Edited excerpts from an interview between Mohanlal and Baradwaj Rangan:
BR: You say that you don't prepare too much for a role. You don't over-prepare. You just read the script and come to the set. Would you say that you rely on your instincts on the set and the co-star?
Mohanlal: It's not like that. When you read a script, something happens with your chemistry with the character. After one or two days, you will know the character. It's about practice. Like playing football or any other game. Acting is a continuous process and a habitual experience. When you do it everyday, you learn a lot of about the camera, the lens, the lighting, the dialogues and the emotions. Your system is prepared and it plans. It depends on your chemistry towards that character and the character will come to you. It's a continuous process. It's a flow. It's a beautiful flow of energy coming out as acting. It's like meditation.
But theatre acting is a different experience. You have to memorise your dialogues as well as your co-actors'. There is no retake. You have a lot of liberty and you have to prepare yourself for that liberty. It's a beautiful feeling, I am not sure how to explain it.
BR: Clearly! You have been doing this for four decades and you are amazing. When you act in slightly different roles, like in Vanaprastham where you are playing the role of a dancer or when you are playing Marakkar, which is also a slightly different role in the artistic sense, does that require a different kind of preparation?
Mohanlal: In a film like Vanaprastham, you need practice because it is dance. Your costumes will help you. In Kathakali, there is a thing called Veshaprakarcha. The Vesham should match you. That's a blessing. If you are 6'3 and handsome, you might put on the Kathakali costume and that presence will not match. You won't have the light in your eyes. If he puts on the costume and it enhances his beauty, again it's a blessing.
Even with Marakkar, when I wear that costume I should look presentable. It's a blessing that should come during the costume trials. Even if you are handsome and elegant but the costume doesn't suit you, it is a flop. If you are short and fit in a different profile but the costume matches you, you are in a different league.
BR: Do you like to improvise on set?
Mohanlal: Of course but it depends on the script. If it is a humorous script there's room for a lot of improvisations from different actors. We can do so many things with the properties. If it is a serious film, you can't improvise. That would be a different kind of improvisation in your acting. It is possible. We don't have that proper storyboard kind of film-making, so we do a lot of improvisations.
BR: Could you give me an example of improvisation that you did in Marakkar, if you remember?
Mohanlal: In Marakkar, there was nothing because the film had more of a costume play feel for the dialogues and emotions. If you ask me about films like Pranayam, Thanmatra or Bhramaram, there were a lot of improvisations.
BR: Sir, can you judge your own performance after a movie or after a scene?
Mohanlal: Nowadays you can go and watch on the monitor after you take a shot but that's not the film. I believe after everything, after the post-shooting work, there is a magic happening with it. I believe in that magic. Not in the small screen monitor, not during the editing. After you release the film, there is this magic. That is a mystery, I believe in that mystery.
BR: Speaking of mystery, which characters of yours, did you think to yourself that, "I have done this well" or "I have done the least number of mistakes in this film." Is there a role like that?
Mohanlal: No, I never think like that. There is no purpose to thinking like that. You can't go back to the screen and do it again. It's like writing an exam, you can't go back and write it again. So, no, don't judge your film after its release. All the corrections should happen in that moment, not later.
BR: So, destiny comes in front of you and gives you two choices—I give you a film that will win you a national award or a film that becomes a blockbuster. Which would Mohanlal choose?
Mohanlal: I would politely say, "Oh my dear destiny, you decide!"