What makes Dulquer Salmaan special? Well, he's a very handsome man. And a good actor. He has plenty of screen presence. His eyes are the shade of tiramisu and he's the right kind of fit - not rippling muscles like Bollywood heroes but like the neighborhood charmer who makes your life a wee bit better. Did I say he's very handsome?
But beyond Dulquer's good looks and talent, he's managed to do something quite stupendous: make the audience forget that he's Mammooty's son when they are watching him on screen.
To an outsider, coming from a film family might seem like a huge advantage for anyone trying to catch a break as an actor in tinsel town. However, not all star children enjoy success. The bigger the stature of your parent and the longer their career as a leading hero or heroine, the harder it can be to grow out of their shadow and make it on your own.
This seems to be especially true when it comes to star fathers and their sons. Star sons who do well tend to be children of fathers who enjoyed a reasonable amount of popularity but were not the reigning superstars of their time. Like Suriya and Karthi whose father Sivakumar did many memorable films but was dwarfed by stalwarts like MGR and Sivaji.
While Sivaji's son, Prabhu, is one of the few Southern actors to have successfully evolved from playing the hero to "character" roles, he was never in the league of his contemporaries, Kamal Haasan and Rajinikanth. And of course, there's Abhishek Bachchan who continues to be unfairly trolled for being a "flop" actor nowhere close to Amitabh Bachchan.
Nagarjuna and Ranbir Kapoor are among the few star sons who have broken out of the jinx and have made a name for themselves. But Dulquer's daddy, who is undeniably one of the biggest stars to have come from Kerala, is still acting as the hero and here's Dulquer steadily climbing the ranks and making it to the top among the next generation of stars.
Dulquer made his debut with "Second Show", a film that, in my view, tried too hard to impress. Although it was the launch vehicle of a star kid, it was without the usual accompanying fanfare. With "Ustad Hotel", Dulquer's second, he made the critics and audience alike sit up and take notice. Playing the role of Faizi, a young man who wants to pursue his dreams in the face of family opposition, Dulquer managed to carve out a space for himself as an actor to reckon with.
While Malayalam cinema has seen its fair share of trashy films, the pressure to fall into the 'formula' trap that big stars in other parts of the country face has not been much of an issue. There is no such thing as a Mohanlal or Mammooty film, for instance. All that the tag means is that the actor will appear in the film, it doesn't necessarily mean that the film will have punch dialogues, comedy, or stunt sequences.
The genre could be anything - a tearjerker, political thriller, side-splitting satire, romance. While "Katha Parayumpol" (which featured Mammooty in a small but significant role) won the hearts of audiences in Kerala, its remake "Kuselan" disappointed fans in Tamil Nadu who said it wasn't a "Rajinikanth" film. Thankfully, the younger generation of heroes in Kerala like Dulquer, Nivin Pauly, and Fahadh Faasil too have steered clear of building their brand value on predictability.
Dulquer has experimented with a wide range of roles, from playing the angry young man in films like "Bangalore Days" and "Kali" to the happy go lucky romantic in "OK Kanmani" and "100 Days of Love", and quirky ones like his character in "Charlie". He's appeared in larger than life roles and in multi-starrers, as long as the film made sense to him.
In "Kammatipaadam", he plays an ageing gangster whose troubled past refuses to set him free. Dulquer was superb in the film, essaying the role of Krishnan from his teens to middle-age with conviction. Whether it's a thriller like "Neelakasham Pacchakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi" or a comedy like "Vaayai Moodi Pesavum", Dulquer has shown his ability to fall into character and stay there, living the film. His popularity extends to Tamil Nadu, where his romcom with Nithya Menen enjoyed a healthy run at the box office.
Mammooty is a hard act to follow but perhaps it is because Dulquer has not attempted to follow him that has made him the star he is. Instead of latching on to his father's coattails and creating a sense of deja vu in the audience, he has dared to make it on his own, playing roles big and small. Pranav, Mohanlal's son, will soon be making his debut in Malayalam cinema. Dulquer's success can serve as an inspiration for the debutant whose last name, as beloved as it is to the people of Kerala, can prove to be his undoing.