Dulquer Salmaan is a name that one is unlikely to forget in a hurry – not merely because he is a famous film star or because he is Malayalam superstar Mammootty’s son – but more likely because it is an unusual name even for India with its fair share of quirky names.
Named after two warriors, one presumably Alexander (the Great), the actor says his father chose it to give him an identity that was independent of his own superstar identity. “It’s an Arabic name, Dulquer and Salmaan derived from two warriors in Islamic history. My father studied them in college and he wanted me to have my own name and. He gave me my own last name as he didn’t want me to be singled out in school (being the son of a star).”
Now it’s a name that is widely recognised in the south Indian film industries – Malayalam, Tamil and Telugu, his presence reaching a far wider circle than his illustrious father.
Salmaan is among the outliers on the nepotism phenomena on which there has been a raging debate. He recalls that historically in south cinema there are very few second-generation actors. He had been well prepared by his family to be aware that his father had struck a lottery (in terms of his extremely successful film career) but that happened with a rare few. And so, he followed their advice to take up a career which was more conventional.
The actor took up business studies at Purdue University and followed it up with corporate jobs in USA and Dubai. However, eventually, his creative side won over and he came home to the movies, a pursuit which he thoroughly enjoyed. He had been experimenting with short films and found the process delightful which proved to be a good test of the actor in him.
Of his father’s reaction to his eventual choice of career, he says, “His (Mammootty) attitude has always been like ‘I am not going to make calls for you to star in a movie. You have to figure this out.’ I think it worked very organically for me as I got my break in a movie with a bunch of newcomers. We worked together, made mistakes and learnt from them. The second offer I received – Ustad Hotel, went on to achieve a National Award and people still love the film. The process kept going and I got to act in wonderful films. I have always tried to do good content and take up original films that people will remember. I think that has worked and now people recognise me by the movies I did, as it is very important for me to have my own identity.”
With some very successful films like Mani Ratnam’s Ok Kanmani or Ustad Hotel or even Mahanati, his choices have earned him both stardom and acclaim something that his father is quietly proud of.
“I think he likes my choices. He wants to be cut off from my work and to make my own mistakes. Nobody guided me or told me how to do things. I worked extra hard because I was afraid of failure,” says Salmaan.
It’s true. Bejoy Nambiar who directed him in the film Solo, describes him as an actor who picks interesting subjects, is someone who takes pains to get all details including his look in the film, right and is extremely helpful, the quintessential team player.
Given his propensity to experiment and take risks, it was not surprising that Salmaan signed up Karwaan, a comedy in Hindi by Akarsh Khurana with Mithila Palkar and Irrfan. Regardless of the fate of the film, the actor seems to have a presence that will appeal to the Hindi film audience. About the challenge of switching languages, Salmaan who trained under Barry John in Mumbai is not worried about it. He says his Hindi is better than Telugu as it was his second language. For Karwaan, the prospect of sharing screen space with an actor like Irrfan was a deciding factor for the young actor.
“I am a big fan of Irrfan, his work and personality on and off-screen. It was also a huge factor in me taking up the role,” he fesses up. In hindsight, it was obviously good judgment to have the actor (Irrfan) in the film when testing waters in Hindi cinema
Interestingly, there is a lot more to the actor than his famous lineage, name and his films. Being a car geek for instance. “It’s weird actually. I just like cars and my eyes go straight to them wherever I am especially when I travel. I don’t check out girls as much as I check out cars and my guy friends think I am a little off. I can’t really explain it. It’s just a quirk of mine. Also, as an actor it acts like a good hobby for me because instead of being insecure by reading criticism, I read up on cars.”
Certainly an ingenious way to navigate the road to fame and greatness.
Priyanka Sinha Jha is a senior journalist, author and digital media specialist.