Malayalam actor Unni Mukudan explains what drew him to Samantha’s Yashoda and why he has high hopes for the film
Unni Mukundan’s confidence is sky high this year. He began the year with Meppadiyan, for which he had undergone drastic physical transformation and also produced, and followed it up with roles in movies such as 12th Man and Khiladi. The Meppadiyan actor has high hopes on his upcoming Telugu release Yashoda, an action-thriller starring Samantha Ruth Prabhu in the lead role.
In a candid and exclusive chat with OTTplay, the Malayalam actor talks to us about what attracted him to the role, the doors that Meppadiyan opened up in his career and finding success after his decade-long journey of breaking stereotypes.
After being active in the Malayalam film industry for over a decade, you seem to have rejuvenated your filmography recently with your choice of movies.
I think post Meppadiyan, there’s a change in how people perceive me. I have broken those stereotypes and it’s evident from the kind of films that have come to me in Malayalam this year. I have a comedy entertainer with Shefeekkinte Santosham, a time fantasy film with Yamaha and another fantasy with Gandharva Jr. Prior to Meppadiyan, people didn’t think I was capable enough to pull off these kinds of films. So, Meppadiyan was a game-changer and it also proved that no actor can be limited to any kind of stereotyping by those in the industry or the type of films that work for him. What I am saying is that even a good movie can pose limits for an actor.
Before Yashoda too, you have been part of some big films in Telugu. How liberating was to explore another industry at various stages of your career?
In Telugu films, most of my roles have been as a male protagonist in a women-centric film or a supporting character in a superstar-driven movie. I understand how the casting works. But when it comes to the kind of characters that are offered, they aren’t something that would come my way in Malayalam. So, choosing Telugu scripts that way was easy for me.
Tell us about what attracted you to Yashoda?
Hari and Harish, the writer-director duo, pitched the idea to me. I was intrigued by its plot and we then went through the entire script and discussed the character. I didn’t have to think twice. See, I haven’t done too many Telugu movies, primarily because of my commitments in Malayalam. But there was never a point where I signed a Telugu movie just for the sake of it. It was always important for me to justify why I am doing such a film. In that regard, I am really looking forward to the release of Yashoda as I believe it will have me in my best Telugu performance. Based on how the character evolves with the story, I think this stands out from my earlier Telugu ventures. It again has to do with the confidence that I gained from my previous movie.
You haven’t had qualms about playing supporting characters in women-centric films or a superstar movie. Has that helped in the long run?
The times are changing. I want to grow as an actor and also build up my kind of films. I am someone who has played a hero, villain and supporting parts. It has never bothered me or made me think that it would affect my stardom. There are people who don't slot you among lead actors because you aren’t constantly playing heroes in your films. That’s fine with me because the perception of a star is also changing right now. All those movies that I have signed now have me essaying the lead role, but over time I have found out that’s how the dynamics work. It all balances out eventually in the movie industry. But I am still open to doing all kinds of roles.
Right now, with the lines between industries being non-existent, do you also believe that you having worked in other industries will now come to your advantage?
Actors who are capable enough to pull off multiple languages will have an edge. The audience, especially in the South, now doesn’t discriminate between a Telugu, Malayalam, Tamil or a Kannada film. For them, it’s all one big industry as they view films of all languages.
Your kitty is full and that too with films across genres.
I have signed an action film in Bruce Lee, a romcom in Shafeekkinte Santosham and a couple of fantasy films as well. What happened is that post Meppadiyan, there was a change in perception of how people viewed me as an actor. I have always mentioned that it’s sad to stereotype a guy who is well-built as someone incapable of showing emotions on screen. It’s a poor way of casting actors and you won’t even hear about these things. You would hear about actors who are darker or heavier than what the society’s norms being denied roles because of who they are. But you would never hear about a fit guy being typecast and offered only roles of goons or cops. Personally, I was able to break that and I hope that it brings in a wave in Malayalam; hopefully actors who are tall and well-built also get to play emotional roles.
Meppadiyan was also a commercial hit, so did that also play a huge role?
Eventually it’s all about the numbers. But my concern primarily was about being denied performance-oriented roles. That my film could be a box office hit and I could also win the critics award for the Second Best Actor was a great feeling. There’s nothing more I could ask for. I had put in a lot of effort for the film; it was in fact way too much for a single film but it was worth it because now I have 10 movies that were never part of my line-up.