In an exclusive interview, the Mollywood actor talks to OTTplay about his recent fitness transformation, his upcoming projects including his pan-Indian Telugu film and his impending web series debut
Last year, Unni Mukundan welcomed Onam in a pot-bellied avatar like Mahabali, but this year one can hardly find a shred of fat on the Mollywood actor who is as ripped as can be. Unni, earlier this year, also kicked off an online fitness challenge urging his fans to join him as he returned to his earlier muscular physique. The physical and mental benefits aside, Unni now tells OTTplay that he is also at a good space in his career, with multiple projects including Bro Daddy, 12th Man, Shafeeqinte Santosham, his impending web series debut and his upcoming pan-Indian Telugu movie. Excerpts from the interview.
Beginning of this year, you had initiated a three-month fitness challenge to lose the weight you had gained for Meppadiyan. Many who have joined you in that journey have embraced an active lifestyle since then. How does that make you feel?
It all started because of Meppadiyan because the character demanded I look a particular way. From the responses we have got for its songs and posters, we are happy that people have understood that it’s a feel-good family entertainer. A lot of people have told me that it’s the kind of film that they wanted to see me in. So, from the feedback, it’s evident that the weight gain worked for me.
But I also believe that there’s no point in killing your identity. When the film releases, there will be positive and negative responses and I am open to that. But I wanted to put out a clear message that I can do all kinds of films and change my body aesthetics. Being the film’s producer helped me literally work in and out of the film.
Fitness has never been a style statement or requirement for me as an actor. It was always a personal choice to stay fit as an individual. I was always into sports and it’s just an extension of my real personality. That’s why I made it public that I was going in for a three-month transformation and I am so glad that I could do that. I could manage it only because I announced it publicly. Otherwise, it would have been impossible for me as I was so fat.
I am equally happy that others too joined me. See, if you do something for 20-25 days, it becomes a habit and it doesn’t leave your system. I think after the coronavirus scare, a lot of people want to improve their fitness and immunity, so all of that too helped. I am sure that in the next five years, there will be a boom in the fitness industry in Kerala and people will try to maintain a healthy physique. Malayalis have already become fashion-conscious and fitness will be the next big thing.
Tomorrow, if I do a bare-chested scene in a movie, I am confident that it will not be booed. People now understand why an actor needs to be fit. Every cinema is now designed in a pan-Indian manner that comes with certain visual requisites. While acting has always been the priority, you now also have to be conscious about how you look.
Were you at your heaviest after Meppadiyan and what were the new learnings during your transformation?
I was at the heaviest in my life during that phase. Mentally too, I was occupied. I began the production of the film during the pandemic and I wasn’t given positive feedback from my friends as they didn’t feel the time was right. But I was tremendously confident this is the time. I totally believed in the subject and that the team could pull it off. To give the power of attorney to someone who didn’t believe in that dream was almost suicidal. While I was confident, there was also the pressure of performing as an actor and also looking after the responsibilities as a producer. It all came together, and somehow it worked wonders for me. My mental fortitude increased and I also made a public promise that I will return to my old physique.
Now, people have seen that I came through during this time and those who have been following me on social media, relate to my journey in a way that if I can do it, they can too. It’s not about flaunting your abs online; we have to think bigger. Post 30 years of age, you are not working out to impress anyone. You are exercising to better yourself. When people call me the torch-bearer of fitness in Malayalam, I am happy about it. I have accepted that and I believe I am doing something good.
You had undergone a drastic transformation for Mamangam to look ripped as a warrior before packing on the pounds for Meppadiyan. Tell us about the challenges of losing weight after Meppadiyan.
I weighed 93kg while shooting Meppadiyan. I had three layers of fat. I am now 73kg. I went even leaner and I have documented the entire journey that I will release soon. I wanted people to know that it’s all about working hard, eating right, being disciplined and consistent; it’s all ultimately about how badly you want to do it and making it a priority in life.
If I compare it with Mamangam, I had a good physique but it’s more of a warrior’s body and I was weighing around 80kg. It was about being more muscular. This is the first time I have become so vascular. My friends and family were complaining that I was becoming so lean. But to be frank, that’s the kind of frame I want for my upcoming movies.
How has the feedback been from those who took up the fitness challenge?
At this particular point, I work with a set of people who help me with my diet and train me. Of course, it’s all about me getting up in the morning and wanting to work out. These are huge advantages. But most of the people who contacted me are from the working class, who cook their own food, do their jobs and still manage to work out. It’s bigger than what I have done personally. It’s not easy for someone who does a 9am to 9pm job.
You also have a lot of exciting projects coming up.
We have announced my second production Shafeeqinte Santhosham, which is a cute movie and something that I haven’t done before. I also have Bhramam and I have just finished Khiladi in Telugu. I also have a pan-Indian Telugu movie coming up. It’s going to be my first solo action-entertainer, which will be helmed by Khiladi’s director Ramesh Varma. I am excited about that.
I have also sung a track in Ek Din in which I play a cameo. I have also rendered a track for Meppadiyan and it’s a song that will stay close to my heart. Right now, I have a mix of multilinguals and I am also looking forward to being part of a web series. We are in talks for that.
What can you tell us about Bro Daddy and 12th Man?
It’s the first time I will be working with Lalettan (Mohanlal) in back-to-back projects. Bro Daddy is also the first time I am working with Raju (Prithviraj) as a director. Mine is a very crisp part. The experience of working with him has been nice. We had a great time while shooting for Bhramam and because I was also shooting in Hyderabad, where Bro Daddy is being filmed, he said it would be great if I could join the team.