Moulee: Shraddha Srinath reminded me of Simran during Maara shoot
Veteran actor Moulee, who was seen in a central role in Amazon Prime’s recent Tamil release Maara, reminisces about his journey in the industry as an actor and director
Moulee has the Midas touch. Be it theatre, screenwriting, film direction, the 73-year-old veteran has made significant strides on all his undertakings. Having started his career in the black-and-white era, he has now made his foray into the flourishing Tamil OTT space with Madhavan’s Maara, the Tamil remake of Malayalam film Charlie. Directed by debutant Dhilip Kumar, the film impressed many with its fresh take on Dulquer Salmaan’s pop phenomena. One of the major talking points of the film is Moulee’s Velayya and his moving love story. Some might even argue that Velayya is the protagonist of Maara. We got in touch with Moulee to speak about the film, and about his journey and place in Tamil cinema.
Excerpts from the interview:
A long journey from the Black-and-white era to OTT...
It has indeed been a satisfying journey of more than four decades. Just standing on the stage gave me a high during my theatre days. From hundreds, the audiences went up to several thousand. I never expected such success and never really tried to venture into cinema. But I was noticed by people I revered. It was humbling when they encouraged me to write for films. It was never about the money, but about being able to work with legends like Trilok Chandar. Direction happened unexpectedly. A producer liked one of my plays and wanted to adapt it for a film. K Balachander was a huge inspiration and I asked him to direct the film. He told me that my play would render itself easily for cinema and suggested that I direct it myself. That’s how I ended up directing Mattravai Neril. The black-and-white film took two years to release and when it did in 1980, colour films had already taken over. Still, it went on to run for 75 days in three theatres in Chennai. That’s how cinema became my destiny.
Your films are known for their trademark humour. What’s your take on the absence of such wit in our current cinema?
I would only blame the audience for such a vacuum. Filmmakers look at the box-office collection, and if a film clicks, they want to repeat the success. If a particular comedian’s film works, they end up including him in all films. The same goes for the horror stories as well. It all comes down to demand and supply, nothing else.
What was it like to collaborate with Madhavan again after Nala Damayanthi (2003)?
We both go a long way. We developed a great rapport during Nala Damayanthi and that continued even when we weren't working together. I was like an elder brother or father figure to him. In Nala Damayanthi, we couldn’t share a lot of screen time as I was behind the camera. Maara was fun on that account. Jollya joke adichutu enjoy pannom.
I also have a lot of nice things to say about Shraddha Srinath. Such a hard-working actor; she never used prompting, knew all the lines by heart. She reminds me of Simran, with whom I worked in Pammal K Sambandam. Being a Punjabi and not knowing Tamil, Simran took so much effort to understand the dialogues. In fact, Kamal didn’t want her to be in Pammal… because the role was of a Tamilian. But, I convinced him that she would do justice. We first shot the police station scene and after seeing her perfect timing, Kamal became confident about having her in the film. I see all such qualities in Shraddha Srinath as well.
Why is there a paucity of good roles (like the ones you played in Maara and Seethakaathi) for senior actors like you?
That’s because the industry is hero-driven as people come to theatre for their stars. The title of this film actually shouldn’t have been Maara. Paaru is the apt title because it's her journey. But namakku hero thaan vendi iruku. That said, I like how many directors of the current generation are trying to break that norm. They are willing to collaborate with new actors. I choose to see such films and am not much into star-vehicles. Stars are under compulsion to cater to their fanbase and that’s just business. Enakenna pochu! I don’t do or see such films. If something like Maara comes my way, it piques my interest. The good thing is both kinds of cinema are happening currently. In my times, it was close to impossible. Even if you ended up making a film, you couldn’t get theatres to screen them.
So, did you take a hiatus from acting because of the lack of good roles?
Yes! There should be something for me to do in a film, or else why do it? Even if I don’t have work, it’s fine by me. People suggest I take up comedy roles, but I am sceptical about it. Humour is a dangerous zone. It can end up being crass and vulgar. I have many friends who take up everything that comes their way. I ask them, “Yaen da adutha vela saapatuka unaku kashtam? Why do queasy roles?” and they are like, “Ada po pa. No one is going to write roles for us. This has become my profession and so I am going to milk whatever I can.”
Have you ever been lured into a project with the false promise of a good role?
It has happened during my early acting days. They narrate something to you and during shooting they give you some bad lines. It becomes a headache. There have been many bad experiences on the sets. Sometimes, they'd tell me to change the lines myself, but how can I do it on the spot? It’s very unprofessional. I am now particular about reading the script. Just story narration won’t do for me.
You have had a great rapport with Kamal Haasan and you were supposed to work on a film together…
Kamal Haasan is a dear friend. He is a star for the world, but a jolly human being in person. Ella galatta vum sendhu panniyachu (laughs). Yes, we made a script together; we started working on it before the pandemic. It is ready and with him. But I don’t know if I will be directing it. It's a wonderful story which can be done in a short time. I don’t know when it will materialise though as he is now busy with politics.
Having seen and achieved so much, do you ever feel that you have hit a plateau?
I think an artist will never feel that way. A bank manager stops being one when he retires. You can’t say the same about an artist. He/she remains the same until the very end. I am glad that a lot of young directors like me. In fact, one such debutant has approached me with an excellent story. Let’s see...