He’s a movie star like no other. There’s no starry nonsense. No inflated ego. No unreasonable demands. No pretense. Just plain old-school charm, that’s uncalculated and innocent. It’s possibly what makes Dulquer Salmaan stand out from the crowd. And, an unpretentiously endearing star. So, when he instantly apologises for arriving late for our interview, we know it’s genuine. Or, when he excitedly announces his Dubai drive - a Porsche Cayenne - it doesn’t hint at star pride, but echoes his deep passion for the wheels. At a time, when most star kids are designed to look, speak and behave in a certain way, it’s heartening to see this young lad ditching that archaic celebrity framework, to be himself.
THEN AND NOW
His first movie, five years ago, is a testimony to this. There was no big movie banner or his legendary actor-father Mammootty to win him an audience. Instead, he gambled and found a fairly new movie team, thinking the judgement wouldn’t be harsh. Second Show wasn’t a blockbuster, but his rustic take on the life in the shadows didn’t go unnoticed.
His illustrious bloodline, however, was reason why he had delayed his initiation into the film world. “I didn’t want to ruin my father’s legacy,” he had told me in 2014, when he was filming for Bangalore Days. Cut to now, just minutes before unveiling his Jomonte Suviseshangal to his Dubai audience, he’s confident he has finally managed to break away from that fear.
His latest Malayalam film deals with a father-son story (where veteran actor Mukesh plays his dad) but the pressure of sharing screen space with his own legendary father doesn’t weigh him down. “Hopefully, I’ve reached a stage where I’m not daunted. And, maybe, I will enjoy the process. Once the fear is out of the system, you are free to do whatever you want,” he reveals. Although there are no movie deals teaming the father and son, there’s certainly hope that it could develop in the near future.
Looking back, Dulquer believes stepping out of his father’s shadows has helped him achieve fame, and adulation. “Typically the most pleasant things people say about me now, is that I’m improving a lot. But, I personally believe that it is because I’ve overcome that fear. I’m finally opening up more.”
THE ACTING PROCESS
He’s also got a great eye for good stories, choosing characters that amplifies his strengths and enables him to flex his acting chops. From Ustad Hotel to Charlie, to Njaan, to Kammatipadam, to OK Kanmani, he has taken on varied challenges, and emerged a winner every time. And, contrary to what tradition would dictate, his father does not indulge in spoon-feeding. “My sensibilities are different from my father’s. So, I don’t think it would be smart to get into each other’s space,” he had once said and you sense those terms haven’t changed.
So, it’s not just quintessential romances or mystical adventures that catch Dulquer’s fancy, but even dark, gritty thrillers, or biking trails that explore the mysteries of the heart that have found a place in his body of work. “I essentially pick movies that I want to watch,” he reasons.
Clearly, it’s not just bikes, or cars, that determine whether he signs a movie, or not. “Whenever I listen to a narration, I don’t think there are talks of what I’m riding or driving,” he chuckles, confessing the exception was made only for Neelaksham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi.
“I’ve been lucky that my directors have given me parts that I haven’t done before, especially movies like ‘Kammatippadam’ or ‘Kalli’. So, I’m deeply grateful that directors have that faith in me.”
However, it would be unfair to credit the filmmakers entirely. Dulquer is equally in control of how he builds on a director’s vision. Not all his movies have been box-office gold, but he isn’t unduly perturbed by success or failure, because by his own admission he has seen it his whole life.
Some critics may still claim Dulquer plays it safe, picking urban cool characters. But despite those characters not possessing obvious crutches, like makeup or historical references, he does work relentlessly to create them into celebrated lives. Whilst much of the work, rests squarely on that of the writers’ and directors’ shoulders, Dulquer does possess a method to the madness. “I think it’s hard for us actors to pinpoint what that ‘hook’ is. Where, or when, or how we get it.
“But every actor will know exactly when he’s cracked a character. It could be small details like the way he laughs or smiles. But once we get the hook, it makes it easier for the artist to slip in and out of multiple projects. And, it’s the day when you figure it out, that it gives you the freedom to push that character to any extreme, and see how far you can go. That’s the most exciting part for an actor,” he says.
THE SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
When he’s not busy dissecting and building characters, Dulquer valiantly plays cheerleader for his peers, often using his social media voice to help garner support for their cinematic work.
There’s however, a distinct disconnect with the media, admittedly because Dulquer claims he isn’t uncomfortable “promoting” himself. “I feel my work should speak for itself.” It’s definitely not a reflection of how he perceives the media, even acknowledging they offer him only kindness in return.
Media interactions, he feels, should ideally be slotted before a movie releases. “I went seven to eight months without a release. And at that time what am I going to talk to you about?” For an actor, those uncertainties are real and demanding, so beginning a conversation that’s pitched on those terms isn’t flattering.
It’s on his social media platforms that Dulquer opens up, uninhibitedly to his audience, striking up interesting conversations consistently. “I’m more on social media because all of you tell me I’m elusive, so I feel I should do at least that.”
As the lights dim, on our conversation, and the curtains go up with ‘Jomonte Suviseshangal’, and he disappear into the crowds, I wish it won’t take another three years before we talk movies.