Mohanlal Acts In ‘Music’: Sudev Nair, Film Companion

With Bheeshma Parvam running in theatres and nearing its OTT release on April 1, Sudev Nair shares how the film has impacted him as an actor. He also talks about working with Mammootty and Mohanlal and his learnings from Naseeruddin Shah and Kamal Haasan.

Edited Excerpts Below:

All of us know you for many years, but then when you talk about the general public, what is the impact as an actor you get when you make a big Mammootty movie like Bheeshma Parvam that releases on 1000 screens?

It is the reach actually. It reaches even the people I usually don’t have a reach. Usually, my audiences are urban, of certain age and demographic. But when you have a Mammootty film, then it kind of breaks through the glass ceiling for me. When I am going around, even in a boat, the drivers also know me. That is so good. I have been able to penetrate and reach more audiences. As an actor, that is more important to me. 

You have studied in FTII and in a couple of interviews, you had mentioned that Naseeruddin Shah said some advice, how has the understanding of that particular advice changed in these years?

One is Naseeruddin Shah and once even Kamal Haasan had come for a scriptwriting seminar. We, as acting batch students, requested him to spend some time with us and teach us a few things. He said, “What can I teach? I am still learning”.

He then came and spoke with us for an hour. That was the first time someone demystified the whole acting process. He said whatever he was doing was purely mechanical, there are so many people watching and this is how I do it, etc. That was the first time I got an idea that it is not some godliness that comes from the heavens, this can be a craft that can be learned.

When I was in my second year at FTII, Naseeruddin Shah had some time and so he came to teach for two or three days. Those three years were kind of a turning point in my acting philosophy. He looked at scenes we had prepared and giving us feedback. He used to say that this is what happens when you keep thinking ‘character, character’. I was too inexperienced to really understand what he is talking about. 

One day, we were just walking back for lunch and I happened to cross while he was saying something to another student. He said that ‘Forget about characters, think about yourself because all of the characters will come through you’. That one line really shifted my perspective on how to approach this process. 

In what Naseeruddin Shah said, what does it mean to kind of find all these characters in you? To break it down, for instance, if you were to go to a party and let’s say it is full of characters you played, everybody is a different person or all the same person? 

They are different versions of me. They all function at different energy levels, that I would have hit in parallel universes. So it is like the same person who has gone through different situations and parallel universes. 

Mohanlal Acts In ‘Music’: Sudev Nair, Film Companion

As a trained actor, when you see a performance, are you now able to think about what the actor is thinking?

Yes, for sure. I know what instructions must have been given to the actor and small things like why they are doing this, this is their crutch, they are not able to be present at the moment, etc. I can tell all those things because I do those things as well. But I don’t think it is coming from training, it comes with experience. Any experienced actor will probably be able to do that. 

When you see a scene where an actor is doing a particular thing and you have no idea what the actor is doing, but it is connecting to you, what do you feel?

I feel like ‘Oh, this is the state to achieve’. When Lalettan does something, I have felt this many times. Like I can’t tell what his process might have been. When I met him, I asked about the process. He said he doesn’t really prepare that way. He is really in the moment. 

I have now experienced that since I have acted with him. I have seen how he just absolutely doesn’t think. Because of experience, the character’s motivation, intention and relationships are all like very clear in his head. It is like a split-second thing, whereas I have to still think about these things a little bit. 

Then, he comes in front of the camera and he does his thing, without thinking about anything. He just really flows and that’s where you have to get as an artist. It is the same with music, people say that ‘all art constantly aspires to the condition of music’. I keep saying that Mohanlal is acting in music.

When you enter an industry like Malayalam which you follow and there are so many senior actors. Practically speaking, is there any questions you can ask them or discussions you have with them that can help you?

I have been blessed to work with Mohanlal and then with Mammootty. I have spoken to Mohanlal about his experience. With Mammukka, when we were shooting for Bheeshma Parvam, we used to sit and have lunch together. Mammukka would talk freely about these things. 

Once we were speaking about torturing yourself to get into character and all. Then Mammukka had said how actors like Klaus Kinski would go through such processes. Apparently, the director would lodge him in a place where there is no water and he will be irritated because he wanted this character to be irritated. I said, “How does that make sense? He is a professional actor so he could act irritated, why does he have to be actually irritated?”. So Mammukka said that those are ways old-time people followed. 

I said that the aim of a director would be to make the actor relaxed, then he can give his best, even if he has to act stressed. Then, Mammukka said something cool. He said that is true, but ‘the real actor is one who can even act when he is stressed’. It was like his punch and he got up from the table. 

That’s actually true. There will be situations when you are not actually relaxed and you are really stressed, but then you might have to act relaxed. Even if you are irritated, you have to act relaxed, that is professionalism. 

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