Interviewer : You were the hero of Mani Ratnam’s second movie. That was when you had just started your career like Mani Ratnam. More than a decade has passed. What are the changes that have taken place in your and Mani Ratnam’s career and attitude to films?
Mohanlal : (Laughs) What can I say about myself? I didn’t see any change in Mani Ratnam and the way he works. He works the same way, talks the same way; nothing has changed. In the last 12 years, he has done only 14 films or so. I had noticed then that he had a keen observation about the process of acting. Now also he gives a lot of importance to subtle actions and reactions. Then of course, you improve after each film. I feel that Iruvar will be one of the best movies made by him. The way he has made this film is quite novel and also very good.
Interviewer : What about you in the film?
Mohanlal : I think I am not bad in the film (laughs). What else can I say about my performance? I can never judge myself.
Interviewer : It is said that Iruvar is based on the lives of MGR, Jayalalitha and Karunanidhi. Did you find it difficult to portray a character who is still in the minds of people?
Mohanlal : We never said that (the film is based on their lives). The director didn’t say so. The actors didn’t say so. Only the press and the others say that. Of course, you might find some resemblance. Maybe, some incidents remind you of something that had really happened. Just resemblance. You think they are real life characters because I am playing the role of an actor and the other man is a writer. Both of them become chief ministers. Those who are familiar with Tamil Nadu politics may ask, is it not the story of that man? But nobody can claim that it is ‘his’ story.
Interviewer : So you didn’t have to see MGR’s movies to prepare yourself before shooting.
Mohanlal : No… no. You cannot say that the story is based on ‘his’ life. If I had acted like him, it would look like mimicking a legendary figure. That is not right.
Interviewer : But the songs of the film liberally used words from many of MGR’s films.
Mohanlal : It has happened.
Interviewer : Earlier you used to say that you were not interested in acting in films in other languages. Then, why did you accept this Tamil film?
Mohanlal : It was a very challenging role because I am playing an actor.
Interviewer : How difficult was the role?
Mohanlal : It was not difficult at all. Yes, the story of the actor starts from his early life, the very beginning, and it continues till his end. I said challenging because I had to portray him as a young man and also as an old man. As age catches up with him, he changes. I accepted the role because I could convey a whole lot of emotions through him as he was passing through several phases in his life an career. Then, of course, the name Mani Ratnam itself (made me accept the role). He is not one director who makes mediocre films. And he has put in a lot of effort in this film. It is not the usual Tamil film at all.
Interviewer : Did you have to think a lot before accepting the role?
Mohanlal : No, not at all. In fact, we had been planning to make a movie together for the last three-four years. We wanted to do something new.
Interviewer : Did you have a lot of discussions with him about the choice of story?
Mohanlal : We discussed a lot. Then he came with this story, and I liked it a lot. That’s it. What attracted me was, it was totally different from the other Tamil films. Usually you have dance for dances sake, fights for fights sake, etc. in Tamil movies. I am not saying that these things are there only in Tamil films. But this is not a superficial film at all. It is very, very genuine.
Interviewer : Was it a satisfactory experience for you as an actor?
Mohanlal : Yes, of course. No. I will not talk about satisfaction. I have left the experience of the movie behind. It is not me who should be talking about the film, it is the viewers, people like you.
Interviewer : But do you care about their opinion?
Mohanlal : It depends upon the person. Generally people say it is good. That is not the kind of opinion I look forward to. But if there are people who genuinely tell me their opinion, I care about it.
Interviewer : You always say that you don’t prepare yourself for any role. How can you perform without any preparation?
Mohanlal : It is not necessary to prepare for a role. I cannot do that. I don’t even think about the character before and after a shot. After the completion of a movie, I never think that I should have done like this or like that. My way of acting is reacting to a particular situation. Yes, the reactions tend to become repetitive for take 2 or take 3. To overcome that, I break away from the pattern. So, I don’t get bothered about various takes as I look at every take as a new one. I think I could do that only due to God’s grace.
Interviewer : You portray extroverted characters with such ease. But in real life you appear totally different.
Mohanlal : How do you know that?
Interviewer : I don’t know you. But that is the impression I got. Was it not true?
Mohanlal : See, an actor exists between ‘action’ and ‘cut’. Most of the time, an actor is a person, his real self. I like to be a person most of the time, not an actor. An actor’s job is only to react to a particular situation.
Interviewer : Was appreciation an important factor in your life, when you were young? Children always yearn for appreciation from elders; and it could be from one’s mother, father or a teacher. Whose appreciation did you want the most when you were young?
Mohanlal : How do you expect me to remember all that now?
Interviewer : You mean you don’t remember anything.
Mohanlal : No. Can you remember what was in your mind when you were three or four?
Interviewer : Of course. But you might remember your slightly older days.
Mohanlal : Unfortunately, I am a very forgetful person.
Interviewer : That’s a joke, I think.
Mohanlal : No, I am not joking. I don’t remember a single thing about even my school days. I think I have not saved anything in my mind for my later years. Can I carefully store the memory of an incident in my mind, so that I could remember it, say after 35 years? I have left my past behind. See, my memory bank is very poor.
Interviewer : I don’t believe you.
Mohanlal : I was a very normal boy. I used to sing. I used to act. I might have got appreciation from people. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have continued singing or acting in school, college and later on in life too. I got my first Best Actor award when I was in the sixth standard. Perhaps that was the first time a sixth standard boy was given the award. Usually, it was given to those studying in the tenth standard. But I didn’t go on thinking about the incident. I didn’t even feel unduly happy.
Interviewer : At present, whose opinion do you value the most?
Mohanlal : Nobody. It is always my decision. The truth is, I haven’t met a person who can guide me and correct me. This is the problem with all people, I think (Laughs) So far, I have not faced any grave situation in my life where the opinion of experts is necessary.
Interviewer : These days, many people are calling you one of the best actors in India. Do you feel flattered when you hear that?
Mohanlal : What I felt first was, ‘what has happened to all these people?’ (Laughs loudly) I really don’t know. But is it not good if they say I am a good actor? But it doesn’t make me very elated, and it will not make me sad either if I didn’t get that kind of a compliment… To tell you the truth, I feel shy and embarrassed when I have to talk about my feelings, my state of mind etc. What saddens me is, such compliments are coming to a person who never craved or prepared for them.
Interviewer : Others rate you as a very good actor. How do you rate yourself?
Mohanlal : Not so good… Honestly, I have never done anything of that sort. I can never compare myself with other actors. If I did that, I would be lowering myself, wouldn’t I? The truth is, I never craved to be like somebody who is great and I never wanted to act like other great actors too. I am really not bothered about my acting. Had I been very serious about my profession, I would have exercised and looked after my body, I would have waited for you in make- up… but I don’t care about all such trappings. Maybe because I didn’t have a drive or ambition to be an actor. That’s my problem, I think. I don’t take much care about my body even though I am an actor, and I am not a professional at all.