The Sufiyum Sujatayum actor, who plays Dushyant in the pan-Indian Samantha Akkineni-starrer Shaakuntalam, talks to us about the challenges of working in the film, his upcoming projects Pulli and Panthrand and more
Dev Mohan might just be a movie old, but he’s already hailed as the next thing from Mollywood. This week, he completed shooting for the pan-Indian big budget period film Shaakuntalam, which has Samantha Akkineni playing the female lead, in Hyderabad and joined the sets of his next in Malayalam, Panthrand. OTTplay caught up with the actor, who made his debut with last year’s Sufiyum Sujatayum, to know about his experience of working in the Telugu movie, his growth as an actor and more, in this exclusive interview.
The first film is always special for an actor, but they say that it’s the sophomore release that is often the test. You have completed shooting for Jiju Ashokan’s Pulli and now also Shaakuntalam, which is a big budget Telugu period film. Did these films come with their sets of pressure?
Not exactly. I am least bothered about the scale of the movie or who my co-actors are. If I like the character, I do it. I am not really concerned about the budget of the film. Shaakuntalam, of course, is made on a big scale. It’s not like my effort increases with the budget of the movie. I give my 100% to every movie I do. So, I don’t put pressure on myself if it’s a massive film. But of course, I will be glad if my co-actors are more experienced than me and I enjoy working with them. The current Malayalam film that I am doing, Panthrand, also has Vinayakan chettan, Shine Tom Chacko and Lal sir – all of whom are more experienced than me. So, I love to perform with them, by watching them closely and learning from them.
In Sufiyum Sujatayum, you played a sufi saint while in Shaakuntalam, you essay the role of king Dushyant and in Leo Thaddeus’ Panthrand, you portray an oud player. All of these characters require a certain amount of grace and presence to pull it off and the directors of these movies have said that they found that in you.
I don’t know about that. In Sufiyum Sujatayum, I remember they had shortlisted many artistes and I came into the picture much later. The film’s producer Vijay Babu met me and he was the one who felt I would be apt. I had short hair and a trimmed beard back then. He somehow thought I would fit the role and introduced me to director (Naranipuzha) Shanavasikka. Then I gave an audition, and that’s how Sufiyum Sujatayum happened. With regards to Pulli, I heard around 100 stories and this was the one I liked and so did it. For Shaakuntalam again, its producer Neelima Guna watched Sufiyum Sujatayum and felt I could pull off the role of Prince Charming, Dushyant. In terms of Panthrand, Leo sir again thought I could play the character. So, it’s about them feeling I am apt.
In the span of just two movies, you are part of a big film with Shaakuntalam. So, as an actor, how would you rate your growth?
I don’t want to compare my growth as an actor with the budget of the film. Shaakuntalam was a big learning experience for me. I shot for around 55 days and had 20 days of action scenes. It’s got an amazing character arc. Director Gunasekhar drained me in the sense that he extracted the best performances out of me. He doesn’t compromise; he knows what he wants and until he got that out of me, he didn’t allow me to rest. I enjoy working with such people who discuss and make me do what they want.
Shaakuntalam might have also had you outside your comfort zone, in the sense it’s a Telugu period drama in which you are playing a king. What were the challenges the role brought in?
Filmmaking process is the same, even if I go to Hollywood, Bollywood or any other industry. Only the scale and the character vary. If you take Sufiyum Sujatayum for instance, it took me nine months to learn the sufi whirling, I learnt the azan, Arabic and read Quran. When it came to playing Dushyant, I had to ride a horse like a warrior. So, I had to learn that along with sword fighting and archery.
Also, I had to learn Telugu because I can’t take prompting and perform. I can’t do that at all. So, I had to learn my dialogues. Each of them would be about 10-20 lines long because Dushyant is a king; he is a commanding presence and so has more monologues. I didn’t take a single prompting during the film. I learnt the dialogues by rote. Compared to Malayalam, that was a different effort I had to put in because of the language.
How was it working with Samantha in the movie?
When they approached me for the role and said she was playing the lead, I was excited to work with her. As an artiste, she has been in the industry for a decade now and has done 50-plus movies; so, she has great experience and I like to work with such people as it gives me a better understanding of work. Moreover, she is a cool person. We never felt like we were working on such a massive film, because we were having fun. So, it was comfortable. Also, the chemistry between Dushyant and Shakuntala must work for the movie and I feel that has come out really well.
Panthrand again has elements of gangsters, music and thriller. What appealed to you the most to take up the film?
Leo chettan narrated the story to me in 30 minutes and I liked the content a lot. He was crystal clear about what he wanted. That’s all I look for in a director. After that I asked him, who is playing the other characters and when I heard their names, I was like sorted.
The two times we did see you onscreen was in Sufiyum Sujatayum and a cameo in a song in #Home – both OTT releases. How much are you looking forward to seeing yourself on the big screen?
I would love to see myself on the big screen and hopefully it will happen soon. But with the pandemic, you can never say when. I am not disappointed or anything because this is the current situation, the new normal. I have already completed two movies and I am working on another. So, I believe when everything returns to normal, we will see them release in theatres.