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'Superstardom is a burden'

Mammootty has done more character roles than many other actors in the country. His forays into the Tamil industry has paid rich dividends. A chat with the actor who is on a trip to re-invent himself.

MAMMOOTTY, has survived for over two decades in an industry where hits and misses at the box-office seal your fate every Friday. It hasn't been easy for Mammootty though he can be slotted with the best in the world. He has portrayed more characters than many other actors in the country and has won international acclaim and three National awards.

Of later he is being seen regularly in Tamil cinema. Maybe because of the funds crunch in Malayalam industry, he is keenly taking up Tamil projects. As an actor, he has made a mark in Tamil with films like `Dalapathy', `Marumalarchi' and the recent `Anandam'. Recently, his `Karmegham' was released and people are talking about his one-man-show in the film. In person, Mammootty is an interviewer's delight, easy going and has no hang-ups of being a superstar.

He came into big time cinema as a hero and remained thus. Very few have had that sort of luck. His good looks always helped of course. He is passionate about cinema and is perhaps one of the most well informed stars on the nuances of filmmaking. Mammootty unwinds and talks about his passion. Excerpts:

You have managed to be on the top slot for nearly two decades. What is the secret of your success?

There are no rules for survival in the film industry. I have never compromised on the quality of a film that I have done, as I am sincere to my profession. I have consciously tried to pick out what would be the right kind of roles for me. I have always tried to re-invent myself for survival.

Have you also fallen into an`image trap' like other superstars? Is that the reason why your Malayalam film, `Dubai', flopped?

I have tried to build an image of a good actor rather than falling into any traps. I can look back at all my films without embarrassment. `Dubai' was a dud as the budget went haywire.

What is superstardom all about?

I would say that superstardom, which entails big responsibility and is at times, a burden. The expectation from the audience becomes too high at times. But, ultimately, stardom is all about your last film's performance at the box-office. In simple terms, the audience like my films, but there were no commitments from them. What an actor should do is to remain within the audience priority.

So the audience is of paramount importance and can make or mar the career of a star?

Absolutely. I have to live up to their expectations. When I do a film like `Phantom', the audience should feel that I am energetic and convincing.

Do you think that television has been responsible for the decline of mainstream commercial cinema?

It is like making mountains out of molehills. It is a natural phenomenon as even the socio-economic scene has changed. I believe that TV is a by-product of cinema. TV depends on cinema for survival in the country. So, cinema is definitely the bigger of the two and is everlasting. People should not see TV as a competitor to cinema. Today, satellite rights revenue is a territory in itself and has opened a new market. I think both should co-exist.

Why have you moved over to Tamil films?

I have been around in Tamil for the last 12 years. Malayalam cinema is what made me and I will always be there. I am doing more Tamil films these days. More story ideas emerge in Tamil than in other languages. The culture varies from region to region here and Chennai is a huge melting pot of different cultures and traditions.

Tamil producers and young directors seem to be happy with the way you make films within reasonable budget. Comment.

I met a lot of young directors here with good ideas. All of us, including the producer, sit together and work out films within a reasonable budget. My policy is to let the producer complete and release the film. If he makes a profit, then all of us share it (laughs).

Is it true that `Karmegham', which carries good reports, was made at a very low budget?

We stuck to the budget that the producer had and did not splash money on foreign locations or glitzy sets. We firmly believed that it is the story that is the king and if your content is rich, then there is nothing to worry about. The film is doing well and is being appreciated. The idea is that nobody should lose money including the distributor and the exhibitor.

What are your forthcoming projects?

In Tamil, I am doing a film `Satyamoorthi' where again the story is very interesting and we are trying to make the film keeping in mind the budget. In Malayalam, I am doing two films `Chronic Bachelor' and `Pattalam'.

Are you aiming for your fourth National Award in Tamil cinema?

It would be an honour to get a National Award in Tamil cinema. I am game for serious and offbeat films in Tamil.

What is your long-term plan?

You mean my retirement? I will be around till my health permits. Till then, I will be experimenting and re-inventing myself! (Laughs).

SREEDHAR PILLAI

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