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Dulqer Salmaan in a scene from the Indian gangster flick 'King of Kotha'. Image Credit: Supplied

Gangster dramas have enjoyed an enduring fascination, and Indian actor Dulquer Salmaan, who’s gearing up to play a menacing and swashbuckling crime lord in his new film ‘King Of Kotha’, has an interesting theory about it. The son of the legendary actor Mammootty believes its eternal popularity boils down to his “conditioning” since childhood.

“We have all been raised to do what’s right and be good, and whether society will judge us, especially as Malayalis in Kerala … So watching a gangster live so freely and act without being afraid of judgement or even the law is absolutely fascinating,” said Dulquer in an interview with Gulf News.

The son of the legendary actor Mammootty and Sulfath Kutty claims that he, along with many others, have been indoctrinated with the “what-will-people-say” mentality.

“Most of our lives are decided by what people would say … We are so limited in the way we react to situations. I can’t react loudly or talk back to any person because you will be told off for making a situation uncomfortable … Often I am told off,” said Dulquer.

He has often been taught to exercise caution and has been drilled with the “think before you act” life philosophy. However, his on-screen character Raju, as this diabolical crime lord whose grand ambition is to be a power-wielding mobster, allowed him to let loose.

“To be honest, none of us can really be those people ever,” said Dulquer, who claims he loves to binge on real-life crime documentaries. (For those wondering, he feasted on the controversial show ‘Monster: The Jeffrey Dahmer Story’ with relish).

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Aishwarya Lekshmi, Dulqer Salmaan and Nyla Usha at a press conference in Dubai on August 22 to promote 'King of Kotha'. Image Credit: Anas Thacharpadikkal/Gulf News

“I have a weird obsession with such shows,” he added.

The actor, who made his debut with the riveting slow-burn criminal underbelly tale ‘Second Show’ and topped it off with a brilliant performance in the recently launched drug-trade thriller ‘Guns & Gulaabs’ on Netflix, gets to live the life of a flamboyant gangster in his new film.

However, the movie isn’t just about Raju’s rise and rule in the fictional kingdom of Kotha. At the time of the interview, he was flanked by actresses Aishwarya Lekshmi and Nyla Usha, and they all swore that ‘King Of Kotha’ had some sharply written women roles. Since time immemorial, gangster dramas are notorious for being testosterone-heavy, with female parts being reduced to playing the seductive gangsters’ moll.

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Dulqer Salmaan in a scene from the Indian gangster flick 'King of Kotha'. Image Credit: Supplied

“‘King Of Kotha’ is equal parts testosterone and equal parts oestrogen … The women are the biggest drivers of this story. ‘King Of Kotha’ goes beyond just being a commercial gangster film. It’s a story of so many different people and how they are all affected by the actions of those around them … Trust me, the women in this film are the root cause of a lot of conflicts in the film,” said Dulquer.

Actresses Nyla Usha, a popular radio jockey in Dubai, and Aishwarya Lekshmi couldn’t help but laugh at his malice-free declaration.

“He’s absolutely right. Raju, this happy-go-lucky gangster, has been put to trouble by the women in this film. Whether it’s my character or his mom’s character played by Shanti Krishna, women have some serious roles to play here … Trust me when I tell you that this is one of the strongest characters that I got to play since ‘Porinju Mariam Jose’ in 2018. And we are now in 2023, and this character is really close to my heart,” Nyla said.

Incidentally, ‘Porinju Mariam Jose’, in which Nyla played a fierce Christian woman, was led by director Joshiy, while his son Abhilash Joshiy makes his debut with ‘King Of Kotha’. Abhilash and Dulquer were childhood mates who had always dreamed of making a cracking film together filled with ambitious men, complex women, and grey characters.

Dulqer Salmaan in a scene from the Indian gangster flick 'King of Kotha'. Image Credit: Supplied

Going by the trailer, ‘King Of Kotha’ boasts a dazzling anti-hero thriving as he aims to take charge of the organised crime milieu in his hood. But the women in his life aren’t as amiable as the goons that he controls.

Motley of complex characters

“What fascinated me about ‘King Of Kotha’ is how strong and layered all our characters are … I like to play complex women and intense characters. I play Tara, while Nyla’s character name is Manju. And when I heard the story, I knew I would kill to play Manju,” said Lekshmi.

According to Nyla, her character Tara is the epitome of “tough and bold”.

“These days, I am attracted to badass women. When I was much younger, I gravitated towards playing those kinds of all-enduring women. But now, I want to play intimidating women roles,” said Nyla.

While the women bit into their roles with collective fervour, Dulquer believes that he was surrounded by artistes who didn’t worry about the optics.

“Kudos to these women who understood the characters … Lots of people, even before hearing the script, ask who I am cast opposite to? I genuinely appreciate actors like them because they see a film as a whole. It’s not just about the optics for these actors … And let’s face it, ‘King Of Kotha’ is the complete package,” said Dulquer, who has also co-produced this film.

The film will simultaneously release in Hindi, Tamil, Telugu, and Kannada. It’s one of the most ambitious films by a Malayali-led crew to release this year.

Dulqer Salmaan in a scene from the Indian gangster flick 'King of Kotha'. Image Credit: Supplied

“I am loving this. I have stopped limiting myself in the sense of: ‘I would love to do this or that’. I love the surprises that are coming my way. Since ‘manifesting’ is the popular term these days, I can tell you that I don’t even know how to manifest something, but I am counting my blessings every day. I want to stay open to everything,” said Dulquer.

His co-stars couldn’t agree more. The trio, during the interview, underlined the fact that the sky’s now the limit for actors and that demarcations between hero, anti-hero, villain, and vamp were blurring.

“If you see Shah Rukh Khan’s initial days, he played the anti-hero and then went onto do love stories. Our two beloved actors, Lalettan (Mohanlal) and my father, have always played characters with different shades. As an actor, it’s always fun to play characters with different shades. And ‘King Of Kotha’ allowed us all to tap into different shades,” said Dulquer.

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‘King Of Kotha’ is out in UAE cinemas on August 24.