South Indian director Siddique is convinced that Mohanlal — his lead hero in his new Malayalam film ‘Big Brother’ — has an aura and star power that would rival Rajinikanth, the matinee idol notorious for his studied histrionics and an army of adoring fans.
“Today’s Lal [Mohanlal] is not the Lal from the past glory. When I was making ‘Vietnam Colony’ (1992) or ‘Ladies And Gentleman’ (2013), his image wasn’t as big as it is now… Now he’s gained an invincible status that’s beyond reproach,” said Siddique in an interview in Malayalam with Gulf News tabloid! ahead of his film’s release in the UAE on January 16.
“Lal’s brand and his cinema has grown exponentially … His market value is huge now and there are certain elements that his fans expect from his films and I have gone all out to showcase his strengths as a cult hero in ‘Big Brother’,” said Siddique.
He describes ‘Big Brother’, which he has also co-produced, as a wholesome entertainer.
His lead hero Mohanlal, 59, isn’t gifted with conventional good-looks nor does he resemble clean-shaven, buffed and puffed Bollywood heroes. However, his bankability is unbeatable and his appeal has lasted for several decades in the content-rich Malayalam film industry.
Mohanlal, who has questionable views on #MeToo when he famously told this journalist that it’s a fad, excels in the typical common man’s role (‘Drishyam’ or ‘Sanmanassullavarkku Samadhanam’), but also shines in films that require him to be a larger-than-life invincible hero (‘Devasuram’ or ‘Lucifer’). Being versatile and constantly reinventing himself with a variety of roles and complex characters is his biggest strength. From playing a mentally-ill patient in ‘Thaalavattam’ to a corrupt government official in the star-crossed romance ‘Pakshe’ with actress Shobana, Mohanlal is an indefatigable force to reckon with in Malayalam cinema.
But before you venture into the cinemas this weekend to watch his new ‘masala-fuelled entertainer’, here are 5 things you need to know about ‘Big Brother’ gleaned from its director.
1. ‘Big Brother’ is an action thriller that chronicles the life and journey of Sachidanand, played by Mohanlal.
“Sachidanand is a common man with a murky past who is keen to forget his life of crime. He is shown as a changed man, but there are parts of his life that he isn’t keen to look back on,” said Siddique.
The director is also keen to showcase Mohanlal in a dazzling action thriller genre with a powerful hero leading the star-driven vehicle. It’s an ode to films that have heroes who can make villains fly with just one kick or a punch. It defies logic, but he will join forces to showcase Mohanlal as an indestructible force from the first scene on.
“The truth is that Lal has done hundreds of roles and there’s not many roles that he hasn’t done yet in his illustrious career. So my aim was to present him as a “different” hero. Sachidanand’s nature is very unique to him … He’s strong yet steeped in emotions,” said Siddique.
2. Mohanlal was the first and old choice to play the lead in ‘Big Brother’. According to Siddique, he floated the idea of ‘Big Brother’ to Mohanlal nearly two years ago when he was working with him for a skit with several other actors. Siddique narrated a gist of this film to Mohanlal during the rehearsals and the actor was suitably intrigued.
“He asked me to develop it … First what we look for is an artist’s availability and interest. Once he confirms, the other artists in the film were locked in and the shooting schedule was planned,” said Siddique. The movie also stars Anoop Menon and actress Honey Rose in pivotal roles.
3. Director Siddique, who is known for his cult comedies such as ‘Ramjirao Speaking’ and ‘Godfather’, films that he collaborated on with actor-screenwriter-filmmaker Lal (not to be confused with actor Mohanlal), branched out on his own in the mid 1990s and is known for his witty, humorous films that resonate with the middle-class milieu of those living in Kerala. He tackled tricky subjects with a good blend of sarcasm, wry humour and action. But such films, which were blockbusters during those years, won’t work anymore, believes the director. Themes like the quarter-life crisis crippling unemployed young men in the 80s aren’t the reality anymore.
“As a filmmaker, we have to be updated about what the audiences want … As a filmmaker, we were much ahead of our times. We tackled tricky subjects like kidnapping in a situation comedy about how a bunch of unemployed young men get embroiled in a kidnapping racket. It was couched in humour, but dealt responsibly,” said Siddique.
4. ‘Big Brother’ has fading Bollywood actor Arbaaz Khan make his Malalayalm film debut. Director Siddique, who has worked with his brother Salman Khan in ‘Bodyguard’, will present Arbaaz in a ‘never-seen-before’ avatar. Khan, who plays top IPS officer Vedanthan, was also seen celebrating his 52nd birthday with Mohnalal and sang old Hindi songs together with the superstar to mark his special day.
5. Director Siddique is not pining for awards glory with ‘Big Brother’. He proudly describes it as a wholesome film that is filled with action, songs, stunts and drama.
“Commercial films by nature is an exaggerated form of films. You may not get the critics to love your film, but your viewers are likely to love the film. I remember my films like ‘In Harihar Nagar’ and ‘Ramjirao Speaking’ were attacked by critics who questioned the believability of the situations shown in my films … But today’s youngsters and our viewers during that era loved that movie wholeheartedly. They found my storytelling organic and natural … I deal with the most unnatural storylines in a natural way.”
Even today, his jokes from his earlier comedies are popular as memes and have long enduring appeal.
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‘Big Brother’ is out now in the UAE.