Producing Your Own Films Gives You More Freedom: Unni Mukundan

The actor-producer speaks to Anakha Anupama about his decision to become a producer “5 years too late” and why ‘Bruce Lee’ had to get pushed

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Edited excerpts from an interview between Unni Mukundan Interview and Anakha Anupama:

You produced Meppadiyan. Getting involved in the production of a film isn’t like any other aspect of it, right? What were your reasons for venturing into production?

Unni Mukundan: Production affords freedom. You can be an active part of the creation. I think that the freedom production allows for is important. I was supposed to get involved with production five years ago. I think, eventually, now, in terms of resources, in terms of confidence, it was a good time to try my hand at it. There’s a right time for everything and I look at it that way. I feel like I’m five years late to production.

The primary reason is that you get a lot of control over not just the thing you’re going to do but also the things you want to do later. We are able to work a little more in compliance with what we think and the way we want it. In the creative space especially, I think that kind of freedom is important. I’ve felt like the job satisfaction will be greater since I’m producing the film. Usually everyone says production is a very stressful job, but I think I was quite prepared.Meppadiyan will be one of my best movies.

Can you tell me a bit about the reasons you chose this as the film to start producing?

Meppadiyan is a good script-oriented film. It is a family film and I also think that it’s a film the youth will enjoy. Personally, as an actor, it is a script that excited me quite a bit. The character was also very interesting.

When it comes to the get-up change for this film, for all of us involved in Meppadiyan, a character sketch was drawn initially. In the film, however, I don’t stick to that character sketch at all. Lockdown happened and all I’d been told was to put on weight. During lockdown, I didn’t feel like cutting my hair. Last I grew my hair this long was fifteen years ago. So all the people around me, when they saw me like that, they said that they hadn’t seen me like this. Why not transform it into the film’s character? That is how we fixed the get-up.

It was supposed to be a fat guy, that’s all. But the fatness does not get discussed in any part of the film. It was just how the character looked in the film. This film isn’t based on a body transformation at all. The weight gain was just to look the part. That was also a challenge for me. In my personal life, with my body, I wouldn’t go in that direction. Being involved in the production gave me confidence to shape up this project in terms of how it should.

Primarily, in my mind, the plan was to venture into production with Bruce Lee, directed by Vysakh and the script written by Udayakrishna. To be able to beat that and produce Meppadiyan made me very happy. When I say ‘beat that,’ I mean that, in this circumstance, Bruce Lee is a film I wouldn’t be able to shoot with so many people. However, with Meppadiyan, I could manage it.

Was cinema a fascination from childhood? Speaking for myself, to see a film in the theatre was my only entertainment. Was it like that for you or was film something you became interested in later?

Unni Mukundan: It was in class ten that I first went and saw a film in the theatre out of desire. Before that, going to the theatre to see films wasn’t a thing. I think it was when I was seventeen that I started going to the theatre. The theatre experience has definitely influenced me a lot. But it was more to do with my liking for English literature. It was after reading a lot, especially about places I haven’t been to, that I began forming visuals in my mind. That I was then able to connect a lot with cinema.

This is my only path into cinema. Because in my family, or among friends that surrounded me, nobody had ever discussed cinema as a career. Neither did I discuss it. But I think I was destined to be a part of it. Later, I followed my gut. I used to like sports a lot, so I chased that as well. In the world of cinema, I was able to find a direction. I was able to meet a lot of good people.

I think in the beginning of my career, I’ve gotten a lot of films over sympathy. That’s what I believe because nobody’s asked me to act and show. So, I have to accept it that way. But later, I believe that, inside me there was a film that has now reached as far as me producing it. In the future, it’ll turn to direction. I’ll definitely do it. It’s reached so far, so why not get into directing films as well.

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