In a freewheeling interview, Mohanlal talks about reviving a team that first clicked into action 33 years ago, the Priyadarshan-Mohanlal magic, and some of the problems plaguing the Malayalam movie business

If a paralysed Mathews of Blessy's Pranayam created a stir among cineastes in Kerala, the rustic Ajayan in Sathayan Anthikkad's Sneha Veedu evoked nostalgia among fans of Mohanlal. If it was Mathews' never-say-die attitude that had the chatterratti in busy mode, it was Ajayan's down-to-earth realism that warmed the hearts of Mohanlal fans who had nothing to cheer about in 2010.

Nostalgic mood

The latter half of 2011 has showed glimpses of the Mohanlal who breathed life into a wide range of characters that have stayed alive for more than two decades. As you catch up with the actor on the sets of Priyadarsan's Arabiyum Ottakavum P. Madhavan Nairum in Oru Marubhumi Katha at Chitranjali Studio in Thiruvananthapuram, Mohanlal is in a nostalgic mood.

“It is in this very same place 33 years ago that my first movie, Thiranottam, was filmed. Priyadarshan was the director and Ashok Kumar was the producer.” Now, the three musketeers have joined hands for Arabiyum Ottakavum…, and the joie de vivre on sets is palpable.

Drawing a chair, Mohanal sits down beneath the branches of a sprawling tree and is game for the interview and the photo shoot.

Steering the conversation to his work and his recent films, we get talking about his oeuvre. “It feels great to work with this team. We came into films together and the empathy we share certainly helps. It is the same with directors such as Sathyan Anthikkad. We have worked together on more than 23 films and there is a unique understanding that we share. Cinema is team work. There should be good scripts, directors, actor, technical personnel, producers, and, most importantly, an audience,” says Mohanlal.

He adds with a grin that working with “Priyan” is like going on a picnic. Their team work has produced some of the biggest hits in Malayalam cinema. The two are working together after eight years. Mohanlal has also acted as a British police officer in the director's latest Hindi film, Tezz. “It is a thriller on a train and the subject is terrorism. My character happens to be travelling on the same train and he gets caught up in the incidents that unfold,” narrates Mohanlal.

The actors feels that unless viewers come forward to encourage experimental themes and styles of filmmaking, theatres would be flooded with run-of-the-mill movies that might make money and raise a laugh or two but would not find a place in the list of movies worth archiving.

Was it a bad choice of movies that caused many of his films to bite the dust at the box office? Replying in the negative, Mohanal elaborates with a smile: “As an actor, I can only enact the characters that are given to me. Kerala used to have an audience that had an eclectic viewing habit. Now, viewers seem to have become very choosy. If all movies have the same theme and kind of narrative, where is the challenge?”

Threat of piracy

Singling out piracy as the biggest threat to the health of the Malayalam film industry, the actor says that illegal downloading of movies from the net has severely affected the market in the United States, Europe and West Asia.

Soon after the work on Arabiyum Ottakavum… is over, the actor will be in Bangalore for the final schedule of Roshan Andrews' Cassanova, which has been stuck for some time due to various problems. “We have just finished a shoot in Bangkok and the movie is likely to be released in December,” he says.

And like many other star sons, will we be seeing his son, Pranav, soon in tinsel town?

“No, no,” he avers. “Acting is a vocation, I feel, and right now, there are no plans of Pranav acting in a film. He is busy with his studies.” What will be, will be!