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'Unda made us empathise with policemen more'- Cinema express

'Unda made us empathise with policemen more'

Four actors — Gokulan, Abhiram, Lukman, and Noushad — from Mammootty’s upcoming film tell us why the film was a special and moving experience for them

Published: 14th May 2019

Counting Mammootty’s sub-inspector Manikandan a.k.a “Mani sir”, Unda will have nine main characters — all policemen who set out for election duty in a Maoist-hit area in Chhattisgarh. Four of the nine actors — Gokulan, Abhiram Radhakrishnan, Lukman, and Noushad — share with us their experiences.

Gokulan, who plays PC Gokulan Balachandran, got interested in acting during his post-graduation days, after he got involved in various plays. After making his debut in Lijo Jose Pellissery’s Amen, he got an opportunity to meet Unda’s director Khalid Rahman, after which he was cast in the director’s debut film, Anuraga Karikkin Vellam.

Gokulan recalls that the thought of sharing the screen with Mammootty, aside from the fact that it was a police role, made him extremely nervous. “Mammukka was not present for the first two days of the shoot. When he showed up, we all became tense. But later on, we all really gelled with him. He is not like the Mammukka we had heard about. He cared for us like our own parents did — just like his character does in the film. He treated everyone equally and gave us pointers on how to deliver dialogues, especially the newcomers.” Gokulan previously played minor parts in the Mammootty films, Pathemaari and Thoppil Joppan.

Before Abhiram Radhakrishnan was cast in Unda as PC Unnikrishnan, he was part of the films, Parava, and Sudani from Nigeria, as an actor and associate director. His first stint was as an assistant director in Sidharth Bharathan’s Chandrettan Evideya, in which Khalid worked as an associate director. Like Gokulan, Abhiram too was worried about working with Mammootty.

“My character in the film is a bit of a snob who later undergoes a change. This is the first time that I’m doing a proper role,” says Abhiram. “After reading the script, I realised that all of our characters are important ­— not something that was summed up in ‘the hero’s best friend’. Like Gokul, even I was able to establish a comfort level with Mammukka. He took the initiative to create a relaxed atmosphere. I felt I was talking to someone of the same age group — or younger. He didn’t treat us like newcomers. Also, the fact that he recognised me from Sudani... boosted my confidence.”

The actors got to interact with a lot of policemen as part of their training. “We normally carry around this scary image of policemen brandishing their lathis. But once we went to a real camp, we started to see things from a different perspective. It made us empathise with them more. They have created an extremely disciplined world out there, and they’re capable of doing things that we are unable to,” says Abhiram.

Lukman, who plays the part of PC Biju Kumar, hails from a town which didn’t care much for cinema. The actor was once part of Unda screenwriter Harshad’s unreleased directorial debut. He had his first encounter with Khalid when he auditioned for a part in Anil Radhakrishna Menon’s Sapthamashree Thaskaraha. Khalid, who was the film’s assistant director, was handling the audition.

Noushad, who plays PC Noushad Ali, was part of a few films prior to bagging the part in Unda. “My character is an aspiring actor who ended up as a police constable due to his circumstances. He is crazy about cinema, and appears in short films and goes to auditions on the side. He is a bit childish and the most irresponsible of the bunch,” says Noushad. Like Abhiram and Lukman, Noushad knew Khalid from his assistant director days.

On meeting Mammootty for the first time, Noushad says, “When I first saw him, every film of his I watched growing up — from Vadakkan Veeragadha to Thaniyavarthanam — flashed by. In our first combination scene, he cracked a joke and that made things much easier for me. Occasionally, he would tell bad jokes and he didn’t mind it when we told him that he was going a bit overboard (laughs). On the set, he gave us the freedom and space to deliver our best.”

The plan to shoot the film in sync sound was another fact that worried the actors. “One has to properly learn all the dialogues. It’s serious stuff,” adds Gokulan. “It was Mammukka who suggested that it would be a good idea to go with sync sound. There was no sync sound in the first two-three days of the shoot. However, after seeing everyone deliver their lines well, he felt it was unnecessary to go through the struggle of recreating all that later in the dubbing studio. We found it really helpful.”

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