Mohanlal was at the Peringode Ayurvedic Centre during that time. B Unnikrishnan and Udayakrishna came there to narrate the story. Mohanlal was in splits when he heard about the antics of Neyyattinkara Gopan. But after listening to the story, he told them—“That police role should be given to Siddique. Only Siddique can pull it off.” Siddique who was resting at home with Covid got a call from Unnikrishnan. That was the story behind the super hit combination of Mohanlal-Siddique in ‘Aarattu.’ For Siddique, this was his comic role after a long time, and he was side-splittingly funny as SI Sivashankaran. It was his character who generated the maximum laughs in the film. Siddique opens up about the film and how a section of the people are degrading it to Manoramonline.
Mohanlal is a joy to watch
I think it was in 'Chotta Mumbai' that I first did a humour character with Mohanlal. He is someone with a great sense of humour and would crack instant jokes. As Unnikrishnan himself said, Mohanlal was at his uninhibited best in ‘Aarattu.’ As it is acting with Mohanlal is always a pleasure. Be it emotional scenes, humour, fight scenes, or the Raavanaprabhu scenes, he is one actor who makes you really comfortable.
On the spot give and take
There are many scenes in ‘Aarattu’ which we have improvised on the sets. And those were fully supported by the writer and director. Since we have been friends for a long time, Mohanlal gives me that freedom as an actor. If he disagrees with my suggestion, that can be demotivating for me. I might not try to improvise after that. But Mohanlal thoroughly enjoyed some of our suggestions and will immediately say, “Ok fine, I will react this way then.” There is a give and take between us. I think I have been able to improvise in all the films I have done with Mohanlal.
When we had to get muddy
Remember that scene in ‘Aarattu’ during the middle of a song when the motor is switched on, water is splashed on me, and I fall into the fields. I was the one who suggested splashing water on me while I am talking to Lal and then falling into the fields. While I was about to do the scene, Mohanlal asked me if I was about to fall into the fields and then he instructed them to check with the art department to make sure there are no thorns or twigs on the fields. That’s Mohanlal. There was no need for him to do that. But he will be careful and make sure it's safe.
Carrying me on his back
Mohanlal is extremely caring towards his colleagues. I remember telling all and sundry after meeting his mother why Mohanlal is so compassionate as it comes from his mother. We can see the way she takes care of us. Because of my personal equation with him, he is one of the first persons I reach out to when it comes to my personal life. It speaks a lot about his kindness that he is able to cheer me up during my difficult times. I love acting with him. I always tell everyone on the sets that I pray that the assistant director never informs us that the shot is ready. Because our conversations are so much fun.
When I transform into 'Aarattu's' character
My character speaks a little faster in the film. That is because of the contradictions in his nature and profession. He is also dumb. He is there to arrest Mohanlal’s character. But funnily once he comes to know more about Neyyattinkara Gopan, it turns into admiration. When the director is narrating the character, I am already visualizing a body language and style for the character. That also means I am adding this fast dialogue delivery trait to the character. “There is going to be a war here. A river of blood will flow from tomorrow. You will have to swim the river to reach the shore.” Just then I will say—“Oh no but I can't swim.” Somehow you think he will only say that at that moment. Once a character is formed, rest will fall into place.
My connection with B Unnikrishnan
There will be a character for me in every B Unnikrishnan film. After scripting his first film, ‘Jalamarmaram’, he had scripted a commercial film called ‘Cover Story.’ Not only was the film’s director JS Vijayan a friend of mine, but it was also Suresh Gopy who called and said I had a role in the film. It was on the set of the film that I first met Unnikrishnan. We spoke like lifelong friends and that association continues to this day. I was able to work on all the films he directed. He would narrate all the stories to me and we would also meet frequently outside cinema. We have produced several short films and telefilms.
A director who knows how to use the actor in me
He has smartly used me in his films. Take my character in 'Kodathi Samaksham Balan Vakeel' for instance. “I will tell you what I have to tell you. But don’t you feel ashamed of doing all these things? Don’t blame me if your name gets maligned after the film,” Unnikrishnan would tell me jokingly. But I got a lot of appreciation for the character. So many of my colleagues have asked me the secret behind my friendship with Unnikrishnan. When I think about it, I think I share a similar bond with Shaji Kailas, Sathyan Anthikad, Renji Panicker and Ranjith. I also think it's because our discussions are mostly around cinema.
Have you learnt English thanks to Unnikrishnan?
We have always discussed cinema. Unnikrishnan is anyway well-versed in every subject. Once after saying a dialogue in English, TP Madhavan wondered if my friendship had rubbed off on my English-speaking skills. Often, I have felt that a certain English word isn’t suited for a particular scene. That’s when I call Unnikrishnan for help. And he would have the perfect word for that scene. Thankfully my directors would also agree to such suggestions. Unnikrishnan has often helped me with such suggestions for films directed by others. Let me give you one suggestion. It was a dubbing session and Unnikrishnan had come with me. “No matter what you say, I won’t get provocated” this was the dialogue. But Unnikrishnan corrected me and said the word was “provoked.” There are so many such instances. Not only has he given me so many good characters, but he has played a crucial role in my growth as an actor.
Degrading really helped the film
Degrading is a recent development in Malayalam cinema. For the last 2-to 3 years, it’s been rather rampant as people have enough time to invest in social media. So it starts as a comment, and someone replies to it and it gets out of hand. But I don’t think that’s going to affect cinema viewing. Though a lot of people are posting against the film, there are also people who after watching the film say that it wasn’t as bad as they made it out to be. So I think this degrading has only helped the film and it is still running in packed theatres.
Sometimes we tend to go with expectations and return disappointed and vice versa. That’s natural. I don’t think this degrading has affected ‘Aarattu’ in any way. People are flooding to the theatres. Degrading has become part of a culture. Films with cuss words are coming now. Now everything is shown without filters. Let people watch whatever they want to watch. Everyone has the right to criticise or praise a film. But it is intolerant to question those who disliked or liked a particular film. So I don’t really bother reading these comments.
I always felt that the older style of acting required some massive changes. So many of the new actors are textbooks for acting. I often ask them how they are able to behave so naturally in front of the camera? But they would be modest and say that they would have to take years to do the kind of characters I have done. I have always tried to learn from them.
I think my acting needs a major overhaul. That’s the only way to survive in this field. You can’t act with Dulquer or Pranav the way you act with Mammootty and Mohanlal. It is up to actors like us to change with times.
Take a film like ‘Thinkalazhcha Nalladivasam’ for example. Look at how beautifully all the new actors have acted in the film. During the first watch, I was so bewitched by the performances than I couldn’t really decipher the story. I noticed the story during the second watch. That’s the benefit of OTT platforms, we are able to learn so many things.
I was able to learn by watching films and other actors performances. During my initial days, I would be careful not to have the influence of my slang in my rendering. But now things have changed. People are using such dialects frequently in the narratives. That’s why I think as an actor I need a complete overhaul.