Lal Salaam

Source: The Hindu, dated 6th April, 2006

In the film world where being anorexic is the norm, roly-poly Mohanlal has survived for 26 years. The unapologetic foodie unwinds.

Calling Mohanlal an everyman superstar might be a bit of an oxymoron. But if one were looking to formulate him in a phrase, it would be the most apt one.

For someone who has clocked 26 years in the Malayalam film industry, acted in 270 films (and counting), won innumerable awards including the Padma Shri, he wears his stardom lightly on his more than ample shoulders.

In the city for the opening of his restaurant, The Harbour Market, Mohanlal is charm personified as he patiently answers excruciatingly similar questions. “Everyone asks `why Bangalore?'” he says with the trademark grin.

“Why not? Bangalore is a beautiful place. For a restaurant, location is very important. I saw this place and liked it. We did a survey and found that there is a market for seafood. We are into marine export so we can get quality seafood — all the prawn, squid and lobster that we serve here is of export quality. The spices we use are also ours — Mohanlal’s Taste Buds. We are focussing on quality not the name. The tagline, Mohanlal’s Taste Buds Restaurant Pvt. Ltd, is in really small print. People may come once for the star value but after that if the food is not good, they will not return.”

The restaurant business is not new to Mohanlal. “In 2002, I started a restaurant in Dubai. And we have plans of opening restaurants in other cities as well — Kochi, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Delhi and so on.”

In love with seafood

Mohanlal is a self-confessed foodie. “I love food — cooking, serving friends and eating.” In an increasingly image-obsessed world, he is disarmingly candid when he says: “Sometimes I exercise, and sometimes I don’t. Malayalis have been seeing me this way for 26 years and they don’t have a problem!”

Mohanlal’s favourite food is “seafood. But if that were not there, I would try anything else. My cooking is all by the gut. I close the doors to the kitchen and whip up dishes which my friends enjoy thoroughly even though they complain that it is too rich!”

Ask him about how he would manage to find time for the venture and he laughs: “There is always time. We live in a connected world so I could monitor the restaurant even if I am not here all the time. And acting is not a 24×7 job. I don’t act, I react!” This is coming from a man fresh from an award-winning turn in Thanmatra!

“It is a blessing from the Almighty. When one is performing there is a hidden energy that plays on you. It is true of anyone — a cricketer, a surgeon, a master chef. Everyone works with the same tools but the Almighty chooses one person and that makes the difference between the commonplace and genius. We cannot claim any credit. The lifespan of an actor is very small — between action and cut and in that infinitesimal time frame, we are helped along by the divine.”

Modesty thy name is Mohanlal!

Mohanlal’s chillingly affable CBI chief in Ramgopal Varma’s Company had Varma singing unqualified praises. And there is the buzz that Varma has signed him on to play Thakur Baldev Singh to Amitabh Bachchan’s Gabbar in his Sholay remake. “Yes, he came to me with the offer and I have said yes. I have not heard anything after that. I think they need to buy the rights from the Sippys. It would be in a different setting obviously, we are not going back to the Chambal!”

While Mohanlal has produced films, direction is not his cup of tea. “I will have to quit acting if I am going to direct. The director is the captain of the ship. He has the final word. Sitting at the editing table, he makes the decision of the final cut. I don’t think I have it in me.”

A suggestion of an autobiography is met with disbelief. “One must do something to merit an autobiography,” he blurts out. As if joining films at the age of 17 is an everyday occurrence! The film, Thiranottam, made by Priyadarshan, Mohanlal’s friend and classmate in M.G. College Thiruvananthapuram, marked an association of more than 30 films.

“Priyan is very busy now with Hindi films. Incidentally, all his Hindi films are remakes of the Malayalam films we made together, including the recent Garam Masala, which is a remake of Boeing, Boeing. But he is writing a script and we may work together again.”

Mohanlal does not believe in “running after roles. If you wish for something, you should get it, otherwise why wish? I did this Sanskrit play. It was not something I wished for; it just happened. That is my motto in life: let things happen, don’t go after it.”

Politics has him purse his lips: “Power is a big addiction. Like the man on the street, I have my views on what is happening in the country. And unlike the film industry here, politics and film are kept separate in Kerala.”

Mohanlal, a commerce graduate, laughs outright when I ask if the degree has helped in the food or film industry: “I don’t know how to solve problems — accountancy or anything else!”

Best kanna best! 🙂

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