“All Writers are Essentially Actors,”

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Says Malayalam film writer, director and producer Murali Gopy who speaks to Manju Ramanan on his kind of cinema.

You have been described as a reluctant actor?

Yes. In 2004 I did a film called Rasikan directed by Lal Jose and then took a break. It was filmmaker Blessy’s confidence in me that persuaded me to take up the film Bhramaram where I played the character of Alex Varghese, a self-centered, urbane, shrewd doctor as the perfect foil to Mohanlal’s unsophisticated but genuine character. Everything in my career just happened. I was a reluctant actor and was actually coerced into acting by Blessy.

You have also been a journalist?

Yes I have worked with The Hindu in Kerala and in Dubai I worked as a sports editor for some time and know the city very well.

Does cinema celebrate narcissism?

Not all cinema does but yes quite a few films are examples of stylishly groomed narcissism that strikes a chord with the audience. Many actors and directors take that route tell their story and the audience enjoys it.

Name your favourite actors?

Acchan (father) and Bachchan (Amitabh Bachchan). My father has been an institution and I admire him hugely. Mr Bachchan to me epitomizes the term superstar. Here is a man who knows every nook and corner of the screen – the way he moves his hand, the way he acts in close ups, he is made for cinema. He is the most effective of actors since he has the most unique body language. You can easily see shades of him in actors who have come after him. He has been a big influence on everyone.

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When you approach a character as an actor, does the writer in you suggest changes?

I have learnt to keep the two separate but they are related. When you write, you write from different angles and perspectives. It is a mono act on a piece of paper. When you are acting, you have to shift modes and be inside the mindsets of people – it is a psychological process. All writers are essentially actors and you have to make yourself the paper when you act and that is the process you have to achieve. An actor should have a writer in him and a writer should have an actor in him. Since I act, I have great respect for actors as they are the vehicles in which you take the journey forward.

Do you see a time when Indian cinema will not be known by films from a particular region only?

No. Global cinema is popularly called Hollywood and Indian cinema is popularly known
as Bollywood. It is natural that the bigger industry will be more known than the smaller industry. I remember Hrithik Roshan’s words when he said that the entire budget of Krrish 3 was equal to a small sequence in The Iron Man. In India, we are a diverse population. We don’t even look alike. Our films are different hence. Even in foreign film festivals, they have now started saying Indian cinema

What do you think of the world of corporatizing cinema?

It is happening in Malayalam cinema as well. But in essence, a film has two types of people – the creator and the producer and most of the time these two come from two different poles. While in a non-corporate scenario you convince the producer to put his monies in your film, in a corporate world, you convince the CEO, the creative desk and many other people who are waiting to dissect your script and suggesting you to incorporate things that will sell.

What is your choice of cinema?

I am a movie buff and have always enjoyed watching Ram Gopal Verma movies. He is highly fluctuating when it comes to quality and I think that is a hallmark of a serious film maker. You don’t get all films right – some films work, some don’t. It is the same with the sciences. I like amphibian cinema – that combines both art house and mainstream films. I find in Raj Kumar Hirani a great mix of both – a unique blend of a Manmohan Desai and Hrishikesh Mukherjee. He expertly blends popular culture and idealism and adds his dose of softness to the films. In 3 Idiots for instance he has added puranic elements to the story and it lead to the concept of Immaculate Conception. Yet it is a film to be watched while you have popcorn – that is the genius of it. Govind Nihalani has also been my all- time favourite.

Cinema in Kerala is considered the best in India?

It is as good or as bad as any other industry. It has its highs and lows. It has its star system. It has parallel tracks. I don’t think of any reason that puts it on a higher pedestal. It has good films, it has bad films and it has mediocre films. Historically there have been highs and lows and in the 80s we did make films that were looked up to and remade in different languages. One can say that parallel cinema arose from Kerala but come 90s and 2000s there has been a shift of creative affinities – as any other industry, we had our flings with the star system.

Does the fling continue?

No industry survives without stars. An actor will become a star eventually. A star need not be an actor. Even when we say we love good cinema we cannot envision a scene where all theatres are only playing art house cinema catering to c a certain kind of crowd. The platter has to be varied – for every Manmohan Desai film there is a Satyajit Ray, for every Anurag Kashyap there is a David Dhawan. We need all kinds of films to keep the sanity of the theatre going audience. To use a food analogy, the menu cannot be vegetarian everywhere. We need all kinds of cuisines.

As a screen writer, how do you see dialogues create larger than life characters?

Indian cinema is largely verbose and a lot depends on how the director sees the movie. Some directors have themes to tell – many times they won’t be able to write the dialogues so a dialogue writer is roped in. Even in Hollywood there are dialogue writers – though that is not the term used in the credits. There is this famous curriculum saying in Britain that says cinema here in India are like televised plays – they are referring to the verbose films where a lot of it is said in the dialogues.

A star is made by songs and dialogues too, do you agree?

Every other theory you apply to other film industries applies to the Malayalam industry too. Some actors are known for their dialogue delivery, some for the dialogues they deliver. Within South India, a Malayalam film cannot be compared to a Tamil film or a Kannada or a Telugu film.