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Master of the game

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Thirty years and innumerable outings at the turnstiles later, Mohanlal still nurtures the same passion for cinema, says saraswathy nagarajan

UPO is a movie of our times … it reflects the angst, frustration, helplessness and anger of the common man

Mohanlal is in the midst of an action-packed scene for Janakan, when we catch up with him in Karakonam on the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border. The Tamil Nadu policemen on duty have a tough time controlling the onlookers who go into raptures as the star waves at them. Even the policemen can’t resist breaking into broad smiles on seeing the charismatic actor.

After all, Mohanlal is Raghava Maraar, the uber cool, no-nonsense Inspector-General with the Tamil Nadu Police in Unnai Pol Oruvan (UPO — the Tamil remake of A Wednesday), which has the Malayalam superstar pitted against another titan of Indian cinema — Kamal Haasan — for the first time.

“Kamal Haasan has always been keen on casting me in one of his films,” says Mohanlal, during a break from shooting. In fact, Kamal had announced that when he came to Thiruvananthapuram to inaugurate the 12th International Film Festival of Kerala.

“So, when he offered me the role of the police officer in UPO, I accepted it as I had seen A Wednesday, and liked the film and the role I was supposed to play,” says Mohanlal about his third Tamil film after Iruvar and Popcarn.

“Iruvar is one of my best-ever films,” adds Mohanal, and continues: “UPO is a movie of our times, for it reflects the angst, frustration, helplessness and anger of the common man.”

So, what was it like to act with Kamal? “I am a character in front of the camera. So, there is no time to be nervous or in awe of a senior actor. I have acted in several films with Nazir sir (Prem Nazir) and also with stalwarts such as Sivaji Ganesan, Amitabh Bachchan and Nageswara Rao,” explains the actor, who was recently felicitated for completing 30 years in the industry.

Mohanal says that it is his “passion for cinema” that keeps him rejuvenated — “It is the same passion I had when I acted in my first film, Thiranottam, in 1978.”

In the Eighties, Mohanlal demolished the image of the popular hero in Malayalam cinema. The brooding hero of the Seventies was replaced by a host of characters who celebrated life and brought Malayalam cinema closer to its viewers.

His association with directors such as the late Padmarajan, Priyadarshan, Fazil, Sathyan Anthikkad and Sibi Malayil created movie magic. After proving his versatility on the big screen, the four-time National award winner took to the stage with playwright Kavalam Narayana Pannikar’s Sanskrit Karnabharam and then followed it with the Malayalam Chayamukhi. “Even now, I am amazed how I managed to learn the Sanskrit dialogues in eight days in the middle of shooting for Kaakakuyil,” he admits.

Now, plans are afoot to stage Kalidasa’s Vikramorvasiyam in Sanskrit and poet ONV Kurup’s Ujjaini.

Actor, theatreperson, magician, foodie, gourmet cook, restaurateur, entrepreneur, singer, art collector, and recently honorary Lieutenant-Colonel in the Territorial Army…. will the real Mohanlal please stand up? “These things happen. I don’t believe in meticulous planning. I go with the flow. Even while cooking, I never use a recipe book. I add a dash of whatever I feel would taste good — the end product is usually good,” says the foodie.

Similarly, collecting works of art and antiques is something he enjoys. Calling himself a “custodian of art”, Mohanlal says it is artists such as Namboodiri who inspire him to “guard and preserve their work for posterity”.

As the cameras start rolling again, it is time for Mohanal to transform into advocate Sooryanarayan, his character in Janakan. Before he signs off, he says: “If I get interesting characters, I will act in Tamil films. As of now, I am busy with Angel John, and an untitled work with Roshan Andrews. Priyan (Priyadarshan) and I plan to do a film next year.”


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