This has been a huge year for actors taking their chances on the other side of the camera. Actor Prithviraj just released his first directorial venture Lucifer and the audience has welcomed it with open arms. Now, Mohanlal has announced his decision to don the director’s hat. His movie is titled Barroz — Guardian of D’ Gama’s Treasure, which would be a 3D film. Lal wrote on his blog that it would be a film for both kids and adults.
Malayalam cinema has seen many actor-turned-directors. Yesteryear actors Sheela, Madhu and Bharat Gopi were the first to try their hands at filmmaking. From Venu Nagavally, Prathap Pothan, Sreenivasan, Jagathy Sreekumar, Madhupal and Salim Kumar to Vineeth Kumar, Siddharth Bharathan Nadirsha and Soubin Shahir, who are some of the newest additions, the list is pretty long. But the news of Prithviraj - who is one of the biggest stars of the industry currently — getting ready to wield the megaphone created waves and every development of the film was closely watched by film lovers. We can imagine the buzz a Mohanlal directorial would create.
“I don’t call it a trend. We have always seen this phenomenon in the industry. Mohanlal’s decision to turn to direction is surprising to many, but we knew he definitely had laid eyes on directing, right? An actor who has essayed a great number of characters along with master directors and co-actors must know a lot about direction and how it feels like to be behind the camera. An actor turning director is inevitable in some cases. Prithviraj also has been dreaming about making his directorial debut. And I feel that when these superstar/mainstream actors turn directors, the possibility of stakes and risks is less compared to any other person making a directorial debut, just because they know better. They have been in it for a long time. Interestingly, we also have artistes like Lal and Renji Panicker, who turned their focus from direction to acting. So, it works both ways,” says film critic and media person Maneesh Narayanan. “We need to consider both their works — acting and direction — separately. Their stardom is definitely an added advantage, but eventually the content will matter, too. I am really glad to hear that the movie is going to be in 3D format and the plot seems interesting.”
When Lucifer was released, the phenomenal response it got from the audience underlined the fact that actors have an advantage. They have some marketing value that makes people more comfortable taking a risk on them as a filmmaker, as they know if they’re involved it may draw an audience. Film critic Neelima Menon, however, notes, “I don’t see it as a trend, neither do I think that they are trying to exploit their fan base. Trying their hand at direction seems to be something that they always wanted to do, and only found the time and resources now.”
She says Lucifer gained a lot of hype purely on account of the names associated with it. “Mainly the Prithviraj-Mohanlal-Murali Gopy combo. When it comes to Prithviraj, he had already gained a reputation as someone who picked his films with care, was technically knowledgeable and there were a lot of stories about how he ghost-directed some of his own films. So naturally, I was curious to know whether there was any truth in those stories. Also, I wanted to see what he would do with Mohanlal, the superstar.”
Unlike in the western film industry, the fan base does affect the reception a film gets and Neelima believes that actors turning into direction triggers interest based on whose fan you are. “Ultimately, the film should speak. A film directed by Mohanlal will probably get the same audience as those he acts in. But the fate of the film purely depends on its quality, especially in Malayalam cinema, where directors are superstars in their own right. The audience only want good cinema at the end of the day.”
Presumed ability to bring the buzz, the fans, and a decent budget — what do actor-turned-directors have that nobody else does? “Actors have the opportunity to witness each and every step of the film-making process and have access to any department, from light boy to the directorial team. Actors have that rare luxury,” says actor, film writer and speaker Favour Francis. “Actors like Mohanlal have nothing to prove and any mainstream actor who tries their hand at direction is blessed with an abundance of know-how about the industry. Prithviraj showed that through Lucifer.”