‘I’m very greedy about my filmography having superb films’: Dulquer Salmaan to TNM

In an exclusive interview to TNM, Dulquer Salmaan opens up about his future plans as an actor and a producer, and his love for languages which makes him go beyond Malayalam cinema.
‘I’m very greedy about my filmography having superb films’: Dulquer Salmaan to TNM
‘I’m very greedy about my filmography having superb films’: Dulquer Salmaan to TNM

Nearly two years after he impressed everyone in Mahanati (Nadigar Thilagam in Tamil), Dulquer Salmaan is now back with another Tamil film, Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal, which is also going to release in Telugu as Kanulu Kanulanu Dochayante. Directed by Desingh Periyasamy, the film also stars Ritu Varma, Rakshan, and Niranjani in lead roles, along with Gautham Menon in a key role. His most recent Malayalam film, Varane Avashyamundu also saw him make his debut as a producer, and he confesses that he has plans to produce many more films in near future. “The reason why I wanted to produce films is because I want to be more invested in the films I’m part of and have better control over the workflow. I had ample time to plan all this last year, and I’ve already finished shooting for three films which I’ve produced. I want my name to be attached to good films, even if it means being involved in the film just as a producer,” he says, adding, “I have stopped thinking about the pressure of being a superstar’s son. I just want to do good work and I’m very greedy about my filmography having superb films, because moviegoers these days don't think twice before trashing a bad film, which is a great thing. It motivates and pushes us to keep doing better films every time.”

Ahead of the release of his new Tamil-Telugu film, TNM sat down for a conversation with Dulquer Salmaan about the film, his choices, and why he’s cautious when it comes to taking up films beyond Malayalam cinema.

Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal is your first Tamil film since OK Kanmani and Nadigar Thilagam. What took you so long to take up another bilingual film? 

I face this question all the time, even in the Malayalam film industry (laughs). It’s pretty common for Malayalam actors to have 5-6 releases in a year, and I seem to be doing around three films a year; however, I hope to change it this year. The only reason I can think of is that I’ve been working in multiple languages. In fact, I had finished shooting for Kannum Kannum Kollaiyadithaal a while ago, but it got delayed due to several reasons. When I heard the script, I felt that it had good potential to work in Telugu and Tamil, because the sensibilities are kind of similar and Telugu people do watch a lot of dubbed films. But then, not all bilingual films can work. It’s tricky when you have to do a Malayalam-Tamil film, because it’ll seem like another language. Somehow, you can reach a middle ground when it comes to Telugu and Tamil versions of a film have a middle ground. Moreover, we have Ritu and Gautham Menon in the cast, who are well-known in Telugu. Although the first look of this film seems like a romantic comedy, it’s got a lot of twists and turns, and I’ve never played a role like this before in my career, and it’ll be a nice change for Telugu and Tamil audiences who have seen me in OK Kanmani and Mahanati.

Now that you are well known in different markets, do you have a temptation to go for a multilingual release with each film of yours? 

I really like exploring different languages and I’m enjoying this phase in my career. But at the same time, each time the challenge is to be true to that language and the film itself has to appeal to that audience we are catering to. It’s not a calculated strategy. I go with my instincts, and see whether it has an interesting script and a good team. I’m grateful that Telugu and Tamil people have accepted me as one of their own here, and I have already chosen my next Telugu film which will be announced later this year. But whether it’s a Malayalam film or films in other languages, I’ve always found myself veering towards original films, and I’m not a big fan of remakes or sequels.

Since you are trying to cater to different markets each time you do a bilingual film, do you also feel that somewhere the film itself might lose its essence?

That’s exactly what I worry about each time. I’ve to also trust the team to present me in a different manner and help me understand the nuances of the language, if I’m not familiar with it. I’m comfortable speaking Malayalam and Tamil, and I can gauge scripts in these two languages, but Telugu is very different. Hindi was my second language in school, and I was quite comfortable learning and speaking the language when I lived in the US, Dubai, and Mumbai. When I signed Mahanati, the team was very kind to me and helped me learn Telugu, and the same thing happened when I did films in Hindi. 

One thing which I find really hard is judging local humour. A joke in English might not be funny in Telugu. Since I grew up in Chennai, sometimes I don’t know how to judge humour in Malayalam. I have to rely on my directors and others on the set, at times, to know if it’s working or not. Similarly, there are some aspects which you can express really well in Telugu, but it doesn’t have the same effect in Malayalam. For instance, when I worked with Mani Ratnam sir for OK Kanmani (OK Bangaram in Telugu), I requested him to not make the film in Malayalam. It’s not easy to express love in Malayalam without sounding corny. We can say ‘Ishtam’ (as in ‘I like you’), but the moment you say ‘Premam’, it becomes literary. So, when you say ‘I love you’ in Malayalam, it doesn’t sound like a natural conversation. And OK Kanmani has so much of love, desire, and all that. Over the years, I’ve understood what might work and won’t in Malayalam, but when it comes to Telugu and Tamil, I look at the subject and the team I’m going to work with. 

Beyond your penchant for languages, what else makes you want to explore other industries?

When I heard Mahanati, nothing could beat that script at that point of time. I did Zoya Factor because I hadn’t played an athlete in my career. Although I love bikes, cars, and cycling, I’m not a sportsperson in real life. It was super challenging and I really liked the character arc. Karwaan was quirky, and I really enjoyed working with Irrfan sir. There’s so much to learn just by observing a senior actor like him act. I don’t know if I’ve a particular check-list as such which makes me want to do such films. Even in Mahanati, I thought having Samantha and Vijay playing different characters added a nice touch to the film overall. I thought it was a very smart move to have them onboard. 

As a star from the south, was it tough finding your groove in Bollywood or did you fit in easily?

I guess it was easy because the language was quite familiar. A lot of times it’s our fear about the grammar and accent that makes us hesitate to speak another language, but, when I learnt it in school and later hung out with friends and colleagues in US, Dubai and Mumbai, I was glad to be in an environment where people didn’t care about such things. Thanks to them, the fear of sounding wrong was gone and that helped me a lot when I did Karwaan and Zoya Factor.

I’m well aware of the fact that I’m not the numero uno choice for the audience, especially when they have their own accomplished actors doing films for years. When I am offered such films with no other familiar faces or stars, I feel it’s pointless because I can’t market it like I do in the south. I don’t know if I want to do a web-only film, because I’m already juggling between multiple languages. So, when a film has a bunch of known faces, then I can do an interesting role there. 

You've ventured into production with Varane Avaishyamundu which has done well at the box office. What about the script convinced you to produce it and also be part of the film which doesn’t focus on you?

I really liked the space it was set in and I wasn’t even supposed to act in the film initially. It was more of a mother-daughter’s story. It’s set in an apartment building in Chennai, and when you watch the film, you’ll also feel like living there. The director, Anoop, had worked earlier with me as an AD, and I really like his writing. I felt that it would be a nice film to start off my plan to produce films. I knew that I’m not the star of the film. It’s Shobana, Kalyani and Suresh Gopi’s film. When I heard multiple drafts of the script, we kept wondering whom to cast as the male lead, and there’s one particular scene, which I loved, which convinced me to be part of it, although my director and I knew that I didn’t have much to do in this one. I’m okay with it. It’s important to focus more on the film than you as an actor. For instance, Kammatipaadam is one film which I’ll always be proud of, but I am not the protagonist of the film. I’m more like a narrator, and it was more about Vinayakan. I was aware of it, but at the same time, you can’t say that it’s not my film. It’s in my filmography. I’m quite secure enough to know that there are other films where I’m playing the lead and carrying them on my shoulders. Even if I don’t do another Telugu film, people will always remember me for Mahanati. In Malayalam, I can take more risks because I’ve multiple releases each year.

The film marked your debut as producer, Anoop Sathyan's debut as director and Kalyani's debut in Malayalam...That's three star kids in one film. Do you feel the privilege you have makes a difference in navigating the film industry?

There are two more starkids, so to speak. The kid playing my brother is Santosh Sivan’s son and honestly, I didn’t know this when my director cast him. The first song we put out had singer G Venugopal sir’s son in the video. Then, I saw a meme saying five of these star kids are part of the film! I feel the most important thing is to do good work, whether you’re a star kid or not. 

When I read things like, “Dulquer Salmaan (now he longer needs to be introduced as Mammootty’s son)”, that feels like a big accomplishment for me. If you have successful parents, you’ll always feel that burden. As long as you don’t feel entitled, and have the hunger to succeed, the drive is equal for everyone. Your work will speak for itself. At the end of the day, your dad isn’t going to act for you. You have to do it yourself. Anoop’s dad can’t come write or direct his films. 

Of late, there’s been a lot of debate over the effect of streaming platforms on movies, and whether that’s going to change the theatrical experience. Since you have begun producing films now, where do you see this going in near future? 

We are in the midst of a transition phase. I don’t think it’s clearly defined yet. Perhaps, TV and digital streaming might offset each other. As a producer, when I’m discussing rights, there was a nice period where prices offered for both TV and digital rights was high, which gave you a leeway to bankroll bigger films. But then, there was another argument over whether to stream the film in 45 or 60 days, which is something that the satellite buyers have been talking a lot about. But if you want to strike a balance, then the rates go down. I don’t think the theatrical experience will ever go out of fashion, because it’s such a big part of our culture, whether it’s Kerala or Telangana or Andhra Pradesh. We love watching movies in a cinema hall. The argument might be more over your preferred choice between TV and digital platforms.

The Malayalam film industry took a lot of people by surprise when producers and distributors announced that Malayalam film releases will be deferred by a week outside Kerala. Is it a good move, especially at a time when Malayalam films have been gaining so much traction in other cities?

We are all very concerned about piracy, and it was a collective decision to defer the film releases by a few days, because, at the end of the day, Kerala is still the biggest market for Malayalam films. When you look at the revenue from other regions in India, it’s not so big yet which might be a cause of concern for the industry if we defer the release. At least, this way, our films will have a good run in those first 7-10 days.

You're playing Sukumara Kurup in your upcoming film. How challenging has it been to play that sort of a negative character?

Kurup was an intense and amazing experience. The film is set in the late 60’s and traces his journey until mid-80s. We have chronicled his life which people have been talking about for a long time now. It was exhausting to sport different looks, and we also shot it in different states across India, and several parts in UAE. Yes, it’s going to be my biggest film till date and I’m as excited as I’m worried, because we have to crack it. There’s no room for errors. I’m confident that we are putting a well-produced film. I wouldn’t compare it with the intense character I did in Kammatipaadam, because both the directors have different sensibilities, and Kurup is definitely going to be a lot more commercial and cinematic.


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