For the love of cinema: Lukman Lukku speaks on his struggles as an actor

“I had no godfathers and there was pressure from home to go to the Gulf," recalls Lukman.
Lukman Lukku looking into camera in a screengrab
Lukman Lukku looking into camera in a screengrab
Written by:

PC Biju Kumar is part of the nine-man police unit from Kerala, led by Sub-Inspector Manikandan CP, assigned election duty in the Maoist ridden state of Chhattisgarh. The soft-spoken Biju, a favourite of his superior, is also at the receiving end of his colleague's casteist barbs. He is constantly reminded of his tribal identity and talked down upon. And then one fine day, he decides to stand up for himself and stitches together a poignant speech in front of his colleagues, expressing in no uncertain terms the instances when he was humiliated and how he felt he deserved to be treated as a human being.

It is one of the most memorable scenes in Unda, bringing attention to the actor who performed it with such subtlety. Lukman Lukku is easily one of the brightest talents we have today, which he has proved once again in the recently released Operation Java directed by debutant Tharun Moorthy. From that largely unnoticeable debut cameo in Sapthamashree Thaskaraha to noticeable roles in Virus, Thamasha and Unda, Lukman talks about his journey so far.

Lukman hails from a conservative Muslim family in Malappuram. And for the BTech graduate, his future predictably pointed to a job in the Gulf. Though he was part of school and college plays, cinema never featured in his larger plans. But when he heard that a group of aspiring film technicians from Kozhikode were making a film, he decided to try his luck.

Harshad, who later wrote Unda, was the director and Mushin Parari was the writer. They had only one demand and if Lukman could meet that, he was on—he had to bring a car as his character needs one. Lukman rented a car for a month. Dayom Panthrandum, directed and co-written by Harshad and Muhsin was about four friends who are travelling on road to shoot a film. Though the film did not get a theatre release, it was screened at the Biennale and other films festivals. But Lukman still treasures the experience—it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship and a shared passion for cinema. He also recalls the acting workshops that sort of helped him to "marginally figure out the actor" in him.

Shifting to Kochi and a life-changing short film

Assuring his parents that he was training for Engineering, Lukman shifted to Kochi with the sole purpose of getting into cinema. He knew no one there. And he couldn’t ask Harshad and Muhsin for help as they hadn’t yet found their footing in cinema. He shifted to a flat with a few friends. And then he understood what it meant to “struggle.” From working at call centres, medical shops to chauffeuring elderly people, Lukman worked hard for his meals.

But despite knowing how unreliable cinema was, he decided to take a leap of faith— “I had no godfathers and there was pressure from home to go to the Gulf.”

He studiously started looking out for audition calls. And once he started, he realised that this was like a chain reaction, at times by word of mouth or through friends. Some were hoax calls—just to collect registration fees. But largely, he met genuine filmmakers who were looking out for that perfect casting. Yes, rejections can hit you badly— “I would say after the first audition you get used to it. Then it becomes a routine job.”

The audition scene, according to Lukman is like a job interview, where anxious participants enquire about what really went inside and what all they will ask you to do. One of the earliest lessons he has learnt in life is to be one’s own greatest cheerleader—"I think the biggest conversation we should be having is with ourselves. Pep yourself up. No one is going to do that for you. I do that looking at the mirror.”

His first breakthrough came in the form of a short film he did with a bunch of friends—Kittuo, starring television actor Nisha Sarang. They lost all the money, he was thrown out of the room and stayed on the terrace of the flat. But all that changed when they realised that the short film garnered over 2 million views on YouTube.

When he went to audition for Sapthamashree Thaskaraha, he met Khalid Rahman (who later directed him in Unda) who was the Chief Associate. But Lukman was bewildered when Khalid who recognised him from his short film, told him to step out and not bother auditioning. A few days later Khalid called him and said he was selected for a tiny scene in Sapthamashree. “They had apparently liked what they saw and felt I didn’t need an audition. Though my role was blink and miss, I remember walking out of the theatre like a superstar.”

Struggle again and working with superstars

But it did not immediately get him his next film. Therefore, his Gulf trip seemed imminent and, on the day he made that decision, he got a call from Muhsin who offered him a role in his debut film, KL10 Pathu. From then on Lukman never had to look back.

“Even now I am tensed—despite Java becoming a hit. Cinema is only for winners. I feel no one stands with the losers. I might even go to the Gulf tomorrow. It is unpredictable despite having four films up for release. There is no guarantee for anyone. It’s easier to detach yourself from the success and failures of a film.”

Ajagajantharam, Anaparambile World Cup, Churuli, Aarattu, Naradan…. that is quite a lineup. Lukman still finds it unbelievable that he managed to share screen space with Mammootty and Mohanlal so early in his career.

He recalls becoming emotional while shooting a scene with Mammootty, who ragged the newcomer. There were some “walking” exercises with the senior and a brief conversation post the shot and then Mammootty was on his team. “He was so much fun after that. He threw us a party after the shoot and even video-called his family to speak to us.”

Is there a criterion in picking roles? “I usually stay away from the main leads and am trying to recognise my own blocks as an actor and work on it.”

Lukman is a fan of Nawazudin Siddique, Vijay Sethupathi and Will Smith. He admits there is not really an elaborate process in his acting. “Mostly there will be a lot of conversations between the director, writer and me. Some will recommend movies or books as reference. For Unda, Khalid asked me to read Jayamohan’s 100 Simhasanangal thoroughly. Either I should be able to relate to the character or create a parallel world for him.”

B Unnikrishnan’s Aarattu where he shares the screen with Mohanlal is his first commercial potboiler. That also means the process is much different from all the previous films he has worked in.

“Camera is set. The frame is set, dialogues are given, and you perform within the line and length instructed. It’s a new experience but I enjoyed it.” Lukman still cannot get over the fact that he had to say, “Ninte kali ennodu venda” to Mohanlal. Imagine? He tells me with a loud laugh.

Neelima Menon has worked in the newspaper industry for more than a decade. She has covered Hindi and Malayalam cinema for The New Indian Express and has worked briefly with She now writes exclusively about Malayalam cinema, contributing to and She is known for her detailed and insightful features on misogyny and the lack of representation of women in Malayalam cinema.

Related Stories

No stories found.
The News Minute