps changed his mind once he saw Unni and said the final decision was Mammotty's.

Unni took a bus to Pondicherry where Mammootty was shooting and met him. “He talked to me but did not ask me anything about my acting credentials. When he said that we were doing the film I was ecstatic. It was a huge break.”

T. K. Rajeev Kumar's ‘Thalsamayam Oru Penkutty' and Jnanaseelan's debut film, ‘Ezhaam Suryan' are two of Unni's films ready for release. He will also be seen in the title role of Vysakh's ‘Mallu Singh,' and Padmakumar's ‘Paathiramanal.' A few more films are in the pipeline.