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The aura lingers...

Mammootty, one of the most popular heroes of Malayalam filmdom, has done more character roles than any other actor in the country. A chat with the actor who is eager to do more films in Tamil.

MAMMOOTTY, ONE of the icons of Malayalam cinema, 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 done more characters than any other actor in India and has won international acclaim and three National Awards. As an actor, he has made a mark in Tamil with films like "Dalapathy", "Marumalarchi" and the recent "Anandam". Last week his "Karmegham" was released and people are talking about his one-man-show in the film. No matter what the quality of films he selects, whatever he touches always comes out right. In person, Mammootty is an interviewer's delight, easy going and has no hang-ups of a superstar. He attends to telephone calls himself, as he has no secretaries. He is passionate about cinema and is perhaps one of the most well informed stars on the nuances of film-making. Mammootty unwinds and talks about his passion. Excerpts:

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

There are no rules to survive in the film industry. I have never compromised on 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 than falling into any traps. I can look back at all my films without wincing once or being embarrassed by any of my films. "Dubai" was a dud as the budget went haywire.

What is superstardom all about?

I would say that superstardom is a state as it is a big responsibility and at times a burden. The expectation from the audience becomes too high. But ultimately stardom is all about your last film's performance at the box-office. In simple terms, the audience gave preference to 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.

Will you say that television has been responsible for the decline of mainstream commercial cinema?

It's 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 feeds on cinema for survival in India. So cinema is definitely bigger of the two and is everlasting. People should see TV not as a competitor to cinema but as a billboard. Today satellite rights revenue is a territory by 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 as a part of my re-invention. More story ideas emerge out of Tamil than in any other language. 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. Please 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 reasonable budget. My policy is 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 excellent reports, was made with a very low budget?

We kept 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?

It would be an honour to get a National Award in Tamil. I am game anyway to do 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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