South Indian superstar Mohanlal will expand his movie-making empire by operating primarily from Dubai and will throw his weight behind ambitious Malayalam films that have global appeal, Gulf News has learned.
“There’s magic in this city Dubai,” said Mohanlal in an exclusive interview on August 25.
“It’s an exciting chapter in my life … I have just signed a new multilingual film called ‘Vrushabha’ with AVS Studios. It’s a big film — a father-son drama high on emotions and action — and I am setting up my own Aashirvad office in Dubai too. It’s exciting times ahead for us,” he said.
We were on the 50th floor of a snazzy lounge overlooking the glittering skyline of the UAE, but this actor’s aspirations to take Malayalam cinema to the world towered over it all. The multi-hyphenate, who has ruled Malayalam cinema for more than four decades, is now in a phase where he wants to experiment and push creative boundaries as an artist.
‘Vrushabha’ — directed by Nanda Kishore and produced by Abhishek Vyas, Praveer Singh, and Shyam Sunder — will see Mohanlal play the father’s role in a tale spanning generations. The team is on the look-out for a massive Telugu actor who will play his son and the cast will be finalised soon.
“The truth is that I am getting a lot of offers from Hindi and Telugu now. But I was on the look-out for a unique story … ‘Vrushabha’ is going to be a visual treat where you see battles being fought and we are going to shoot it in very cold locations. It’s going to be an epic spectacle,” said Mohanlal. The filming for ‘Vrushubha’, shot in Malayalam and Telugu and dubbed in major Indian languages, will begin in May next year and is likely to release in early 2024.
“It has a solid script and a story that’s high on emotions! Emotions are the core of our films,” said Mohanlal. This acting legend, who has featured in over 320 films and won multiple National Awards, recalls how he was at a temple in a remote village in Guwhati in India earlier this week and the priest who didn’t speak a word of Malayalam recognised him.
“Even the Pujari [priest] had seen my thriller ‘Drishyam’ and has begun watching Malayalam films after that. Films like ‘RRR’, ‘KGF’, ‘Pushpa’ have created a lot of noise … And it’s all positive noise. Pan-Indian films have so much more scope now. Now we are open to bringing other actors from other industries into our films,” said Mohanlal.
He remembers a time when his own productions like ‘Kaalapani’ and ‘Vaanaprastham’ — albeit stellar films with a versatile cast — didn’t get as much attention and traction all-over India. But South Indian films are now having a glorious moment in the sun, believes the actor. Currently, films made by directors and led by actors from the South are doing bombastic box-office business when compared to its glitzier cousin Bollywood, which’s allegedly going through a dry spell.
“This was our ultimate dream where actors did not have boundaries … Even my directorial debut ‘Barroz’ which will be shot in 3D has the scope to be subtitled in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese or Portuguese. It’s a fantasy film and I really hope my ambitions and dreams for this film will translate,” said Mohanlal.
All of his films, including AVS-backed ‘Vrushabha’ and his own directorial debut ‘Barroz’, are his dream projects.
“I have completed ‘Barroz’ and it’s in post-shoot work. I also have ‘Empuran’ coming up and I will start the shoot of ‘Ram’ whose filming had halted due to COVID-19, but I will be travelling to the UK soon and then back here in my office,” said Mohanlal.
The 62-year-old idol’s new office in Dubai will ensure that his transition to distribution, production and event management is seamless.
“There’s a right time for everything. After COVID-19, there was a big change happening in cinema with a lot of hype around South Indian films. I honestly believe that ‘Drishyam’ had a big impact on my life and career,” said Mohanlal.
Asked if he takes decisions in his career with his head or heart, Mohanlal was quick to say that he often listens to what his heart and gut dictates.
“We want to expand and Dubai is always such a great hub to operate to conquer the world. With films like ‘Barroz’ and ‘Vrushabha’, we want to expand big. Ahmad Golchin [of Phars Films] was the first person to bring cinema from around the world and my production company based in India had a strong connection. But now we want to dream even bigger,” said Mohanlal.
He also told Gulf News that he wanted to even start operation in China and perhaps even tap into Saudi Arabia.
“There are at least 60,000 screens in China and it’s a huge market. After Dubai, I am thinking of starting an office in China. Did you know ‘Drishyam’ was made in Chinese but its ending was changed where the hero surrenders to the police. The possibilities are huge and are exposure even larger. We can spend money and witness miracle on the big screen,” said Mohanlal.
Apparently, the reason why he wants to produce, act, or direct larger-than-life movies is because he prefers to take risks with his own money instead of ‘somebody else’s money’. The onus is marginally lighter as he hates the idea of someone else losing money over his creative endeavours that may or many not pan out.
“I can experiment better … If somebody asks me the budget of my ambitious films, it will start from Rs1,500 million and I often see them draw back into shell! The truth of the matter is that good films define an actor and make us feel relevant,” said Mohanlal.
He’s one of Malayalam cinema’s biggest cultural exports. His star power remains unparalleled and his films like ‘Lucifer’ that was high on style was a blockbuster. His robust career is filled with versatile roles spanning all ages and shades. From playing the son who reluctantly resorts to violence in ‘Kireedam’ to playing a father in surrogacy drama ‘Dasharatham’, Mohanlal is an actor of all seasons.
“But my best is yet to come. There’s something called luck and at the end of the day, people should like the film. And what we need to do is to give unexpected kind of films. Successful film is a magical recipe that’s elusive even today. But I will keep trying,” said Mohanlal. According to this actor, he believes he has a protective cloud that hovers around him at all times.
“I enjoy a lot of freedom now as an actor and producer. I have the resources and the paraphernalia … but it’s the protective cloud that keeps me safe.”