Versatility — that word defines the actor in Lal. After delivering some of the biggest blockbusters in Malayalam as Siddique-Lal, his diversion to acting happened through the much-acclaimed Kaliyattam, thanks to Jayaraj. In an acting career spanning over 20 years, Lal has delivered some impeccable performances that earned him two state awards and a national award. He was also fortunate to make a mark in Tamil and Telugu through some commendable characters.
He’s making a comeback into Tollywood after 12 years, and what makes it most exciting is that he will seen in the Prabhas-starrer Saaho, which is the second most expensive Indian movie ever made. The movie boasts off a strong cast and narrates the story of two families based in Abu Dhabi. “I still doubt whether anyone in the cast knows the whole story of the movie. It’s a big-budget movie shot on a longer period. I celebrated my last two wedding anniversaries on the sets of Saaho. So, you can imagine the duration of shooting. The movie is a very novel experience for me. The director Sujeeth is a youngster who is very comfortable to work with. Prabhas happens to be a very simple and shy person. Most of the crew members follow Malayalam movies avidly. They know many of the movies I directed and acted in, and so treat me with good respect,” says Lal. When asked about the budget of the movie, he says, “It’s humongous. We can take at least 50 Malayalam movies with that amount.”
In Malayalam, he will be seen as the 60-year-old Azhagan in T.V. Chandran’s Pengalila. The movie explores the bond between eight-year-old Radha and Azhagan, who comes to clean the backyard of the girl’s house.
“Earlier, Chandran sir had contacted me for Dany. But I was held up with other schedules then. Later, we met many times and he always treated me affectionately. He used to say that ‘we will do a movie together’. Two years ago, he came with a script which had full-length humour in it. I was so impressed by the script, but it didn’t materialise as the producer backed out. Our chance finally came in Pengalila,” says Lal. “He’s a calm person with a great humour sense. I believe humour is a pivotal element in a relationship and that’s why we have a great rapport. I think I haven’t put so much effort for a character before. It was strenuous doing Azhagan, but I’m very satisfied with the outcome. The movie has got a lot of goodness in it. I believe I have done justice to the character; the reactions on the director’s face assured it.”
Lal has also completed shooting for Priyanandanan’s Silencer. In the movie, he plays the character Eenasu, who redevelops a bonding with his motorcycle during his old age. “This character hails from Thrissur. The main challenge was to deliver Thrissur dialect effectively. In many movies, we see Thrissur slang being mimicked or it will be a lame imitation. I’ve worked on that and the outcome is good too. The shooting started the very next day after Pengalila wrapped up. Due to time constraints, I wasn’t able to sport a different look for the movie.”
Lal says he wants to feel each stage of his characters’ transition. “For me, watching me on mirror in the final getup won’t work. I will feel it as strange. I want to experience each step of makeup and costume change, and when the camera starts rolling, transform into that character. That’s the way it works.
His most recent release is Vallikudilile Vellakkaran. He was also part of French Viplavam, in which he came in a different getup. It’s always amusing to see the choices of roles he makes. His performances have proved that he’s an apt choice for both commercial and offbeat movies. “There isn’t a balance between such movies. I’m not an actor who does homework on a character, I don’t believe in that. When the director narrates the story, I get a picture of the character in mind — like his look, body language, behaviour etc. The character naturally comes to me; it won’t work out if I plan,” says Lal.
He says he’s an actor who won’t take up roles that are not suited for him. He has rejected a few roles and he doesn’t regret it. “I won’t take up the character if I don’t feel comfortable while narrating the story. I won’t be able to relate to that character. Two such movies I dropped are Marykkundoru Kunjaadu and Ividam Swargamanu. I felt I wasn’t the apt artiste for those roles. Biju Menon and Lalu Alex portrayed them effectively. Why should we do roles we are not confident about and trouble the movie?"
He also made a comeback in Tamil movies through Antony, Seemaraja and Sandakozhi 2. “The break was intentional. I had actually stopped doing Tamil movies due to typecast roles. All characters were of negative shade and even the name and appearance had resemblance. At first, these roles along with the fight scenes were thrilling. Later, I got bored of stereotype roles. And also, there was a conscious decision to avoid negative roles.”
Lal’s son Jean Paul Lal is following his footsteps and making debut as an actor in Arun Kumar Aravind’s new movie Underworld. He’s confident that Jean will do well in acting too. “Jean had acted as himself in Honeybee 2.5. That’s the most difficult thing to do. Jean did well in that and I believe he can perform well in the new movie.”
Lal has been part of some of the experimental movies in Malayalam and supports such attempts. “The name itself says it’s experimental. Some of them turn out to be big hits and some don’t do well. The market value of the actor in the movie is also an important factor. Experimental movies should happen. Then only change and growth will come to the industry.”
Lal has some exciting projects in his kitty. However, he has been working on a script for the past three years, which will be his next directorial venture. “I’m working with my friend Musthafa from Kozhikode. The movie will be of investigative nature. The script work is in the final phase and we will get into casting and other works once it’s finished,” he says.
“Direction is always a tedious task. I took a one-year break from acting while I was doing King Liar. It’s important for an actor to be live in the industry and such breaks can be risky. I only did Pulimurugan at that time and that brought me other offers. Very soon I’ve to start working on my movie,” he signs off....