Indian actress Malavika Mohanan, who stars in Vijay and Vijay Sethupathi’s 2021 blockbuster ‘Master’, cannot stress the importance of how a box office hit can alter an actor’s career.
Although she has already worked with the likes of celebrated directors such as Majid Majidi in ‘Beyond The Clouds’, the actress cannot deny that a smashing hit can catapult her into the big league where work is never scarce.
“The release of films starring actors like Rajinikath and Vijay sir are treated like festivals. A different kind of celebration and revelry is seen before the run up to their releases. It’s an experience that you don’t feel when a Hollywood or a French film releases and those celebrations are unmatched. I have always wanted to be a part of such a crazy experience,” said Mohanan in an interview with Gulf News.
The daughter of cinematographer U K Mohanan, who made her debut with Dulquer Salman-led Malayalam film ‘Pattam Pole’ in 2013, talks about charting her own journey in Bollywood and how Bollywood is being unfairly demonised ...
Excerpts from our interview with Mohanan …
Q: What drove you to be a part of ‘Master’, starring Vijay Sethupathi and Vijay?
A: It was a good team on ‘Master’. At the end of the day, you are only as good as your team because filmmaking is an art form that requires team work … Plus, being a part of Vijay [Sethupathi] sir’s film gives you certain kind of exposure.
‘Master’ is my second Tamil film and the exposure that you get from such films puts you in the proverbial map ... I also hear that this film is doing incredible box office business. But I flew out into Hyderabad to begin work on my film with Dhanush right after its release, so I am completely out of the loop. But my relatives in the UAE have been telling my parents that the film is doing extremely well in the cinemas there.
Q: You began your career with the Malayalam film ‘Pattam Pole’ and then worked on celebrated director Majid Majidi’s ‘Beyond The Clouds’ with Ishaan Khatter. So, how important is commercial success of a film?
A: Commercial success is extremely important. You could be doing good work, but at the end of the day, if it’s not a successful film it breaks your heart because you have poured in so much of your energy.
Our blood and sweat goes into any film and if it doesn’t do well, it hits you in the gut. Also, commercial success is a great validation on many fronts. A hit film reaches more people and producers are happy that they are not facing losses. A hit film gives you a lot of exposure and gets you more work if you are a female actor especially. The level of popularity of such film gets you more scripts and roles.
Q: How has 2020, the year dominated by the pandemic worldwide, treated you?
A: It started off as a very busy year, but then the momentum just hit the pause button. I went back to doing nothing. Initially, we thought we would be doing nothing for two weeks and we were freaking out. But then, the two weeks turned into three and six months. I almost didn’t do anything for seven to eight months. It has been a little disorienting because it has been a big shift in the pace of our lives.
Q: How frustrating was it to suddenly go from working round the clock to nothing?
A: For me, I was personally at a stage of my career where I was doing amazing work. I had films lined up back to back. After my film ‘Masters’ with Vijay Sethupathi sir, I was going jump into filming a Hindi movie with Excel Entertainment. I was excited to jump from one set to the other and explore different characters. I missed that feeling of constantly meeting people and I missed acting. I missed being engaged creatively. My mind was dull when sitting at home for six months. Trust me, I tried painting as a hobby in the beginning of the lockdown. I tried working on myself and my body. I tried doing all of it, but then I realised, I am not good at it. I just wanted to act and be back to doing things I was good at. I missed acting and working on the sets.
Q: Even though your film career is short, you have acted with stars including Dulquer Salmaan, Fahadh Faasil and Vijay Sethupathi … Do you ever ask who’s the star opposite you?
A: Up until this point in my life, all the films I did were a no-brainer and I said yes because I did not have a lot of options to choose from … So, when a good film came my way, I instantly said yes because I never had date clashes as I didn’t have to juggle dates or films. But ever since I signed ‘Master’, everything changed. I got many calls and offers for films. It came down to choosing one amazing film instead of the other. Having said that, Dulquer and Fahadh Faasil are one of the best actors in our country … And when it comes to films, I truly believe that the director is the captain of the ship. He is the only one who can extract the best out of you … I have often interpreted a scene differently and my director had steered me in another direction. His take was better and that’s when you realise it is important to work with good filmmakers. Instead of asking who the hero of a movie is, I ask: ‘who’s the filmmaker?’ Majid Majidi extracted the best out of me and transported me into a head space of what my character was feeling.
Q: ‘Master’ is an unapologetic star-driven saga and it’s a clear departure from your festival-friendly feature ‘Beyond The Clouds’ …Your thoughts.
A: I realised that being idealistic and pursuing good cinema in India — be it in Hindi or Tamil films — won’t necessarily cut it. While the Malayalam industry respects good actors, especially if a film performs well, in many industries it’s all about how beautiful you looked or how flawless your make-up was … Every filmmaker automatically chooses a big star who can shoulder the film commercially over a newcomer or over good actors. So being idealistic and saying I won’t do commercial cinema doesn’t work. I have seen many other actors who stay away from commercial cinema and I have seen them struggle … Unfortunately, in our industry you need to be on a pedestal and make a name for yourself for good films to come your way. It’s a package deal … I am strictly generalising here but the trend has been swaying that way. ‘Master’ got me recognised and as a result, movies that I want to be a part of are coming my way.
Q: Your dad is a noted cinematographer in the Malayalalam industry. Did his presence get you more work?
A: Absolutely not. If my journey had anything to do with my dad getting me work, it wouldn’t have taken me five years to get the kind of work I am getting. Most star kids will enjoy a huge launch and have two or three films lined up even before their first film releases. I am not complaining, their parents worked hard and therefore their kids get opportunities easier than others. My kid may get more opportunities than me. We can’t always be blaming people. What we can do is do the work we love and hope for the best.
Q: Bollywood has been getting a rap recently and a spotlight is being shone on actors with substance abuse … Your thoughts?
A: I was at a small party with a few work colleagues when this whole discussion about Bollywood and drug cases were blowing up … My actor friends and I were specifically talking about how a majority in Bollywood don’t even drink because they are so disciplined and conscious about the way they look. They are even worried about how alcohol may affect their body adversely. So this picture of Bollywood being painted as everyone doing drugs isn’t right. I haven’t seen drugs in my life. I don’t even know what form it comes in. Everybody isn’t bad in this industry. There are people who do drugs, but it doesn’t mean we can generalise. I feel people are bored due to the lockdown, so this adds to their entertainment factor to declare that all Bollywood people are druggies.
Q: You were spotted dining with Hollywood director Darren Aronofsky [‘Mom’ starring Jennifer Lawrence] ... Are you hoping to conquer the West like Priyanka Chopra Jonas?
A: Priyanka Chopra Jonas is doing amazing work. But I think it’s a great time to be an actor today because lines are blurring. Within India, you see many Hindi actors working in Telugu films. Three or four years ago, nobody wanted to do ‘South’ films which I found ridiculous. Many even declared, ‘You can’t do south films after you make it into Bollywood’. I don’t get their theory because I have grown up [seeing] iconic actors like Sridevi doing Tamil films even after being a big star in Bollywood. But today, we have an Alia Bhatt doing an SS Rajamouli film or a Shraddha Kapoor doing a Prabhas film. Lines are blurring. I am just greedy for good work ... And I met Darren for dinner, but nothing has been finalised yet.
Don’t miss it!
‘Master’ is out in the UAE cinemas and will premiere on Amazon Prime Video on January 29.