Perhaps they expected him to fail. After all, Malayalam film lovers are not known to patronize star-kids overtly. Dulquer Salman, the son of the acting legend and super-star of Malayalam film Mammootty, therefore went on stealth mode.
He did not seek a big budget extravaganza for his launch pad. Opting for the smaller, new generation (if that tag holds) movie called Second Show, directed by debutant Srinath Rajendran, he made a sure-footed entry as Hari, an ex-convict and goon. That was in 2012.
His suaveness was not lost on the role that had shades of black. Five months later, when he arrived as the much-loveable Faizy, rubbing shoulders with such heavyweights as Thilakan and Siddique, in Ustad Hotel, directed by Anwar Rasheed, it was almost clear that a star was being made.
Theevram, the revenge flick that followed earned mixed reviews but ABCD (for which he sung a popular upbeat song too), Neelakasham Pacha Kadal Chuvanna Bhoomi, Bangalore Days and Vikramadityan in subsequent years catapulted him to the frontline as a smashing young hero.
Youth audiences related to him, and the streak of effortless rebellion Dulquer brought to his roles had that anthem effect on young men trying to identify themselves and their purpose in life.
Taking on the central character of KTN Kottoor for director Ranjith in Njan was followed by a defining point in Dulquer’s career – a dream role in master-director Mani Ratnam’s Tamil film OK Kanmani that went on to fetch him fans across south India.
As the swashbuckling maverick Charlie and the multi-layered Krishnan in Kammattipaadam, it was evident that Dulquer knew how to balance his career – with the right selection of films that were not just appealing to the mainstream but also impressive works of art.
Today, with a phenomenal fan following on social media and the credentials of securing the highest initials for any flick (his YouTube trailers go viral in seconds), Dulquer’s tremendous screen presence is only matched by his zealous off-screen fan frenzy.
Dubai witnessed that when he arrived to the city (where he has lived earlier) for the Middle East premiere of Jomonte Suvisheshangal, his new film directed by Sathyan Anthikadu and written by Dubai-based Dr. Iqbal Kuttippuram.
The event organised by Phars Film saw scores of his fans making a beeline for Hyatt Galleria, the very venue where his father Mammootty has witnessed some rousing receptions for his films.
Dulquer is rather reticent to take the lead in engaging with the media but once he opens up, he comes across as the modest, young man, grounded about his stardom, and quite sure about his strengths and weaknesses as an actor.
He readily agrees that it has been intimidating to live up to the expectations of being Mammootty’s son but says he has now overcome the inhibitions.
Let us call it Dulquer’s Charlie moment – where the young man has decided just to be…. To be himself.
Excerpts from an interview:
You have lived in Dubai and yet little is known about your days here. What did you do? Where did you live? What do you remember about the city?
I distinctly, vividly remember my days here. I was living in Mirdif, working in construction dewatering, working across (projects) in Dubai, where foundation works called for dewatering. Don’t ask me how I got into it. I did. Then I had a consulting firm in Dubai Internet City. I have lived in most parts of Dubai. I then shifted to Dubai Marina because it is one of the few places you don’t need a car to get around. There is some great food here, and every trip I make to the city, I make sure I try new places. Depending on the cuisine, I eat anywhere.
As in Jomonte Suvisheshangal, a lot of your films see you playing the rebel without a cause…
I think it is the sort of my demographic – the youth…. I do a certain type of roles and then people don’t want me to break from it. The first few films I did such roles and then it sets off a chain reaction. Initially, I wanted to break from it but I now am not afraid of it. Even if people say, you had done a similar character, I am fine with it. Maybe the story has something new, maybe the director has something else in mind. I don’t want to be selfish on it.
Jomon is set in Trichur but there is no dialect to it.
It was my director’s call. We were told to follow our style. Sometimes it is good, how the director sees it; maybe he wanted to make it more earthy
Charlie (which won Dulquer the Kerala state award for best actor) was screened in Japan and Turkey and you had some great fans there. How do you feel?
I think it is the magic of cinema – its reach is phenomenal. A lot of people ask me, how it touches me. I don’t know, I mean, I have been to Turkey and I don’t see how they get to watch Malayalam films; they are very far removed from what and where we are. But they do. It is extremely sweet of them. They follow a lot of our films. Maybe there is some connect. I don’t know what it is. Here in Dubai, you have room-mates from other parts of India, from across the world (who seem to connect with Malayalam films). About Japan, maybe Gulshan (the distributor) knows the market, and he thought it would work there. It is all the magic of film.
How was the Kammattipaadam (which won him the Critics Award in 2016) experience; was it the most challenging you had done?
It was a challenging role, but then all roles are challenging. Every director, writer has a story to tell, and I am telling the story with them. Kammattipaadam was a great experience, working with the director and the co-stars…
Have you watched OK Jaanu (the remake of his Mani Ratnam film OK Kanmani)?
I haven’t watched it yet, but I definitely want to see it. Shaad Ali (OK Jaanu’s director) is very close to me. I have worked with him through the Mumbai schedule of OK Kanmani. He is a great person to work with, and super helpful.
A lot of your fans call you Kunjikka on social media. How do you react to that?
I don’t know how and when the name came but no matter what they call, they give a lot of love. I love anything they call me; it all comes from their heart.
And what do you say about Pranav Mohanlal’s return to acting?
You will have to him that…. but yes… I don’t see him often. I wish him all the best. Every one of us has something to bring to the table and I look forward to his work.
On dancing and breaking free
Dulquer Salman had a series of conversations in short videos where he talks about Jomon, his character. He also speaks about his tryst with dancing, remembering how clumsy he used to be with lyrics as a child, and how his dancing style was teased by his friends as being the ‘boxing dance.’
He describes himself as being reticent to dancing, not very comfortable, saying that the discomfort shows on screen. So now, he just lets himself go, and enjoys what he does – be it acting or dancing – just as he says to have overcome his inhibitions and fear of being compared to his dad, whom he describes as a ‘mega-actor.’
His love for bikes
Dulquer says his father Mammootty was adamant he would not buy him a bike. A car, was fine, but a bike was out of question. Which is why he loved the opportunities to explore the bike trips with his film, and says he had chosen Neelakasham Chuvanna Kadal Pacha Bhoomi specifically for that. Subsequently he bought a luxury bike (making headlines) and then went on a ride with his friends (again making headlines).