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Exclusive! Unni Mukundan on Meppadiyan: I’ve survived through challenges and producing is just phase 2 for me

The actor-producer talks about his upcoming Vishnu Mohan directorial, which is scheduled to hit theatres on January 14

Sanjith Sidhardhan
Jan 11, 2022
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Unni Mukundan | Credit: Aanu Nobby

“Yes, Meppadiyan is confirmed. It will release on January 14,” says Unni Mukundan, from the airport just minutes after the other big film, Dulquer Salmaan’s Salute, had announced that it was postponing its release date due to the COVID-19 situation. While it’s just been 10 days since the New Year, the actor has been shuttling across the State promoting Meppadiyan, which is also his debut production venture.

For Unni, it’s been a journey of over two years with the movie, which was initially set to begin production in early 2020. He had put on weight for the role and had to stay in that look throughout the nationwide lockdown of 2020 and then shoot the film set in the 2000s amid the pandemic, but without it ever seeming like it was done in a restrictive environment.

In an exclusive interview with OTTplay, the actor tells us about why he is confident about Vishnu Mohan’s directorial Meppadiyan, his impending directorial debut and his Telugu projects.

You have been busy with promotions since the start of the year. Meppadiyan is also your debut as a producer; so, are you nervous even a little bit?

I have absolutely no jitters. I am confident about the movie we have made. Meppadiyan is a small family movie, it’s not a huge ‘mass’ action entertainer or anything. But it’s come out exactly the way I wanted it to. There are so many actors involved and the way it has been made – all of this gives me confidence.

But are you wary about the current COVID-19 situation because for a movie like Meppadiyan, you need the family audience to come to the theatres?

See, I can’t hold on to a movie beyond a point. This film was cleared by the censor board a year ago. I think the government and people should actually start to live with this. How many times are you going to declare lockdown? As of now, the government has not announced that theatres will be shut down. The only way I see Meppadiyan’s release being deferred is if the government says theatres will have to be closed. But right now, the government is for theatres functioning and so, I don’t see a reason for creating a panic situation.

People say the times are hard, but I also think this is the time we have to grow. Humans as such are not designed to be at home. We have to keep our hopes high and it will be great if people can come to the theatres and watch the movie.

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Unni Mukundan and Anju Kurian on the sets of Meppadiyan

One would assume an actor’s debut production would be in a genre that he has been most successful in, as it reduces the risk. But your character Jayakrishnan in Meppadiyan is almost an image makeover for you.

Again, I have been extremely confident about Meppadiyan from the get-go. It’s the result of me backing a script that I thought was good. I think there was this perception within the industry that I can do only action roles. If I was someone who was only keen on doing such movies then, as you had mentioned, I would have started off with a genre that, as per industry reports, is favourable to me. But that’s not the case. I think I am fairly at ease with doing rustic characters as well as action roles.

I hope that people get to see the effort we have put in Meppadiyan, to ensure that it’s a high-quality production with good actors. Every artiste, who is part of the film, came onboard because they loved the script and their part. Even if someone is doing a cameo, it’s because there is scope to perform.

I have also given my best – I have put on weight and shed the pounds too. But it’s not about how the character looks. I gained weight, just to break the perception that I can only do action roles. Vishnu had told me that once when he had tried to contact me for a part, many had informed him that I won’t take up a role if there’s no action in it. I played a comic part in my last outing Bhramam. So, I am just trying to explore big time and I believe people will come forward to watch the movie when it releases in theatres.

What can you tell us about Meppadiyan?

It’s a movie set in the early 2000s. Meppadiyan is a clerical term, which means the aforementioned. So, the question is who is that person? Is Jayakrishnan a hero or a villain? If you see the trailer, it’s clear a lot is going on in his life and the thrill elements are who is he and who is doing this to him?

Vishnu has been vocal about him getting total support from you as a producer to make a movie that he envisioned. It’s not something that a lot of debutant filmmakers are lucky with. In fact, the film was shot during the pandemic but it was never made to feel like it.

Exactly, and that’s because the storyline was set in the 2000s and we couldn’t afford to make it look like it was happening in the recent times. My attitude towards cinema has always been crystal clear and when I am producing a movie under my banner, those ideas of how I perceive films should come through. For me, filmmakers must have absolute control over the creative side and as a team I should offer them all the available resources. I was also part of the creative space and I set up a team that helped us function better. It’s a team effort and I am proud the team pulled it off well. It’s also one of the reasons I want to release the movie as scheduled.

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Unni on the sets of Meppadiyan

As a producer, you are also involved in all aspects in some way or the other. How was that experience?

I actually loved it. I have always wanted to be in that space and today I am there. It’s also why my director has said that he’s happy I produced the movie. I have never made anyone feel that it’s a burden on me or that I am stressed. I have always enjoyed challenges and I have survived through them; this is just phase 2 for me.

This year, you have a lot of projects coming up – not just in Malayalam but also Telugu.

Yes, 2022 is packed. After Meppadiyan releases, I will be shuffling between industries. But in 2023, I want to get into direction as well. That’s the major plan for the next two years; I want to complete a few projects first. There’s a major movie that I want to do, which is Vysakh’s Bruce Lee. After that, I will begin work on my directorial. In Telugu, I have Khiladi and Yashoda, with Samantha. I also have a solo action hero movie.

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