Actor Dulquer Salmaan confesses that he always thought his father, Malayalam superstar, Mammootty's boots were too big to fill. So he stayed away from films for a long time, making his debut at the relatively late age of 26 in the 2012 film Second Show, playing a gangster. Despite his late entry, however, Dulquer is a superstar today in Malayalam cinema and has acted in Hindi, Tamil and Telugu films too.
"I started late. I felt the boots I had to fill were too large. I don't want to ever tarnish my father's name in any which way, with my conduct, how I behave. That is something I have always been very aware of, '' Dulquer Salmaan told NDTV, adding, "If I were to become an actor and fail spectacularly, I thought it would not be him having a bad movie, it would be something I would inflict.''
Dulquer, now 36, in fact got a business degree from Purdue University and became a businessman and it was only about 10 years ago that he got into films.
"It is your personal journey and personal demons. It doesn't mean other children from film families had those issue. They were supremely confident and felt it was their birthright, to do it and prove their legacy. We all have our own journeys and I had to find the right time, to want to take that plunge, want to face my fears,'' he said.
Dulquer Salmaan, who is playing the lead role of Lieutenant Ram in his second Telugu film Sita Ramam, spoke exclusively to NDTV, along with Mrunal Thakur, who is playing the female lead. The film is to release in Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam on August 5.
Dulquer and Mrunal say language barriers between films and film industries are now being broken and films from everywhere are being seen by everyone now. But is the industry in the north insecure about the south, given the much more successful run films from the south are getting?
"I should answer that,'' Mrunal, who is from Maharashtra and moved from television serials to films in Marathi and Hindi, said. "I like this competition. In the north, it is like, what is the next Telugu or Malayalam film that we must watch. I am glad we are all accepting films from everywhere. It is no more like a Telugu film but an Indian film.''
"Actor Dhanush had also said that recently when his film was being released that it is really beautiful that we are no longer representing a particular state, it is an Indian film,'' Mrunal added, "Dulquer speaks Malayalam. I speak Marathi, Rashmika speaks Kannada. We have Brinda Masterji speaking Tamil on the set. Bhanu Sir speaks Telugu, so we have like an Indian crew.''
Dulquer said it is a lovely transition that films are travelling and everybody is watching everything: "Historically, we have always watched Hindi films. Now I love that the north markets are watching our films. They are not finding a language barrier.''
However, this has been a tough time for all, he told NDTV: "Generally the past two years, something none of us predicted, all of us across the spectrum are sitting and reflecting on what next. I think every industry is facing trouble bringing audiences back to the cinemas, so everybody is reflecting on what kind of cinema will draw them, to give them that feeling that we have to watch in cinemas, I can't wait for a month for this to come on OTT.''
On working with celebrated film-maker Mani Ratnam in OK Kanmani, Dulquer Salmaan said, "It was like I got into an Ivy League School or IIT'.'
"All of us actors when you get that crucial call from Madras Talkies, that meeting with Mani Sir and you get a film. It feels like this giant accomplishment, irrespective of what the film is and what it does. Just to be noticed by him, or even considered by Mani Sir, I feel like it is a big, big prize for almost all of us actors. So I genuinely enjoyed being there, just like a student. I was observing everything like his, the way he stages a scene, the way he blocks a scene, how sharp he is, his eye for detail is incredible,'' Dulquer told NDTV.
Dulquer is now done with playing romantic heroes and would in fact love to play grey and dark roles that are more intense, something he was able to do when he played the celebrated romantic hero Gemini Ganesan in Mahanati, the biopic on legendary actress Savitri.
"I found it interesting to play somebody like that. I genuinely enjoyed the conflicts and the grey areas. As an actor, it was not something I get to do all the time. As an actor, that is what you enjoy doing. It is more interesting to play grey and dark stuff. It is more intense,'' said Dulquer Salmaan.
Sita Ramam also co-stars Rashmika Mandanna and has been shot in Kashmir, among other locations. This will be Dulquer Salmaan's second Telugu film after Mahanati.