Dulquer Salmaan’s maiden production venture Maniyarayile Ashokan was released on Netflix for Onam. During an exclusive interaction with indianexpress.com, Dulquer opened up about his grand plans for his relatively new production house Wayfarer Films, upcoming project Kurup and the story behind his marriage.
How do you feel about all the reactions that Maniyarayile Ashokan is getting?
I am happy that we could bring out something new during lockdown. It was never a film we planned for Onam. But, it organically happened. The film celebrates Kerala of our childhood.
How do you select your movies as an actor and as a producer?
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I go with my gut instinct. A lot of times, my films are reflective of my taste as an individual. As an actor, when I hear a script, I should feel like this is the kind of film I would like to watch in theaters. As a producer, I would also like to explore different types and sizes of movies. I am keen on backing new talent. So my interest in Maniyarayile Ashokan was, it is almost entirely newcomers behind the scenes. When the film came to me, I hadn’t told many that I was looking to start production. Gregory just got nervous when he was offered a movie as a lead actor. He called me and asked for my feedback on the script. I heard it and I liked the spirit of the team that was all new. They were all looking for this opportunity to make the film. And it sort of reminded me of my first film (Second Show), which was made completely by newcomers. When I began my production house, I was keen to build my own team from the ground up. I didn’t want to depend on the existing people in the industry. I wanted to work with people who’d quit good-paying jobs and join us out of love for cinema. I thought it was nice that my new team got to work with a new team behind Maniyarayile Ashokan also. There are some criticism and mixed reviews for (Maniyarayile Ashokan). I understand that will happen when you are launching newcomers. But, we learned the lessons that helped us to scale up our next project Varane Avashyamund, which we managed extremely well. And after that, Kurup was even bigger and it was such a massive exercise. But, I am proud that my same team made all three films. Because my dream for Wayfarer Films is quite big. I want it to be a long-standing and long-running company. It was very crucial for me to build a team and a crew that can handle any kind of films that we decide to make. In that sense, I will always be proud that we began with something as small as Maniyarayile Ashokan.
Do you think that our society with marriage centric ideals is putting undue pressure on people’s mental health?
It is unfair to say that this film is representative of society entirely. Or we could influence society in its entirety. But, what we have to understand is with the size of our population and various cultures and traditions that we have in different small and big towns, there are so many kinds of stories. There are so many people who have gone through this. Some people might not relate to it, some people might think it is old-fashion. But, I believe all of these stories do happen around the world, especially in India, because we are so diverse.
The whole plantain bit to depict the mental health of Ashokan seemed a bit risky. Did you and the director have any concerns about how people will perceive it, especially since the understanding of mental health in general in our country is not that great?
What interested me in the idea is that there is this guy who has friends. And all of his friends have found life partners. And even his parents have a very good marriage. More than anything, he finds some kind of companionship in this tree. You read news articles all over the world, where people have found affection for something inanimate. How they want to have a public wedding with some inanimate object. In India, at least, there is this sort of tradition of arranged marriage, where the majority of us do find our significant other. There are cultures in the west where some people are lonely for life. I don’t find it far fetched that this character develops feelings for a tree. He now gets to experience all these traditions, whether it is bringing ladoos to the office or saying women are alone at home, I should get back. He gets to be a part of his friend’s circle and society. He thinks he is complete. So I like the exploration of it, which is why they didn’t go too much into his mental health angle. It could be also because it is a tricky topic to deal with sensitively and explore sensitively. I think it is probably good that they did not spend too much screen time on that.
Recently a picture of you with Mohanlal and Prithviraj went viral. Are you guys doing a project together?
I like the mystery behind the picture. So I am going to neither deny nor confirm. It was a lovely interaction, and it was a nice moment that was captured.
Your next project is Kurup. What is the status of the film? Do you have plans to take it to an OTT platform if the current situation prolongs?
No, Kurup is something we will definitely release theatrically. It is a film that is conceived and made for the theatrical experience. It is a sensitive subject because you are dealing with a real-life criminal. And there will be a debate about us white-washing him. Are we sympathizing or glorifying Kurup? I want that film to reach as wide as possible. We want to release the film in Tamil and Telugu too. Right now, we have finished the movie and completed my Malayalam dub.
On a lighter note, since Maniyarayile Ashokan revolves around marriages, what is the story behind your marriage?
It is a bit of love and arranged. I think when you get to a certain age, your family will start to pressure you to get married. And they will start looking for you and whatnot. My wife and I actually went to the same school and she was my junior. I didn’t know her in school. When I finished college, she was in her final year at architectural school. So people kind of started suggesting that we should probably meet and get to know each other as we have so much in common. So I kinda started doing something about it. Got in touch with her and then the parents met. I had a good mix of love and arranged.
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