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When the makers of Mahanati aka Nadigaiyar Thilagam first approached Dulquer Salmaan to play Gemini Ganesan, he made it immediately clear that he wouldn’t try to imitate the legendary actor.
“I don’t think I resemble him at all,” he says. “That’s the challenging part —to internalise the character and do it my way without wearing wigs or prosthetic make-up. I didn’t want to be a caricature, and the director, Nag Ashwin, agreed.”
Dulquer’s approach was methodical. “If I were a big star in the 1950s, what would I have done? How would I have reacted? I asked myself these questions,” he says. “I enjoyed the process because Gemini and I are different people. We had no footage of his for reference, except, of course, his films.” The actor says he was intrigued about Gemini’s views on life and love. “I am fascinated by his views on relationships and marriage. And before you ask me if I can relate to those ideologies, not really,” he says with a laugh.
But he quickly clarifies that Gemini was a likeable person who stood by his values. “It takes a lot of courage to live the life you want. Moreover, I spoke to his family, and they had only good things to say about him. I was told he was extremely caring and never hurt anyone. They all love him for what he was. Maybe, he had so much love in him that he couldn’t stop giving it to women,” Dulquer says with a smile.
The actor realises that he got a role of a lifetime. “Very few people get such opportunities, especially if you are like me and can’t even speak the language of the film—Telugu. I wasn’t going to pass on it,” he says.
He was further motivated by a ‘young vibrant team that had the vision to make something special’. “I thoroughly enjoyed playing Gemini because there was so much scope for performance. A lot of people have since told me that I was an apt choice.”
Dulquer believes that he interpreted the role as honestly as he could. “I tried to know more about him. I observed his mannerisms from his films and their songs. I had to understand why he behaved in a certain way. Those days, only if actors exaggerated, was it considered acting. Now, it’s more subtle. I am sure he had a different persona off screen, which only a few people knew.”
Our conversation veers to the shooting experience, and Dulquer recalls, “There was this housewarming scene where Gemini is with three wives and kids. I was thrilled beyond words to experience the situation because I can never imagine those things happening to me in life. But Gemini was so cool that he was reading a newspaper despite having three women by his side. If I were him, I’d have been awkward and left the place saying nothing.” The scene, however, could not be retained in the film.
It’s only fitting that Dulquer made his debut in Telugu cinema with such a complex film. “Easy films don’t interest me. The role should excite and scare me at the same time,” he says. “If I continue to pick roles like this another decade later, I’d think of myself as having been successful.”What can he tell us about his Bollywood debut, Karwan? “I only do films that I can relate to as a viewer and actor. It was nice working with Akarsh Khurana (director), Irrfan Khan and Mithila Palkar,” he says, keeping his cards close to his chest. Would he call it his dream film? “That’s the problem with me. I can’t say I want to play a teacher or an astronaut. My brain just doesn’t work that way!”
Two to tango
● Keerthy Suresh was brilliant. No actor imitated anybody. It wasn’t required. We understood how each of them were originally, and played our respective roles.
● My dad (Mammootty) is proud of my choices as an actor. Now, people identify me as an individual rather than calling me his son. Initially, I was afraid of comparisons. But over a period of time, people learn to see you for what you are.