Mohanlal on 'Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham', son Pranav and his connect with Dubai

Malayalam superstar on his historical new release and his hopes for son Pranav


Ambica Sachin

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Published: Mon 29 Nov 2021, 6:41 PM

"Can you hear me? This is Lal,” the familiar voice resonates across the Zoom audio. It is a voice that Malayalam cinema fans have grown accustomed to over the past four decades — whether in a darkened theatre seated alongside strangers or in the comfort of one’s home, drawn into a reel world and entertained by one of cinema’s finest talents.

In a couple of days, the highly anticipated historical saga, Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham (Marakkar: Lion of the Arabian Sea), the grandiose saga of the legendary naval warrior from the 16th century will be out in theatres across the world. Starring South Indian superstar Mohanlal in the lead, the Priyadarshan directed period drama is one of the most expensive Malayalam films ever made (with a reported cost of over Rs100 crores), with the heavy-duty action scenes aided by some costly VFX effects contributing to its monumental scale.

The movie has already won the 2021 National Awards for Best Costume, Special Effects and Feature Film ahead of its release, which was delayed due to the ongoing pandemic. Slated to release on an OTT platform during Christmas 2021, when the makers finally opted to showcase the huge canvas of the historical saga on the big screen, there were cheers from many, particularly theatre owners, who have been deeply impacted by the shutting down of cinemas during peak Covid.

The epic movie explores the exploits of the swashbuckling sailor and warrior Kunjali Marakkar IV, reviled by the Portuguese sailors and revered by Arab traders in equal measure. The film is set in 16th century when the monopoly of Arab traders was challenged by the arrival of the Portuguese to Kerala in 1498. Nedumudi Venu, Prabhu, Manju Warrier, Siddique, Mukesh, Keerthy Suresh, Suniel Shetty and Pranav Mohanlal lead a stellar cast in this multi-language film that will release in Tamil, Telugu and Hindi besides Malayalam.

Shot mainly in Ramoji Film City in Hyderabad with a majestic set built by famed art director Sabu Cyril, Marakkar boasts of elaborate custom made ships with VFX aiding in creating the effects of being on the high seas. Since not much documentation is available on the appearance and actual happenings of the time, Marakkar is a part historical-part fictional take on one of the most inspiring tales to come out of old India. We caught up with lead star Mohanlal, in between a movie shoot in Kerala, to talk about what audience can expect from the December 2 release in the UAE.

The trailer of Marakkar reminded us of Pirates of the Caribbean — the setting, the scale…

Nothing like that. Marakkar is a real character from history. He is the first naval commandant of India. You can call him the first freedom fighter of India. Because of the ship and the cannon firing there is a resemblance maybe (to Pirates of the Caribbean).

Marakkar is also one of the costliest movies to be made in Malayalam cinema. With the pandemic going on, did you have any fears about the timing of the release?

We were holding this film for the last two years, but it is a blessing in disguise. If we had released it and Covid had stopped everything afterwards, it would have been a different scenario. By God’s grace, we held the movie for two years and this is the right time (to release it). Now with the release of Marakkar, let’s pray that Covid will also be gone soon.

Are you hopeful that Marakkar will replicate the success of the other pan Indian movie, Baahubali?

We cannot predict success. With Baahubali, the makers made up the story, whereas Marakkar is based on facts; this is a costume drama. Kunjali Marakkar is a historical figure who was against the Portuguese, he was trying to protect the Samoothiri (the heriditary monarch of erstwhile Kozhikode), and it is all part of history. Baahubali had a lot of advantages — it was a fantasy with a lot of dance and songs; they could add anything they wanted. We, on the other hand, couldn’t adopt those things in this film. Marakkar is more of a serious approach. We are definitely hoping for success.

What is the main intention behind doing a historical movie like this? Are you hoping the young generation will learn from it?

It is only a movie. It fetched a couple of awards for costume and special effects, and it is a visual treat, so those who respect cinema and want to watch it, will see the film. It is not aimed at any particular age group, the youth etc.

What was the toughest part of filming a historical drama like this?

It was not tough. The film has a huge canvas; it should have been shot across a year, but we finished the filming in 106 days, that was the toughest thing. We created everything including the ship. Shooting in the sea wasn’t easy, so those physical challenges were there, but not in acting — we didn’t find that difficult. To complete the film in a short span was the toughest challenge.

How was it acting alongside your son Pranav?

He is playing a younger version of me in the film. He has done a great job. Pranav has done justice to his role; he grows up to be me (on the big screen), that in itself is a nice thing.

What is the legacy you hope he will take away from your life and career?

It is an entirely different view, right? Let him prove himself first. There’s nothing like a legacy he can take out from me; first he has to prove himself. Every actor has to get good movies, co-stars and directors. I have been blessed with all that, so I wish he’d also get good directors, stories and co-stars. I can only pray that he gets all this like I have.

Has luck or destiny played a part in your success as well?

It is not luck… it is some kind of blessing. Luck is a word framed when a lot of other qualities unite. You are the deciding factor of your life, but there are so many people involved in your decisions also, right? To bring more beauty to your life... Life is beautiful — to make it more extraordinary, we need so many people and the blessings of many, the energies of unknown people… that’s a vast subject, we can’t finish discussing it in one day.

Movie making is a business at the end of the day. How do you ensure you maintain a balance between your creative satisfaction and commercial demands?

I have been working for the last 43 years. When somebody is making a movie, they naturally make it with a desire for it to be a success. Definitely we work for good results. It has to fetch money, give more fame and glory; it has to give it all. If you do 10 films, maybe five or two films will have it all. With those two films, we will again run for miles!

You have been honoured with the UAE’s Golden Visa. What does this region mean to you?

I am connected with the Middle East for the last 40 years; it is a place I come to often. I live there. I love the country; I have been to almost all the countries in the region — Saudi Arabia, Muscat, Bahrain. I have gone to the interiors and I love the place. Half of the Middle East is from our place only (with a laugh) so I definitely have an unknown connection with Dubai.

Marakkar: Arabikadalinte Simham releases in UAE theatres on December 2

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