`I want to play lead roles'
Mammootty dwells upon his long innings as a star who has been able to feel the pulse of the audience.
The challenge is in bringing the character alive and then carefully packaging it, keeping my image in mind.
STAR APPEAL: Mammootty's choice of roles has helped him maintain his hold over the box office.
Mammootty has been dubbed "the definition of what it is to be a real movie star" by an international critic. With four National Awards for Best Actor and his last six films having grossed over Rs. 50 crores in Kerala, Mammootty has retained his position as a superstar in Malayalam. From Kavitha in Ernakulam, his `Thommanum Makkalum' alone grossed an amazing Rs. 87 lakhs. The actor has a lot to be happy about in a career that spans 25 years and over 300 films.
Mammookka, as he is fondly called, says with his famous smile: "My audience is very crucial for the success of my films. I have been able to win over the younger generation audience (15-30) who ensure that I get a fantastic opening for my films."
Mammootty attributes his hold over the box-office to his ability to cater to the whims and fancies of the mass audience.
Another advantage is the popularity of his films among women. He makes sure that women are comfortable watching his films in theatres by not having any double entendres, crude gags, blood or gore. And his image as a family man, without a whiff of scandal has endeared him to women.
"It is my choice of roles that has worked to my advantage at the box-office," says Mammootty. A look at his last six releases vindicates this statement.
If he was `Madhavan,' a simpleton in `Kazhcha,' he played Shanmugham, a cold-blooded hit man in `Black.' Then came, `Vesham' where he portrayed the all-sacrificing big brother Appu and this March he played Sivan, a petty thief in `Thommanum Makkalum' a racy masala escapist film that turned out to be his biggest hit in recent times. This was followed by `Taskaraveeran,' a summer release, which took an amazing opening. He donned the role of Kochu Baby, a hep guy who comes back from Mumbai where he is an underworld don, to settle scores with the killer of his grandfather. This `black comedy' was also a huge hit at the box-office and his latest release `Raapakal' has him playing the role of a cook in a large household who shares a special rapport with the matriarch of the family (essayed by veteran actress Sarada).
Confesses Mammookka: "All these films worked as my roles were well defined with some kind of logic. The audience profile is changing and they want interesting, entertaining and relevant films that look convincing."
He feels that his "image" as a superstar will help the film only if the content is innovative and fresh. So is he choosy about his roles? "Each role of mine is close to my heart. I take full responsibility, whether they are good or bad. First, I have to convince myself that I am the character. Then I get into the mind of the character, his gesticulations, body language, thinking, dialect and appearance."
For his new film titled `Rajamanickam,' he plays a buffalo dealer, a nouveau rich arrogant man who was abandoned by his parents. Says Mammootty, "I had met a similar guy who speaks Trivandrum dialect with a heavy Tamil accent. I have asked writer Shaheed to model the character on him. But the underlying factor is always human emotions."
In one of his forthcoming films, `Bus Conductor,' he plays the title role of Kunjaka, a bus conductor who can be spotted in one of the many private buses in Malabar. "The challenge is in bringing the character alive and then carefully packaging it, keeping my image in mind," he explains.
It brings us to one of his most successful characters - Sethurama Iyer, the CBI officer who uses his brains rather than his brawns to solve murder mysteries. "I agreed to do the fourth sequel to `Oru CBI Diary Kurippu,' titled `Nerariyan CBI,' which will be my Onam release, because of the popularity of the character."
The character of Sethurama Iyer is very close to Mammootty's heart as it was his creation to a large extent. In 1986, when writer S.N Swamy and director K. Madhu started work on the original script they had thought of depicting the hero as a tough-as-nails Muslim cop Ali Imran.
After Mammootty read the script, he suggested that if the film had to work, the officer had to be a Brahmin with a pious and intelligent look and named him Sethurama Iyer, and the rest as they say is history.
And Mammootty looks exactly the same, even after two decades!
So what keeps Mammootty going? "It is not easy to be on the top. Hard work, discipline, patience, sincerity and passion towards work are the key words to success," he says.
One of his shrewd moves was his decision to do films with the younger generation of directors like Blessy, Ranjit, V.M. Vinu. Shafi, Pramod and Pappan among others. Says Mammootty: "These young guys have lot of innovative ideas, which should be encouraged. But I still work with veterans like Joshi, I.V. Sasi and Kamal. It is a good script that will be commercially viable which interests me more than names of directors."
He understands the nuances of film business better than many actors in Malayalam and tries to keep the cost within the budget, which is very important for the film to recover its cost. Today, two of the biggest distributors in Kerala, Appachan of `Swargachitra' and Lal of `Lal Creations' are backing him to the hilt.
Together they have worked out a new strategy whereby a Mammootty film should not cost more than Rs. 2.50 crores, including print and publicity.
And what is the secret of Mamootty's youth? "I avoid junk food and carbohydrates in my diet. I workout for 20 to 30 minutes a day in my personal gym at home." He has no intention of doing character roles like Amitabh Bachchan in the near future.
Says Mammookka with a smile: "I want to play lead roles whether it is a master, servant, cook, thief, father or son!"
Scotching rumours of his son entering films he says, "Right now, he is not interested in acting. He is doing under graduation in marketing in the United States."
And about his much talked about rivalry with Mohanlal, the other superstar, Mammootty signs off saying: "There is definitely a professional rivalry between us which has helped our films to do good business. I think a healthy competition always brings the best out of you."
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