Give him a role and Mohanlal, the complete actor would go to any extent to do justice to it. For Odiyan, Mohanlal was on a weight loss programme. The superstar reportedly lost about 15 kg for his role in around 40 days. He trained under the supervision of fitness experts from France to achieve the physical transformation needed to play the younger version of his character in Odiyan.
And this is not the first time he made an effort to go the extra mile. As Odiyan is gearing up for a big release on Friday, producer Antony Perumbavoor in an interview to Onmanorama recalled incidents on movie sets when Mohanlal escaped unhurt because of sheer luck.
Ordeals on sets
Once the actor, while shooting for 'Narasimham', almost fell into a pit of fire as his harness loosened. In a later instance, the actor had spent an entire day in a lake at Hogenakkal where he was filming the 2005 movie 'Naran'. After the shoot was packed up for the day, someone told Antony secretly that a crocodile, which was resting on the banks, had swum into the river when it heard the noises of the crew.
Praising the actor’s commitment to his profession, Antony spoke about an incident when Mohanlal was admitted to a hospital in Chennai for severe back pain. He couldn’t walk and Antony had to help him to walk even up to the bathroom door. The actor had to complete the filming of some portions of a movie directed by Thampi Kannanthanam. At midnight, Mohanlal and Antony got out of the back door of the hospital, went to the nearby location, completed the filming and returned to his hospital room. However, he was suffering from excruciating pain during the wee hours. “I could hear him make noises because of the pain. He clutched the bed with one hand while held on tightly to my arm, with the other. I can’t forget the time when he had high fever and we were shooting in a remote village. We were staying at an old guest house. A doctor had come from the town and gave him medicines. I had to give him medicines every three hours. However, Lal sir began to shiver with fever, at around 2 am, and I could hear him mumbling something. He didn’t stop shivering even after I covered him with two blankets. Finally, I tried to warm him up by lying down close to him. I held him close to my body and covered with a blanket. Both of us fell asleep like that and when we woke up at 6 am he was alright. I thought he had been awake for some time, but didn’t move not to wake me up,” said Antony.
It was Mohanlal himself who asked Antony to collaborate in the production, while the initial discussions of the 200 movie 'Narasimham' was happening. He revealed that the makers had struggled really hard to take off the project as it had faced many initial hiccups. Many had even advised them to give up the project. But 'Narasimham' created history by surpassing all the collection records in Malayalam cinema until then.
Many believe that Antony produces movies using Mohanlal’s money. However, the producer rejects this by firmly saying that he does not produce with the actor’s money, though he wishes to. He considers it a great honour to be trusted with money by someone eminent like Mohanlal. “What is wrong if a movie is produced using Mohanlal’s money? It is something which concerns the actor alone. Let him sell 'papads', computers or whatever he likes. Why would someone get irritated because of that? If he is too expensive, then let the producers who are willing to pay him make movies with him. Those who complain that the actors have destroyed cinema by increasing their remuneration, would never return their salaries to the producer or the publisher, for whom he works, saying that their salary was too much. The audience will watch the movie only if it is good. No one can force them to watch a movie. He is someone who has an experience of more than 40 years in this industry. Those who believe that Mohanlal cannot recognise whether I am a fraudster should be called idiots. They should at least remember that Suresh Balaji, who has been in this industry for the past two generations, is his brother-in-law,” said Antony.
He revealed that he had gone through many financial crises, especially during the filming of 'Drishyam'. He was even ready to sell some of the shares that were owned by him and two of Mohanlal’s friends. Antony even offered to sell his share in a plot. But, then Mohanlal too promised to sell his shares as well. However, the producer was able to recover from the crisis soon. Antony Perumbavoor owns 6 theatres in Thodupuzha and Perumbavoor. Among the 4 theaters that he owns in Perumbavoor, 2 are named after Mohanlal’s kids and 2 after his own children. He doesn’t have any qualms in saying that he has achieved all these because of his hard work and blessings of Mohanlal’s family. The producer proudly said that there aren’t any dues to be paid to anyone who had worked in his movies. He had in fact paid extra as a gesture of appreciation. Antony said, “Those who are either depressed or hardly know anything about me are the ones who complain.”
“I have seen Lal sir upset many a times. But only once I saw him devastated. One night, while we were staying in Chennai, he woke me up and said that his elder brother Pyarelal was no more. Though he wasn’t crying, I understood that he was devastated inside. He was silent throughout the journey back to Thirvananthapuram. He never spoke to me about it. I have never seen him cry when someone passed away. But the deaths of Padmarajan sir, Bharathan sir, IV Sasi sir, Lohithadas sir, T Damodaran sir and Alumoodan sir have greatly pained him,” revealed Antony.
Antony spoke about the time when Mohanlal’s three back-to-back releases, in a year, bombed at the box office, following some reports that the actor had lost his voice. “I didn’t see him dejected even during those times. He was very calm and composed amidst all these. He kept talking about new projects. I have never heard him blame others for the failure of a movie. He believes that the responsibility of the failure should be borne by everyone together. Even he advises the makers of those movies to move on. I have never been able to read from his face, his attitude on the success or failures of his movies. I would often pass the information that I get after the first show of a movie, to him,” explained the producer.
Antony’s voice is firm when he said that businessmen like him are required for the existence of the cinema industry. “This industry won’t survive if only award movies, which are not watched by majority of people, are made. It is the units, theatres and laborers which sustain this industry. Other than a few, even the ones who make award movies wish to make a film which would run in the theatres for 100 days. I am a producer who has won a National Award and 3 State Awards. I have bankrolled many movies, knowing very well that it won’t fetch me any profits. I have done it just to get Malayalam cinema noticed at the national level. I produce all my movies using my hard-earned money,” declared the producer.
Antony pointed out that many media houses refused to publish his picture when he won the awards. They didn’t even publish the one in which he was seen receiving the national award from the president. He said, “I have seen all these media houses giving special news articles about many other producers. They are often hailed as the ones who sacrifice themselves for the Malayalam industry to thrive. I haven’t complained even once. It is, in fact, I who help them whenever they want a favour or two from Lal sir. Most of them scorn me in their minds as a mere ‘driver’. But I reiterate that I indeed am a driver.”