Mammootty's Mamangam is changing the game of movies
mid-day catches up with South superstar Mammootty on the set of Mamangam, touted to be one of Malayalam cinema's most expensive film
The shoot is on in full swing. An actor, covered in blood and deep gashes, is reviewing his last scene on the monitor. This is his fourth take, but action director Sham Kaushal wants one more. He requests the assistant director to capture the same shot from another angle.
It's a majestic set replete with mighty statues, the king's throne, lofty pillars and buzzing market areas with hundreds of fire torch lights. Though it seems like the makers of Mamangam, starring superstar Mammootty, are trying to reach the benchmark set by SS Rajamouli's Baahubali and its subsequent sequel, the actor makes it abundantly clear, "we aren't competing with anyone".
Action director Sham Kaushal with Mammootty
Everything on the set of the period drama, designed by art director Mohandas, reflects the ornate designs of medieval Indian structures. "It is the biggest set ever seen in Malayalam cinema. We've built everything to minimise the use of visual effects. We don't want to add CGI unnecessarily because that doesn't lend authenticity," explains Venu Kunnappilly, who is backing the film under the banner of Kavya Films.
Despite his experience of over 400 films, Mammootty, 67, exuberates the passion of newbie as he plays the lead role of a Chaaver (warrior). Set in 1695, Mamangam narrates the story of a religious festival held once every 12 years. It will present two stories — one of a celebrated hero and the other of an unknown champion embroiled in battle.
"It is a period film but not folklore. We have added elements of fiction to dramatise the situation. Since the 15th century, this festival has been celebrated every 12 years at Thirunavaya, on the banks of Brahmaputra River. Movies are the best medium to teach about history and this is our attempt to educate. I feel it is the duty of an actor to document history through cinema," explains the actor.
Kaushal, who is choreographing the stunts, is reuniting with Mammootty after they first collaborated for his Bollywood debut, Dharthiputra. "I'm working with him after almost two decades. We recently collaborated for the cop drama Unda [Mammootty's last release] and he is amazing. He is one of the greatest actors in Indian cinema, and even at this age, he has the same energy he did back then. His passion for cinema hasn't changed," says Kaushal.
It's the holy month of Ramzan and despite a hectic schedule, Mammootty religiously observes a fast every day. In fact, he will be performing the ancient martial art form, Kalaripayattu in the film, which has become part of his daily routine. "I have done it [martial arts] earlier in two films. It is tough to do action as we are prone to injuries, but that can also happen while sitting at home or crossing the road."
The three-time national award-winning actor feels that language is no longer a barrier in Indian cinema as Mamangam will be released in Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi. "Baahubali was made in various languages and broke all the records. It was the biggest thing that happened to Indian cinema. It was a definite game changer as it opened new doors. At the same time, we aren't competing with anyone. This is a story which hasn't been told before and to make it real, we have erected huge sets and reduced the use of VFX. I believe Mamangam will become a game changer of sorts for Malayalam cinema. If it does well, it will give way to more such films."
After years of experience, Mammootty still chooses to rehearse before the shoot. However, sometimes he prefers to improvise to get the right reaction. "Every actor should be able to bring their own to the table. We are aware of the subject, the character, and the scene, so as soon as the director says action, I personally go with my instincts. As for films like Mamangam, there is a lot of preparation required. When you are in front of the camera, you are all alone and there is nobody to help you. I have a tradition to finish a shot in the first take. When I do a retake, I won't be able to give a hundred per cent," he explains.
Mammootty credits hard work and luck as the major factors in shaping his career. "I believe luck will get you an opportunity and take you to a level, after which you need to work hard with dedication. I never wanted to become an actor, but when I got an opportunity I dedicated my life to it," he signs off with a broad smile.
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