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Everyman's star

Oozing stardom in every gesture and word isn't Mohanlal's style



ENDURING HERO Mohanlal PHOTO: V. SREENIVASA MURTHY

CHASING A celebrity for a sound byte isn't a particularly elevating experience. But Mohanlal can lend some dignity to even such an exercise. The enduring superstar of Malayalam cinema, who has also won tremendous critical acclaim — after all, Priyadarshan rates him "the best actor in the world" and Mani Ratnam calls him "the most natural actor in India" — carries with him an endearing reticence you rarely associate with a celebrity. He seems least inclined to pack the three precious minutes he grants you with "quotable quotes".

Time may be money for any star, but Mohanlal sure doesn't make it all too obvious. Many love him, as one of his fans put it, for the way he portrays "our kind of struggles, our kind of anguish" in the best of his roles. He has moved on to become a big-time producer and hotelier. Ask him why he hasn't really looked beyond his home turf, and he smiles quietly. He did a supporting role in Company — winning a national award for it — and produced and acted in Kaala Pani. "I am more comfortable in my own language." He adds, after a pause: "Bollywood no doubt is a bigger audience and a bigger reach... But there should be some kind of a purpose, no? It should be an irresistible role." Like there was when he agreed to play the lead role in Karnabharam, a National School of Drama production in Sanskrit, a language he confesses to not knowing a syllable of.

Beyond catchphrases

But then what kind of "challenge" eggs him on to do product endorsements? He smiles again. "I am paid for it!" Yes, he is aware that catchphrases like "Believe in the best" or "Purity and sincerity" are all nothing but just that — catchphrases. But he does a bit of looking around before he agrees to endorse a product. "I do know that this jewellery group ensures good quality and does some charity work also."

But think gold and we think dowry, show and pomp... don't we? "If I hadn't done it, someone else would have done it," he smiles apologetically as he gets up to leave. "Sorry, I have someone waiting for me."

Even as he walks away with surprisingly long strides (his manager hurrying to keep pace) he turns back to say: "It's always women who have done jewellery ads. That's what makes it different and a challenge for me."

BAGESHREE S.

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