"Jeethu told me a storyline, it was brilliant and intelligent, so we decided that this is the movie. We did the film, but the theatre scene was still uncertain. We want to show this to people, and they want to watch it," says Mohanlal about Drishyam 2 in an interview to Anupama Chopra. The actor speaks about making the move to OTT, holding on to the release of Kunjali Marakkar… Excerpts.
The brilliance of Drishyam was really the tight screenplay. But, at the end, you left us wondering about Georgekutty. Was he a father doing whatever it takes to protect his family or was there something slightly chilling about him? The last scene you're asking for forgiveness, but not with great emotion, so I didn't feel Georgekutty would lose any sleep over this. What do you think about Georgekutty?
He's unpredictable. I've done 345 movies but I don't know Georgekutty after all these years, even after Drishyam 2. What his state of mind is, his reactions, his emotions, his intelligence, his bravery… He's such a… I don't know. He can be a big criminal, he can be a good person, a family man. He's scheming so many things, but I don't know. Drishyam was a critical as well as a commercial success and one of the films that changed how the world looked at Malayalam cinema. It was a big revelation for us too, and the sequel was challenging, even during scripting. More than Georgekutty, the script was challenging, and I think Jeethu [director Jeethu Joseph] has done a wonderful job. He spent around six to seven years on Drishyam, and the same thing happened with Drishyam 2.
In this film, it's more about emotions and family drama, and I cannot say it's a thriller, but there are amazing moments in the film, and you'll say "Oh my god, this Georgekutty is too much, or stupid." So, you'll have to decide after watching the movie.
So do you have a view on him? Do you judge him?
For him nothing is bad. The family is most important, and he'll go to any level to protect them. He has that kind of bonding with his family.
The first film was seven years ago. In the first few days of shoot, did you slip into the character easily or did you take your time to find that rhythm again?
For me, when you say Start, Camera and Action, I'm into it. You cannot run away from that. Because, in Drishyam 2, the actor knows about Georgekutty, his family, his house and surroundings, his property and car, he knows everything. It's a scene, now he can read the scene and get an idea how he's going to perform. So, Georgekutty is very close to my heart, not just for me, but my co-actress Meena, my children [Ansiba Hassan and Esther Anil] they know everything about the house, they know what happened in the house six years ago, so the acclimatisation was perfect.
The sequel was announced during the lockdown. Did you always imagine that it would end up on a streaming service or was this a difficult decision for you and Jeethu Joseph to take?
We still don't know what's going to happen. We were talking about a movie that would bring people to the theatres and we saw Drishyam 2 as that film. Each Malayalee and Non-Malayalee wants to watch what's going to happen, so we thought of this film. We were not prepared to shoot at this time, but on the seventh call, Jeethu said 'We'll try,' and people started writing Drishyam 2 in their own imagination. So, we said, okay we'll also try. Later, Jeethu told me a storyline, it was brilliant and intelligent, so we decided that this is the movie. We did the film, but the theatre scene was still uncertain. We want to show this to people, and they want to watch it.
Was it tough to decide to put the film on Amazon Prime Video and not wait to see when theatres open?
From our production company, we did a big film called Kunjali Marakkar. We're holding that, and don't know when we'll release the film. So, we thought of coming out with Drishyam 2, bring people to the theatres and then release Marakkar. But everything has changed. We still don't know when we'll release Marakkar. Luckily, we got this platform, and it's all God's blessings.
You spoke about having done 345 films, but on IMDb you've been credited in 365 films as an actor. You've been working for 43 years, and have got five national awards. During the Drishyam 2 press conference, you were asked what keeps you going. It's such a sustained career, and you said an unknown energy helps you. There has to be a better answer than that. Please tell us.
(Laughs) You tell me a satisfying answer. Because it's a mystery for me, I don't want to not reveal it. It just keeps happening. That's the best answer I can give. We have to prepare and practice like dance. You have rehearsals and when you get a script, you get an idea. When you start the film, even on the first day, you'll get an idea. Then, your colleagues join and it's an amalgamation of artistes, intelligence. It's a big congruence. So, if you ask how you act, I'd say I don't know. I know how you'll react. (both laugh)
When you've been acting this long, is there ever a moment or a day when it just feels like a job, when it's not exciting?
When I feel this is like a job, I'll stop acting. For me, every day is a new day. We actors are all blessed, because every day is a new day, with a new costume, new dialogue and realistic things, fighting, singing, so many things happen in this life. So, for me, it's a beautiful revelation. So, when I feel why am I doing this job, that moment, I'll stop acting. I promise.
What's really amazing about you is that you're a brilliant actor, but also a massive star. You have superstardom, all the milestones of box office Malayalam cinema have been your films. The first 50-crore Malayalam film was Drishyam, the first 100-crore film was Pulimurugan, the first 200-crore Malayalam film was Lucifer… So, tell me now how you decide on a script. How much are you thinking about the box office? How much are you asking yourself, 'Will this work or will this not work?'
I never do that. See, that's the brilliance of the producer and the director, it could be my production also, but if it's a good script, we don't think about whether it will collect money. I had the chance of working with great directors, both commercial and art. When I was working with Padmarajan, I was also working with Sasikumar sir. I had 34 films in one year, half of them were commercial and the other half was critically acclaimed, so it is again a blessing.
So, how do you choose your scripts? You must be getting offered so many.
I believe in my directors and the script, of course. Sometimes, nobody can say this is going to be a big hit. We don't know the recipe or secret of success. There should be something that you're communicating, something that hits your mind when you read the script. It's again practice. I cannot say every reading of the script is perfect. So many people come and hear the story, and I'm not the one who decides. I'll say these are the things that can give us a better climb. So, I don't have any particular norms, but it should engage, like Lucifer. When you read the script, you go, 'My God!' Then, you get a feel that this is going to be a nice character if you perform and shoot it well. Sometimes, you can hear good stories and if it is not done well, people won't watch. So, for each film, you have a pace, shooting pattern and being careful with the camera and everything.
Some directors know this is going to be that film, and some would say, "I tried, it was a good script and it bombed." It's because of the way they took the film and presented it. The film should have a soul, it has to communicate. When you go back, you have to carry something from the film. It can be a character or a scene.
I really enjoyed Lucifer. Tell me about Empuraan, what's happening with that?
Now, we cannot commit anything, because we don't know how the world is going to be and we're all praying for a change to happen soon. With Empuraan, the storyline is ready, but we don't know. We're planning to do it in the end of 2021, so if everything goes well, we can do it.
So, the script is ready?
Not the script, the storyline.
What is happening with your directorial debut Barroz?
The same thing happened because of Covid. Otherwise, we never thought of doing Drishyam 2 at this time. Barroz was supposed to start by January, and most of the actors are from Spain, Portugal, and the main person is from the US, another actress is from Ghana. So, they have to come. Our action director is from Thailand. So, we're trying to start the film by mid-April.
Are you nervous about becoming a director? Does it scare you?
I never thought of directing a film. When Jijo (Punnoose) narrated the story, I asked who's going to do this. I asked him if he's going to do this and he said no. It was such a beautiful film, a nice fairytale and there is something in it. It's about a genie, a protector of a treasure and about a girl. The child in me started saying, do it, do it. He was irritating me to try it and tell Jijo. Forty years ago, when I walked into his room, Navodaya Appachan and Jijo selected me as an actor. Jijo said, "With all my blessings and support, you have to do this." It's a 3D film, I wanted to do a complicated film in terms of everything. Barroz is 400 years old, so I thought it's a movie so why not do it for 400 years.
You have success and millions of fans. Does it put any responsibility on you in terms of the scripts you do? Do you think you'll have to play a character that gives out the right message? That the lessons they learn from cinema are correct because so many people love you and look up to you?
I'm a performer, so my social commitment is to do what I get perfectly. So, I do theatre, magic, dancing, singing, acting. I do so many things. As a performer, you have to be everywhere, you can't decide you'll only do one thing. My passion is to do things that nobody can do. I was trying to do a fire escape once and people started to say, "No, don't do this." I've done some magic shows and I conduct big shows abroad. Then, I act in movies, I go for Sanskrit plays, this is all happening and I'm blessed. People and my colleagues are helping me do that, so I'm comfortable.