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Striking a balance


Mammootty says his formula for success entails acting in both commercial entertainers and art films.

I love awards. They are truly inspirational.

STRIDING AHEAD: Mammootty is known to have a yen for working with new directors.

Mammootty is on a roll. His `Maayavi' is turning out to be a mega blockbuster, and has given him a new lease of life in commercial cinema. He and Mohanlal account for nearly 75 per cent of the total box-office revenue of Malayalam films from theatrical, overseas, satellite television rights, and DVD and video rights.

Recently Mammootty created a record when the overseas, satellite and video rights of one of his films were sold for Rs. 1.10 crore, even before the shoot of the film started. The actor in him may have been disappointed when none of his critically acclaimed performances of 2006 in films such as `Karutha Pakshikal,' `Palunku' or `Kaiyoppu' was considered worthy of a Kerala State Film Award. But an undaunted Mammootty continues to do a mixture of art house films along with popular fare. Mammootty has given the green signal to at least 20 new projects that will keep him busy for the next five years. Excerpts from an interview with the actor.

You are riding a wave, as your `Mayavi' is said to be a blockbuster.

Yes `Mayavi' is turning out to be as big as `Rajamanickam' in many centres. I think director Shafi has made a perfect entertainer. My character Mahi is not a superman; he beats up the bad guys only in the dark and he does not identify himself. I think what worked in favour of the film was that there was something new in the script and the presentation. The hero is not a larger-than-life character but a man who uses his tact more than his brawns.

There was a controversy over this year's State film awards. Were you disappointed that you did not manage to get any award though you had three critically acclaimed films.

What has happened has happened. The award committee thinks a younger man should get it and it's fine with me. Whether I react or not react, they will not change their opinion, so let us leave it at that.

Why are you so obsessed with awards?

(Laughs) I love awards. They are truly inspirational. Why do people run 100-metre and 200-metre races? Some may say just for a cup, but the joy of receiving it gives the participant an immense sense of satisfaction and happiness. In Tamil, Telugu or even Hindi, the fans and viewers look more at the box-office performance of an actor's film, and not really at the awards the actor has got. But in Malayalam, a person has to be a good actor if he has to be accepted at the box-office.

As far as I'm concerned, I will continue to do meaningful and aesthetic cinema along with popular cinema. The award committee cannot ignore me, because they cannot stop my love for acting and cinema.

Do you feel that you are falling into an image slot, a larger-than-life hero and an entertainer on the lines of Tamil heroes?

The cardinal rule of the game in commercial cinema is the love of the audience. They want to be entertained. For some years I have been doing a mixture of both kinds of films. It is a tightrope walk, but in Kerala there is an audience for both kinds of cinema. My looks, hard work and presentation have helped me survive in commercial cinema.

How do you choose a script?

It depends on the story narration, like in the case of `Kaiyoppu.' When Ranjith narrated the story of Balachandran, a writer who suffers from writer's block, I immediately agreed to do it. In case of a film like `Big-B,' I was impressed by this new guy Amal Neerad's story and his ideas. It is a new kind of a commercial entertainer, where I play Bilal a bodyguard in Bollywood. Amal Neerad is basically a technician who has worked with Ram Gopal Varma, and the film has shaped out well.

You seem to vibe well with young people and there is a young audience for your films.

(Smiles) I think young, feel young and I'm very young in my attitude. I can feel the response of the young audience who form the core of my fan base, they are the backbone of my box-office success. Do you know that I have given the maximum number of breaks to young directors, who later changed Malayalam cinema like Lal Jose and others?

Since you are so popular and have a mass base, will you enter politics?

Politically, you can call me a liberal leftist. I'm doing well in films and is also very happy with the way Kairali TV is evolving. What more can I ask for? I do not see myself entering politics.

Your forthcoming films?

`Big-B' is releasing for Vishu. Right now I'm shooting for Shyamaprasad's `Ore Kadal,' an aesthetically well conceived film in which I have a very difficult role. After that, it will be Major Ravi's `Mission 90 Days,' a different version of the Rajiv Gandhi assassination investigation which will be released in the first week of July. Beginning May, I will start the M.T.- Hariharan period film `Pazhassi Raja.' By the end of May, I will also start work on my Onam film `Nasrani,' written by Ranjith and directed by Joshy.

Meanwhile I'm trying to squeeze in a Tamil film too titled `Arumudai,' directed by a new guy Karthik, a former assistant of Mani Ratnam. There are other projects that I have, in principle, agreed to, and I am waiting for the directors to complete the script.

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