Malikappuram star Unni Mukundan says he has now given the audience a reason to never forget his name
Last Updated: 05.19 AM, Jan 16, 2023
“It’s just a start” – that’s how actor Unni Mukundan explains the unexpected box office success of his latest movie Malikappuram, which has already emerged as the biggest hit of his career and first Malayalam superhit of 2023. In fact, the movie has managed to keep topping its revenue the past three weekends and even replaced big Tamil films such as Varisu and Thunivu in several theatres in Kerala due to its demand among the family audience.
In an exclusive chat with OTTplay, Unni addresses the comments about the movie pushing ‘right-wing propaganda’, the phenomenal feedback of the movie and how his future projects are shaping up due to Malikappuram’s success.
Malikappuram has already emerged as your biggest hit yet. That must be satisfying for any actor.
I think Malikappuram’s journey has only begun. It will after its other-language releases happening post January 20. It will be releasing in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and Kannada. Maybe after that we can take stock of how well the movie has done in the box office. I believe it has done huge numbers already.
When the movie was released, there was a flood of comments alleging that the movie had predominant right-wing influence to it. It’s been two weeks now and the movie is still doing well in theatres, with the family audience being the majority of the viewers.
I also read so many comments saying that this film is done to promote right way politics, and that I am the new poster boy for a political party. I had put up a post before the movie’s release that when people watch the movie, especially the family audience in Kerala, would understand the intention behind it and who it is aimed at. I promised that it will be a complete entertainment package. Also, I said it will give goosebumps to the devotees of Ayyappa. It’s the first time that I had vouched for a movie with so much conviction.
Now, after watching the film, people said that it moved them. They have hugged me, and in some extreme cases, they bowed to me, believing that I am what they have seen on screen. As an actor, it was a challenging character. When I am playing Lord Ayyappa on screen, that itself was a goosebump moment for me. I was emotionally engaged. On that particular day of shoot, I was haunted by how Ayyappa looked because we didn’t have any reference. But I wanted it to resemble how devotees have envisioned him in their minds. I thought we could genuinely satisfy that, and once that was done, I was convinced this movie was meant for everyone.
If a movie has to work, it can’t just be targeted to one section of the audience. This movie has been lapped up by people all over the state and across religions. I think that’s the biggest answer to the question. Throughout my career, I have had to face this and now, I am okay with it. I am not a propagandist. I believe that true cinema will win and our audience in Kerala will understand. We have a well-educated, sensitive society. They have seen me grow. I have been getting feedback from people, saying, ‘You have struggled a lot and you deserve this comeback’. One response was from a person who knew I starred in Mallu Singh but didn’t know my name. Today, I have given them a reason to never forget my name. That’s the effort I have put in and the audience is appreciating that.
Even after Meppadiyan, there was this chatter online about the film also promoting a right-wing faction, with regards to an ambulance sequence. As an actor, does that play on your mind, when another set of writers or directors approach you with a subject that has that particular influence?
No, I don’t even give a slightest thought of what a small section of people online are saying. My whole focus is on the storyline and the script, and how we can make it even better. As long as I have a clear conscience, I don’t think I should be bothered. The greatest assurance I have got is that the audience will back me if I do a good movie. If my movies are able to connect emotionally to the audience, people are coming to theatres in big numbers to watch them.
Film exhibitors told me that even veteran viewers, who have not visited theatres in years, are turning up in wheelchairs and walking sticks to watch the movie. So, I owe this success to two reasons. Firstly, the Ayyappa devotees, whom I believe, have spread the word that this film has earnestly tried to present Lord Ayyappa well. Secondly, it’s a genuinely well-made film. Because of the performances of the actors including the child artistes, viewers, including those who have tried to brand me, have gone and watched the movie; otherwise, we wouldn’t have got such numbers.
As an actor, I am happy with what has happened. I believe if I could fight the battles and still remain standing after this movie, for the next, there will be even bigger battles. There will always be people who are trying to constantly drag me down and I am okay with it. Even for my previous movie (Shefeekkinte Santosham), there was something like this. While I am still young, I am now used to all of this.
Earlier, the producers were a bit hesitant to back big budget projects with you in the lead. But after Malikappuram’s success, are the projects coming your way getting bigger?
Things have dramatically changed; I cannot deny that. There are huge projects coming up. The quality of the content that I am part of now will improve. I am also in talks with producers who are willing to do something extra. They have been appreciative that I could turn my small films into massive successes and consequently, they are willing to back bigger films with me. That’s how it has been for any actor. It took me a while to make it happen.
When people across age groups throng the theatres, they know there’s a minimum guarantee for my films. Producers say, ‘Now, that you are the family hero and the audience sees you as their own, why don’t you do a ‘mass’ film or a romantic movie?’ All of that is coming, with a bigger scale and in a manner that the audience can enjoy more. My only criteria is that the family audience who come to watch my movies must get entertained. So, I have to make sure that there is an emotional connection. And also it’s not just about being part of commercial hits, I want to make use of the actor in me. When the audience says that my performance in the film is also good, that gives me complete satisfaction.