Nivin Pauly on 'Premam,' superstardom and comparison with Mohanlal

In his first free-wheeling interview after being crowned as the new ‘superstar’ of Malayalam cinema, Nivin Pauly addresses all the hype in an exclusive chat. 

Nivin Pauly (1)

Malayalam cinema owes it big time now to Nivin Pauly. After all, for the past three years he has been consistently delivering money spinners with straight-to-heart movies all of which had Nivin play the quintessential Malayali, not the ‘new generation’ hung-up sort, but everybody’s  boy next door.

Yet, for some reason, he was never the star. Maybe, Malayalis decided that the dimpled innocence of the former Infosys employee from Aluva was not to be tinted with star tags.

But on an otherwise uneventful Friday morning this May, Nivin woke up to become the industry’s superstar. And all those who had attributed the success of Nivin’s earlier films to a whole lot of other reasons perhaps grudgingly, perhaps enthusiastically accepted that Nivin is now single hero success material.

Nivin, no doubt, is bemused.

That Premam, the film that has brought back the mass, class and whatever-you-name-them-audience to theatres, would turn out to be Malayalam film’s all-time hit, breaking the box-office record of Mohanlal’s Drishyam, was unthinkable even for the cast and crew of the film.

These people – director Alphonse Putharen, Nivin, 17 new comers and a group of not-so-recognised stars – had all come together to do what they loved to do: Making movies.

They were out to prove nothing other than to fulfil a passion. They did not seek exotic locales or complicated story lines. Think about it, even the title of the film was as simple as it could get. Pray, why did no filmmaker think of Premam (meaning love) as the name of their film, when there has been no Malayalam film without a love track?

Well, as critics noted, it is the utter simplicity – even plain ordinariness – of the film that worked for Premam. Coming to cinemas without even a YouTube trailer, Premam is spinning so much money that all other simultaneously released films are being buried in the whirlwind.

This is heady success and Nivin is the man of the season. Praises are being heaped on him. Speculation about his remuneration has already reached astronomical figures. And people describe him as the next ‘Mohanlal.’

There is so much then that Nivin might have to say and City Times caught up with him after relentless pursuit for a free-wheeling interview that is arguably the first after he has been crowned ‘superstar.’

Over to him then, with all that you wanted to ask:

First things first, how do you react to this ‘superstar’ tag?

What is important is to just do your job and not to give much thought to such tags. I just feel that I have to do what I must do, to do it well and continue doing what I love.

Along with the ‘superstar’ tag, you are also being described as the next ‘Mohanlal.’ Social media is abuzz about how you remind people of Mohanlal’s yesteryear characters.

I know what I am and I know for a fact that I have not reached any level where I can even be compared with Mohanlal. Even if I do a 100 films, I know I will not even be anywhere near his shadow. This is all baseless comparison, and in fact it embarrasses me. People with common sense will not even think of making such a comparison, let alone discuss it.

You have said in earlier interviews that you do not like doing romantic roles and you fear success. With Premam, you have ticked both boxes. You have three romances and the film is the biggest success. Are you feeling that extra pressure on you now?

The success of Premam is far beyond what we had expected but I do not feel any added pressure because of it. I just feel exactly the way I was before too. Of course, I am enjoying the success and the positive reviews but it has not affected me in any other way.

So will you do another romantic film again? After all, you are now Malayalam cinema’s romantic hero.

I think I have been misquoted about my view on romantic roles. What I feel discomfort is in doing intimate roles. I have never done such scenes and I have always done romantic roles within my comfort zone.  I have nothing against romantic films. Ultimately, it is all about the script.

You are now doing Action Hero Biju with director Abrid Shine after 1983, and playing a police officer. It is also a film that you are producing. Are you going to the next level in the ‘star race’ because that is now we have seen in Malayalam films? A few good romantic/family movies become overnight successes and actors move to taking the gun…   

Definitely not. Action Hero Biju is about what a sub-inspector faces in real-life situation within a police station. It doesn’t have guns blazing, races and heroic stunts. If the character has to fight if a situation demands, he will do it, but none of the so-called ‘action’ is decided on commercial terms. It is a realistic film that retains its soul. In fact, you will feel the soul of the character even more profoundly than you felt in 1983. We have treated the film in an entirely different manner from a conventional police officer story.

You have done best with friends in your career. Is it that friends bring out the best in you?

There is of course a definite comfort factor working with friends because we understand each other. We know each other’s negatives and positives, and we don’t have to think twice to speak our mind. There is an almost instantaneous understanding, and this shows in the film.

Do does Premam owe a lot to this wonderful camaraderie the cast and crew share?

Yes, of course. Most of the people involved in the film – actors and behind the film – are close friends. We used to spend a lot of time together in Aluva, and we stay together in a house. This works to perfection when we were making the film because we can work transparently.

What about Alphonse Putharen? You have observed about how he used to sit in his edit suite for extremely long hours…

It is impossible to compare his level of commitment and focus with anyone else’s. I have seldom seen such passion and commitment in others. This film’s success is the reward for his exceptional level of commitment and dedication. In fact, we have to learn a lot from him.

The success is yours too, right? You too have slogged hard. Is this the kind of success you have dreamt of?

I have not expected this level of success for Premam. We knew it would be a good movie. In fact, even the day before the film’s release, we were worried about whether the film’s length at 2.45 hours might cause a lag. But the response on the opening day was a shocker.  But, I feel that the film’s success is truly Alphonse’s. I cannot stand on par to what he has achieved with this movie. He is on a very different level, in fact.

Premam came without any buzz, really. You had two songs on YouTube but did not have a mandatory trailer. In fact, even the release date came along as a surprise. Was this deliberate?

Yes, it was planned. We were careful about what we were releasing prior to the film. In fact, we have only released two songs – and several songs are yet to be released online. We wanted audiences to feel some novelty when they were watching the film. But then, this could have worked either way. If the film had failed, people might have said we wrecked its chances by not having even a proper trailer. But we are glad our instincts proved right.

Along with Premam, another film in which you play a key role, Ivide, was also released. In fact, on Facebook, you and director Shyamaprasad go all-out on a sort of mutual admiration club. Do you think Ivide’s success was affected by Premam?

Ivide was never a competition to Premam; it is a different genre. Shyam Sir’s films are on a different league and you cannot compare his films with other commercial ones.  Maybe the simultaneous release might have affected the film, but we had discussed about postponing the release. Unfortunately, due to other commitments we had to have both films on the same day.

Has it been possible for you to be detached from the overwhelming success of the film and the praises that come your way after Premam?

I don’t trip on success. I enjoy success but also try to let it be. I don’t take it to my head.

Your motto is ‘you can either have excuses or dreams; never both.’ What is your next dream?

I just want to continue what I am doing.

Maybe direct a film…?

Yes, I would want to direct but I am not at all ready for it yet. Direction needs tremendous craft and I am still a learner, taking one step at a time. Maybe someday I might direct a film.

It is none of anyone’s business to ask your remuneration. But with media buzzing that you command INR2 crore for a film, would you want to comment on it?

Honestly, I don’t want to react to all these. I think everyone knows it is such a stupid thing to say, especially those who know about the Malayalam film industry. It is not possible in our small industry, and I am sure the technicians and producers know that an actor will not do so with one success. It is all created by media, perhaps, for their own publicity.

One observation of Premam is that it corrects every perception that existed about ‘new generation’ films, by being clean and for a family audience. Was it coincidental?

I don’t think cinema needs situations that call for dialogues with double meaning and vulgarity. People who want to do so purposely are free to do that. But for us, we were very clear from the start. Right from scripting stage, we had decided that Premam would be a clean film. I believe that the script of a film must be neat.

You grew up in Aluva. Have you done the sort of things you do in the film, like say wandering along the aqua-duct shown in the Aluvapuzhayude song?

We used to go to the aqua-duct as school students but not following girls (laughs).  Several scenes in the film are taken from the real life love stories of my friends.

Of the three ladies whom you romance in Premam, who would you perhaps have romanced in real life?

It will be Malar.

You share the birthday with Amitabh Bachchan (October 11). Have you ever thought of becoming a superstar yourself ones..

I used to joke a lot about that with friends – it was more like a mock-pride.

Do you miss your father in this biggest moment of success?

Yes, I do. Every day.

Who do you owe your success to?

Vineeth Sreenivasan.

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