Hindi audiences are in a Dulquer Salmaan state of mind. Sita Ramam, his sprawling 1960s romance starring Mrunal Thakur, has done exceptionally well, despite the unusual decision to release the Hindi version a month after its initial run. Meanwhile, the same Dulquer cuts a weak and lackluster figure in the trailer of Chup. Starring Sunny Deol and Shreya Dhanwanthary and directed by R Balki, the film deals with a serial killer on the hunt for – God Save Us! – film critics.
Dulquer talks about his special relationship with Bollywood, handling bad reviews, his expanding fan base and why terms like ‘Pan India’ don’t hold much weight for him. Chat Snippets…
Your choice of Hindi was pleasantly eccentric: Caravan (2018), The Zoe Factor (2019) and now Chup.
It’s a wonderful problem to have and I love that people ask me why I don’t make more films in every language. As opposed to “We see too much of you.” In Malayalam, I have the most pressure to have a big opening, a big final number. All these numbers speak for themselves. So some of my decisions have to be based on that. But if I speak in Hindi, Telugu or Tamil, I can do anything. I can do any kind of cinema and I would like to be known as an actor and not as a star. It’s a strange journey I’m on, but I’m loving every minute of it.
How do you feel when critics criticize your films?
Glad to see what they didn’t like. I’m pretty open to reviews. I think it helps me choose better movies, different roles. i read everything. It definitely bothers me. But I’m also the type of person who would ignore 100 good things said about me and focus on those three bad things. My whole family knows this about me. After release, if I walk around the house with a small face, they say to me: “What did you read? Stop reading.”
But do you agree with the ratings?
I’m not sure if I’m running out of steam, but I don’t think critics are too disappointed about my films. I mean they can make personal attacks, they can have some agenda and insult you personally. But I don’t think they can tell us anything about our films that we don’t already know (laughs). We all go in with a certain movie in our head. And you hope the director is also watching the same movie in his head. If there is a discrepancy, then something is wrong.
Sita Ramam is loved everywhere. It is also your highest grossing film at the box office.
I am delighted. When I first heard the script, it sounded like a classic epic love saga. But I was also afraid that it would become what we wanted it to become. We shot in Kashmir and Spiti during the worst of times. It was terrifyingly cold -22 C. There was no running water, everything was frozen. People were falling (sick) in our unit, there were ambulances on standby. That’s how we shot the movie. But I think the reason we put so much real effort into it is because we felt like we were doing something special.
Do you think the film expanded your fanbase as well? After all, it is a rare Telugu hit with two non-Telugu leads.
I truly believe we don’t understand the power and scope of great cinema. My second film, Hotel Ustad (2012), I’ve traveled more than I ever imagined. Before OTT and all that stuff, I went to Hyderabad for the first time and met kids who said, “Hey, we love Hotel Ustad‘. I remember the distributors telling me that Charlie (2015) had a great market in Japan. Then there was a phase when I received constant messages from Turkey.
I definitely think so Sita Ramam it opened up a whole bunch of new viewers to my filmography. They go back and explore. That’s what I’m always looking for. I sincerely, passionately love cinema. Even before I became an actor, I always aspired to be a part of big cinema. I didn’t chase the box office.
Your films don’t carry the heavy tag of ‘Pan India’. At least that’s not how they’re sold.
I never understood tags. I feel that films should stand on their own instead of being labeled as a Pan India film, a Telugu film, a Hindi film or a Tamil film. We just loved the cinema, and we don’t really talk about those we didn’t love. Maybe we try to create different categories to simplify things. I often get these queries where people say, “Sir, we have a pan-India script for you.”
Chup is styled as a tribute to Guru Dutt. Did you watch Guru Dutt’s cinema growing up?
I definitely grew up on a good diet of Guru Dutt’s music. My parents always listened to a lot of classical Hindi songs and ghazals. We traveled a lot when I was little. My father loved to drive. When we moved from Kerala to Chennai, he never, for some reason, took us on planes or trains. He said, “Let’s drive.” So we always listened to the music in the car. So I knew Guru Dutt’s songs.
For ChupI revised Kaagaz Ke Pool (1959) because there are so many references to that movie in our movie. There’s even footage I’m looking at Kaagaz Ke Pool. I honestly loved watching it. I want to review his entire filmography. But after becoming an actor, it is difficult to find time to watch movies.
What do you think about the rating system in movie reviews?
i don’t get it If you give an exam you have 50 questions and then you can be graded on it. It’s like you got 48/50 questions right. But how do you get 3.5 out of 5 stars? And what is this .5? These days they get really specific, like 3.44. I’m like, ‘Kya hai yeh’ (what is this)?
What is your favorite Sunny Deol movie of all time?
It’s funny, but the two movies of his that I remember watching with my school friends were Border and Dillagi. I remember liking it Dillagi very strange. Everyone expects me to say Ghadar, Gayal, Ghatak. Even Sunny Sir when I told him he was like “Really?”