Malayalam superstar Mohanlal was introduced to Hindi audiences as the even-tempered cop in RGV’s 'Company'. Varma expertly turned the actor’s weak Hindi to the film’s advantage, making him speak less and express more. In turn, Mohanlal didn’t disappoint his helmer, playing his part with understated dignity. Mohanlal says he wasn’t keen on doing a Hindi film, but Varma convinced him to give it a shot. Varma won him over again to appear as Thakur in his 'Sholay'-remake 'Aag'.
Keeping with his rarer-than-rare outings, Mohanlal remains as finicky about Bollywood as he always was. However, there’s no particular reason for this, as he points out: “I’ve been acting in Malayali films for 33 years. Never have I felt the need to look for work outside. It’s new actors who have to prove themselves. My time to prove has passed me.” He adds as an afterthought, “There’s nothing against Bollywood as such, but at this time of my career, I think it’s better to do films in a language I’m comfortable with, and appreciate what I have.”
While Mohanlal’s reluctance to act in Hindi films may be disheartening for his admirers across India, his appearance in friend Priyadarshan’s 'Tezz' — as a cop — could provide some comfort. But don’t expect too much, he says with a wave of hand. “I did this for Priyan, and I usually do anything he tells me,” he laughs.
Acknowledging that Bollywood has a huge market abroad, he says in truth there’s little difference between Hindi and Malayali films. “Films are the same everywhere. For an actor, emotion is supreme and my way of working is the same everywhere — whether it’s Tamil, Telugu or Hindi films,” he says. He seems pleased with the success of Hindi remakes of South Indian blockbusters, of which Salman remains the biggest beneficiary. Now Akshay is following suit, with 'Rowdy Rathore'. “It’s a very good thing,” claims Mohanlal whose 'Manichitrathazhu' (1993) was remade into every imaginable language, including 'Bhool Bhulaiyaa' in Hindi.
“Our market is small; it can extend at the most to the Gulf, but Hindi films are huge everywhere. So, when a regional film is remade in Hindi, it gets wider viewership, which benefits the regional actors too. What’s wrong if the entire country watches and enjoys it?”
Mohanlal himself rarely watches Hindi flicks, but loves Amitabh Bachchan. If given a chance, he would like to speak proper Hindi. “Nobody talks in Hindi in Kerala. When you don’t have anyone who speaks a language, you lose your determination to learn it,” he explains. On a positive note, he says if he gets a better role than 'Company', he’d take it up. It’s evident he finds 'Company' close to his heart.
“Every time I step into Mumbai or Delhi, people recognise me as ‘that actor from Company’. People liked me in it. If I can’t match up to that, I better not take up bad roles and undo its effect.” Is Bollywood listening?