Dulquer Salman has successfully dodged the formulaic trappings of a mass hero that star sons often have to contend with. Today he is a bankable actor and he has earned it all on his own.
[quote align=’right’]”He gets creatively involved in all aspects of filmmaking. He is punctual and is almost never satisfied with his shots. He keeps asking for retakes and has a clean Tamil accent.”[/quote]
While Mammootty looks every bit the typical glitzy superstar, son Dulquer Salman’s charm is more of that of the boy-next door, more tangible but definitely dapper. Even their choice of films are diametrically different. While the dad rationally tries to balance his stardom with a mix of mass and class, the son has a more catholic taste. His debut vehicle, ‘Second show’ (2012) helmed by a new director was made on a budget of 2.5 crore rupees. He played the role of an illicit sand miner who works his way up to become a smuggler. It’s probably the most avant-garde debut for a son of a superstar. There were no drum beats or slow motion-charged introductory scenes. He simply strolled in almost unnoticed, slowly took charge of the scene and walked away with the maximum applause. Dulquer Salman had arrived, all on his own. Today he can stop traffic on Kochi’s MG Road, has over 1.6 lakh followers on Facebook and is handed out roles written only for him.
Two years and eight films later, even when his first Tamil film, ‘Vaayai Moodi Pesavum’ (bilingual to be released simultaneously in Malayalam and Tamil) is hitting the screens, the actor refuses to let the stardom get the better of him. He is as cautious, as grounded and as unaffected as he was at the time of his debut. He chooses his scripts with care. “I have refused more films than I can count,” is how he likes to put it. With good reason perhaps, after his 2013 release ‘Pattam Pole’ and the more recent ‘Salala mobiles’ failed to make a cut at the box office.
The Tamil debut was long overdue, he feels, “I have been listening to a lot of scripts, I am always open to doing films in other languages. Balaji had initially made a short film and I loved it. It was a unique idea, quite challenging. I did it for the script and not for the character,” Dulquer clarifies. VMP also stars Nazriya Nazim and has actor Madhoo of ‘Roja’ fame making a comeback.
“I was impressed by his body of work. He gets creatively involved in all aspects of filmmaking. He is punctual and is almost never satisfied with his shots. He keeps asking for retakes and has a clean Tamil accent,” comments director Balaji Mohan on Dulquer. Having lived in Chennai for the most part and even taking up Tamil as a third language while studying at Sishya School, the switch from Malayalam to Tamil was quite smooth.
“Chennai gives me the luxury of anonymity. Having said that I don’t really get mobbed in Kerala,” he laughs. And this humility is not the carefully constructed PR strategy that actors often employ. It comes more from having had a normal childhood, away from the razzmatazz of his father’s stardom. He remembers being cash-strapped in US while doing his MBA and keeping a tab on meals as he was reluctant to ask his parents for more money.
In the same year as he made his debut, he surprised everyone with two contrasting but challenging roles. One was that of a soft spoken, upcoming music director, Harshavardhan who avenges his wife’s killer in ‘Theevram’, and that of an aspiring Chef- Faizi, in ‘Ustad Hotel,’ with the latter proving to be a career breakthrough. Did things change post ‘Ustad Hotel?’
“Not really. Right from the start I have taken films very seriously and it’s not like Ustad Hotel came after 15 films for me to feel any change. Everything was an organic process. The reason I stayed away from films was primarily because I had large oshoes to fill in. I didn’t want to be known as a failed actor,” he admits. Having closely seen his dad work, Dulquer says, as a rule he prefers to do just one film at a time as he feels there might be issues with continuity when he experiments with his looks. “But invariably I end up doing more films,” he grins.
We get a glimpse of the actor’s prowess with other languages in his 2013 release ‘Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvannabhoomi’ in which he plays a travel junkie and in ‘Pattam Pole’ when he lands up in Ooty. It obviously runs in the family as his dad is known to handle different dialects and with ease. “I have always been a language lover. Whenever I meet a person, I love listening to their stories, about their lives, their culture,” he says.
Friends and peers
“Dulquer is a thinking actor. Though I am friends with him, on the sets he is a thorough professional. The younger lot are more chilled out, but take their job seriously. Dulquer’s mood often changes according to the depth of his roles,” reveals Sameer Tahir, director of ‘Neelakashan Pachakadal Chuvvannabhoomi.’
[quote align=’left’]My vappachi has always told me that he made it big without any godfathers and so I too have to do it on my own. And there is a thrill in it.[/quote]
The current crop of actors in Malayalam, seem to be quite at ease in each other’s company. Be it Dulquer, Fahad Faasil, Nivin Pauly or Vineet Sreenivasan, they support each other’s work, share a new film’s promo on their site and pen supportive lines about a film they liked. Is it really a big happy family out there? “We really get along with each other. There is no stardom attached to it. We are honest with each other. There is obviously healthy competition, but I don’t want to see them fail. We all have set certain benchmarks for ourselves. I believe in Karma, what is destined to you will come to you,” shares the actor whose next film, ‘Bangalore Days’ also will see him sharing screen space with Nivin Pauly, Fahad Faasil and Nazriya Nazim. .
“I just saw characters on the monitor, no stars (I wouldn’t call us stars yet!). I have always felt stardom is lethal, especially when you share screen space with one another,” he offers. But no, he wouldn’t do films for friends as a favour, “I would rather lend money than do a film. Doing a film as a favour is a double edged sword,” he laughs. Yet he is a favourite! “Dulquer is one of the warmest human beings I have come across. He can surprise you with his sensitivity as an actor,” says Anjali Menon who directed him in the upcoming Bangalore Days.
Sure enough, in a short span of time, he’s also got his share of critics. He finds it irksome when he gets branded as an “urban chap who is always seen at airports and wears headphones.” “See, there is no logic in saying I should accept a rural character who wears mundu (dhoti) just to prove a point. What if it’s a really bad film? I just go by scripts. But then people say that I am being irresponsible. My last two films (‘Salala Mobiles’ and ‘Pattam Pole’) were attempts to try out something new but they didn’t click,” he argues. It’s also being said that Dulquer shies away from heavy-duty roles? “If that is the case I would not be doing Director Ranjith’s ‘Njan’ right now. People just like to draw conclusions. I want to experiment with all kinds of cinema, get out of my comfort zone,” he says.’ Njan’ is Dulquer’s first period film, based on a Malayalam novel by T.P. Rajeev. “I thought the character would be completely alien to me, being from a different period all together but then after a while I fell into the groove.”
When legacy talks
There are moments when the young actor betrays his likeness to his father. First among them is when he reveals his aversion to doing intimate scenes, “I was always comfortable watching my dad’s films and I want my kids to have the same comfort level. Besides I need to go back home to my wife,” he quips. Much like his dad he relies heavily on the homework before his actual job. In fact he even did a three month acting course from actor Anupam Kher’s ‘Actor prepares’ institute to shed his inhibitions. He still recalls the thrill of putting up a street play on Mumbai’s Carter Road. He also shares his dad’s passion for cars, gadgets and sun glasses and trades fashion tips, shoes and sun glasses with him. Dulquer’s friends often find him easy going and patient and he credits his mom for the same. “I am not the life of a party though I make friends easily,” he remarks.
Dulquer has his list of ‘don’ts’ as well. To act in a remake of any of his dad’s cult classics is a complete no-no. He is equally averse to sequels. What about comedy? “We don’t do much slapstick cinema these days. Simply put comedy is, yes I get that joke. That makes it effective. That’s why ABCD clicked,” he avers.
The young entrepreneur
What does he do when he is not acting? Meet Dulquer the entrepreneur. At the age of 22, he invested in a web portal dealing with cars, but it fizzled out. He subsequently invested in a chain of dental clinics-Carewell, and Motherhood hospital that’s already branched out in Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad. “It’s good to have a back-up plan. I like business, investment etc. My mom always taught us to be prudent with money,” he adds.
It’s as if Dulquer knows most of his interviews will customarily mention his superstar dad. He is well prepared. Mammootty is still as busy as he ever was in the Malayalam film industry, churning out 6 films as a hero in the last year alone. Dulquer too had 4 releases in 2013. So how do the father and son coexist in Malayalam cinema? “Let me be very honest with you. I don’t think too much about it. I am not foolish enough to think that I am anywhere close to him. I think we do different types of films. I have made a small space for myself in the industry. Actually the fact that we don’t look alike has always been a big advantage for me. My vappachi
(as he calls his dad) has always told me that he made it big without any godfathers and so I too have to do it on my own. And there is a thrill in it,” he says with a tinge of admiration.