Dulquer Salmaan
Dulquer Salmaan Image Credit: Phars Film/Wayfairer Films

Indian actor and producer Dulquer Salmaan isn’t being trite or cheeky when he claims that his latest thriller ‘Kurup’ is like his second baby.

The sinister tale of one of India’s most wanted and wicked fugitives Sukumara Kurup — who is still on the run after staging his own death in the 1980s for insurance fraud — saw the actor slay multiple hurdles including constant release delays due to the global pandemic.

Dulquer Salmaan in 'Kurup' Image Credit: Phars Film/Wayfarer Films

But in true protective parent style, Dulquer (he goes by his first name) and his team waited it out until their labour of love got a theatrical release in the UAE, India and the rest of the world.

“It is literally my second child because I have given it my all — mentally, physically, emotionally, and financially. I am so deeply invested in this film. This is my biggest production of my career,” said Dulquer in an interview with Gulf News. Even the budget of ‘Kurup’ — at Rs350 million (Dh17.2 million) — is a big one by the movie budgeting standards of Malayalam cinemas, known for its modestly-mounted, realistic movies. But ‘Kurup’ is not any ordinary film or so seems the buzz around it.

At the time of this interview, Dulquer was at an airport lounge in Chennai waiting for his Dubai-bound flight ahead of the world premiere of ‘Kurup’ at Reel Cinemas at Dubai Mall on November 11. If that wasn’t enough hype and fuss, ‘Kurup’s’ trailer will light up the Burj Khalifa a day before its premiere. It’s the first Malayalam film to be bestowed the distinction of being showcased on the world’s tallest building.

“My team has slogged for the longest time and trust me when I say it was a logistical nightmare to re-create the 70s/80s Bombay and Gujarat. Everything had to come from Bombay including every taxi cab or the bus that you see in the film had to be brought down … There are days when I have nightmares around this film... I wake up highly stressed wondering if people will like this film or not. This has never happened to me in my life with any film,” said Dulquer.

A still from 'Kurup' Image Credit: Phars Film/Wayfarer Films

Sukumara Kurup is a legendary fugitive from Kerala who captured the collective imagination of his compatriots. His crime, where he burnt a man to death to stage his own demise as a part of insurance fraud, has become folklore that’s constantly re-cast and reinterpreted over the years.

“But we haven’t glorified him,” said Dulquer, warning us not to mistake his character’s swagger or flamboyance as the makers condoning his sinful acts.

Kurup poster-1590562524648
Poster of 'Kurup'

The son of legendary icon Mammootty is one of Malayalam cinema’s beloved actors with incredible appeal and talent. His string of stirring and heartwarming hits such as ‘Bangalore Days’, ‘Charlie’, ‘Vikramadityan’, and ‘Mahanati’ is a solid proof to his growing popularity and fan base in South India.

A still from the film 'Bangalore Days', directed by Anjali Menon. Image Credit: Courtesy: Anwar Rasheed

Ahead of his visit to Dubai, Gulf News caught up with the actor to speak about ‘Kurup’, taking a leap of faith by opting for a sole theatrical release, and more …

‘Kurup’ seems to be one of your most challenging films of your career filled with endless delays due to the pandemic and more …

It has been a long journey for this interesting film and it’s something we have been working on for a very long time. Pre-COVID we were all in that phase of conceiving big films and thinking big and wider releases. Perhaps, that’s why we now have four or five big releases in Malayalam cinema ready to release and them pondering whether to release it in theatres or the OTT [over the top streaming platforms].

‘Kurup’ was conceived during that confident time of our lives. We did not compromise on anything and it’s mounted on a big scale. And my character ‘Kurup’ has travelled to many places and we wanted to cover all that ground in detail. Plus, we have an award-winning art director who brought it all to life and we are very proud of it all — be it the photography, the background score… This is going to be spectacle. ‘Kurup’ takes on a touchy topic and we were aware of it. We are aware that this film is going to evoke mixed opinions and any Malayali will be discussing this — especially those who were born in the 1980s and are keenly aware of who ‘Kurup’ is. He is a part of our pop culture. For me, it was a no-brainer to make a film about him.

So you were fascinated by ‘Kurup’ in real life too…

It’s a story that we wanted to tell in a big way. Here’s the deal: everybody may know his story because it was well-reported and well-documented, but I was curious to know what new we could do with it and what we could convey through this film. We decided that we wanted to explore Kurup’s life in detail and we gathered a lot of information about him to make that happen. We spoke to many people from his hometown and the Middle East, but there are elements of fiction in this film to make it entertaining.

Dulquer Salmaan in 'Kurup' Image Credit: Phars Film/Wayfarer Films

What the real-life criminal Sukumara Kurup did was macabre and grim … As an actor were you careful not to glorify his misdeeds? Or do you believe that an actor shouldn’t be saddled by morality of his on-screen characters?

As long as we are not justifying what he did, I don’t think we are glorifying him in any way. And, just because we have mounted this film in a big way and because he seems to have flair and style, don’t assume that we have glorified him. Most con men and sensational criminals in real life are flamboyant, larger-than-life and charismatic. And, obviously they are drawn to the life of crime because they enjoy the good life and enjoy money. They are often keen to take shortcuts in life and there is no integrity or morality code in their system.

As an actor, I was curious to understand their thinking and how their minds work. I think people immediately jump to the conclusion that we are glorifying him just because we shot ‘Kurup’ stylishly. In this film, Kurup is shown as someone with incredible flair, but as long we are not saying that he is innocent or that there was a conspiracy against him or that he was trapped into making bad choices, then I will believe we are glorifying him. But that’s not what we are doing.

Dulquer Salmaan as the fugitive in 'Kurup' Image Credit: Phars Film/Wayfarer Films

You have done what the ‘Sooryavanshi’ makers in Bollywood did this Diwali — solely release the film in theatres instead of going straight to a web streaming platform. Was it tough to stick to that bold decision and take that leap of faith?

In absolute honesty, we are stretched to our limit and I don’t think we would have survived another quarter or three more months of theatres not opening. We explored all the OTT options and we were offered good deals, but ‘Kurup’ was always conceived as a theatrical release and a big film meant for cinemas … The sheer interest costs incurred when the COVID-19 hit us for one and a half years is staggering. No investor or a bank will give us a holiday on the interest on the money that you take. And that interest cost is enough for me to make another film. But these are things that I can’t show on screen. And I didn’t want to cut corners with ‘Kurup’ and it was always conceived as a theatrical release … Even my colleagues and friends urged me not to go straight to OTT and I almost felt like it was my personal responsibility to see this through. In early 2000s, several producers were known to give their all — like their homes for a film and we all decided to stick with it.

Shobita Dhulilpala plays Dulquer Salmaan's on-screen wife in 'Kurup' Image Credit: Phars Film/Wayfarer Films

‘Kurup’ will see you reunite with your debut director Srinath Rajendran of ‘Second Show’ fame … How has your working equation and dynamic changed or evolved since you are now an established talent?

We enjoy a strong bond and a strong friendship. We began together and I am not someone who will forget my roots or where I came from. Whether I am in his film or not, Srinath has always discussed every part of it and we are each other’s sounding boards. Our dynamics haven’t changed. But now there’s an additional dynamic now of me being the film’s producer. I want ‘Kurup’ to be crisp and engaging. We don’t want it to lag or drop pace anywhere, so we fight and argue during the edit, but nothing is permanent. We fight for a larger cause for making the film its best version. Besides that, I am an actor who always submits to his director irrespective of whether he is my friend or younger than me. I surrender to my directors. And, the best part about Srinath is that he doesn’t have an ego and we are constantly brainstorming new ideas or trying to creating something new together.

Sidhu R. Pillai and Dulquer Salmaan (left to right) in Second Show Image Credit: Facebook

What’s your biggest learning from this pandemic?

Just like everybody else who has experienced the pandemic, my take away is that we all got that time to reflect about what we are working for and why we need to spend time at home and with our family. We took stock of our work-life equation during the lockdown. I am now keen to do quality work because it has made me aware that if I am away from home working, then I must invest in the best of films and quality. This time has made me realise that the best times in my life is with my loved ones, my daughter, my wife, and my parents. And it has to be worth it.

Dulquer Salmaan with his family
Dulquer Salmaan with his family Image Credit: Instagram/DulquerSalmaan

“We are no longer fighting with each other for attention. Our films will be compared to the ones being made in the rest of the world now. Audiences now have such sharp minds and they are clued in on everything."

- Dulquer Salmaan on the pandemic heightening audience expectations from films.
Quick take with director Srinath Rajendran on …
His film’s trailer being shown on the Burj Khalifa: “It’s such a dream come true. I am someone who hails from a small village and to imagine that our film will now light up the tallest building in the world is an incredible feeling.”

Not glorifying a criminal: “His activities and his past are well-documented. We haven’t done anything to glorify him. Once you watch the film and see how we have delivered it, you will be convinced.”

Filming in Dubai: "We were in Dubai filming for around six days. The city has been dressed up as Persia."

Don’t miss it!

‘Kurup’ is out in UAE cinemas on November 11.