On the surface, there’s little in common between Southern matinee idol Mohanlal and Bollywood superstar Salman Khan. The latter is a gleaming muscled hero strapped with an amazing star power, while the more rotund Lalettan (as he is fondly referred to by his fans) is known for his intense acting.
However, tabloid! saw a striking resemblance in the way they go about work on Sunday morning, on set with Lal and Meera Jasmine in Dubai as they filmed scenes for their drama Ladies And Gentleman at the IMAX Meydan. The set visit came close on the heels of observing Salman Khan as he shot his Bollywood action drama Mental in Dubai earlier this month, and this reporter felt a sense of déjà vu.
Both have a no-fuss aura around them and nail their scenes in two takes. Re-take isn’t a word in their vocabulary.
“They don’t drag a scene. The make decisions swiftly and I like that,” Ladies And Gentleman director Siddique told tabloid!. Before he began work on Malayalam drama Ladies And Gentlemen, Siddique directed Khan in 2011 blockbuster Bodyguard -- making him an authority on both actors.
“If there are re-takes it’s mostly because of some technical fault and not because of the artist,” he said.
The scene filmed on Sunday wasn’t too dramatic or complicated by movie standards. The on-screen couple played by Jasmine and Lal, playing a successful businessman, Chandrabose, enter a cinema somewhere in Europe to enjoy a movie date. But while watching an Indian film (yes, creative liberty states that Indian films are popular in Europe), Lal’s character receives a phone call and exits the cinema. His on-screen partner is troubled at her husband’s distracted, work-is-life attitude.
“It’s a simple scene … I just go with instincts,” said Lal just before his shot. It’s the fourth and final day of their shoot in Dubai. Earlier in the week, they had shot a Dubai-set song sequence in Miracle Garden. As always, Lal – whose name is synonymous with Malayalam cinema after having acted in over 350 films - got it all done in a snap.
“It’s my 35th year in films. So why should I get tense before a scene? Acting is a practice and we get acclimatised to it. Don’t you find interviewing people easier now?” said Lal, clad in a corporate-style tan suit, with a shrug.
Talking about his work may not get him animated, but mention Siddique and his face lights up.
“We are getting back together after 21 years. Our last film was Vietnam Colony which I thoroughly enjoyed. It was a good film,” said Lal, who played a role of a brainy engineer working with a giant construction corporation to usurp a colony filled with poor labourers in that 1992 hit. He goes undercover to win the trust of the poor, falls in love and then realises that his deep-pocketed employers are a thieving bunch -- in that order.
“Ladies And Gentleman doesn’t deal with social issues such as the one in Vietnam Colony. This is a drama about the differences in outlook between the old and the new generation. But like all my movies, there’s a mix of humour, romance and drama,” said Siddique, whose hits include Nadodikaatu and Godfather.
Clearly, this director belongs to old-school style of filmmaking. He doesn’t fret about small things -- such as the many star-struck children that the two dozen extras hired for the shoot brought with them. Point it out to him that it’s unlikely that a European cinema hall would grant entry to children for a grown-up film, and he advises me to let the small things slide.
“We shouldn’t bother with all that … We are showing that they are watching an Indian film in an foreign location, so it’s possible there are kids. Cinema should entertain. Never get angry or stressed about such small things.” His relaxed attitude is reflected when one of his crew members asked me if I minded being an extra in the scene that was being shot (more on that later) in the cinema hall. Clearly, Siddique has never heard the ‘God is in the details’ mantra and prefers to focus on the big picture.
Ladies And Gentleman is expected to release mid-April, during the festival of Vishu.
Five minutes with Meera Jasmine:
She’s one of Malayalam cinema’s top actresses, but Meera Jasmine doesn’t behave like a star or travel with an entourage. While the technicians get busy setting up the cameras, Jasmine is heard softly singing Adele’s hit, Skyfall.
“I love that song. I love Adele because she’s so talented and fearless. She’s so comfortable in her own skin,” said Jasmine. Her career choices – be it her role as the unfaithful wife in Ore Kadal, the fearless cynic in romantic comedy Swapnakoodu or a distraught wife who fights for justice for her Gulf-based husband in Perumazhakallam – can only be described as fearless.
“I am confident about the choices I make and I am happy with whatever is happening. I like to think myself as a normal girl who doesn’t get carried away by fame or glamour. Every day of my life, I look back at my childhood. It helps me stay grounded,” said Jasmine. Born to a non-film dynasty, Jasmine is a self-made star. For her every day is a gift.
“I feel blessed to work with Lalettan again. We acted together in Rasathanthram before and it feels good to act with him again. He’s incredible. I call him our Anthony Hopkins,” said Jasmine. It’s her first time shooting a Malayalam feature in Dubai.
“I have been here before to shoot for my Telugu films. It’s wonderful to be in Dubai because I love shopping and there’s so much to do here.”
Five minutes with Mohanlal:
“Homework is for schoolchildren, not for me,” declares Malayalam superstar Mohanlal. This retort came my way when I asked him about the work involved in playing a corporate big shot in Ladies And Gentleman. Fortunately, his lack of preparation didn’t mean shoddy work. Within two hours, he was on his way home after shooting his scenes.
“I can’t talk about my role because I believe there should be some secrecy behind it. It’s a film about a person with a positive attitude in life. He’s passing that kind of positivity and energy to the new generation [symbolized by Meera Jasmine’s character],” said Lal. The movie has been under discussion for over four years.
“We had decided that we will work on a film. But then Siddique got busy in other films. We have a certain connect and it developed organically,” said Lal, who has shot several films in Dubai.
“I know this country for the last 30 years and I have some great friends here. When we can make Europe in Dubai, why should we go elsewhere. Anyway the climate isn’t too great in Europe now.” His top tip to rising actors? “Remember script is the hero. So pray that you get to work on good films and good directors.”
Being an extra in a scene in Ladies And Gentleman:
Who would have thought that an invitation to go behind the scenes of Ladies And Gentleman shoot would translate into being featured in the movie? Now before your imagination goes into an overdrive, I am not going to be the next Frieda Pinto. All I was asked was to be an extra in the film. My brief? Pretend to watch the movie as the hero and the heroine enter the cinema hall and sit in the same row as me. There were at least 30 extras like me in the hall. But judging by the sharp shout from the assistant director: “look at the screen and not at Lalettan,” it’s not easy to stare at a screen when stars are in the same room. I was tempted to check on Lal and whether he lived up to his claim of never feeling nervous in front of the camera. I gave into that urge. My take: Lal passed with flying colours, whereas I am in the danger of being that weirdo in a green dress. But after 123 minutes of staring at the screen, who cares?