‘I genuinely, passionately love cinema’: Dulquer Salmaan

Ahead of Chup, Dulquer Salmaan talks about his relationship with Hindi cinema and why terms like ‘Pan India’ don’t carry much weight for him

author_img Shilajit Mitra Published :  22nd September 2022 12:00 AM   |   Published :   |  22nd September 2022 12:00 AM

A still from the movie ' Chup'

Hindi audiences are in a Dulquer Salmaan state of mind. Sita Ramam, his sprawling 1960s-
set period romance co-starring Mrunal Thakur has worked exceedingly well, despite the unusual decision to release the Hindi version a month after its initial run.


Meanwhile, the same Dulquer cuts a lean and unglamorous figure in the trailer for Chup. Also featuring Sunny Deol and Shreya Dhanwanthary and directed by R Balki, the film concerns a serial killer on the hunt for—god save us!—film critics. 


Dulquer speaks about his peculiar relationship with Bollywood, processing bad reviews, his expanding fanbase and why terms like ‘Pan India’ don’t carry much weight for him. Excerpts from a chat...


Your Hindi choices have been enjoyably eccentric: Karwaan (2018), The Zoya Factor (2019) and now Chup.


This is a delightful problem I have and I love that people are asking why I am not doing more films in each language. As opposed to, ‘We are seeing too much of you’. In Malayalam, I have the most pressure to have a big opening, a big final number. All these numbers talk. So some of my decisions have to be based on that. But if I’m doing Hindi, Telugu or Tamil, I can do anything. I can do any kind of cinema and I would like to be known as an actor and not as a star. This is a weird journey I’m on but I’m loving every minute of it. 


How do you feel when critics pan your films?


I am happy to see what they didn’t like. I’m quite open to reviews. I think it helps me choose better films, different roles. I read everything. Definitely, it bothers me. But I’m also that person who would ignore 100 good things that have been said about me and focus on those three bad things. My whole family knows this about me. After a release, if I’m walking around the house with a small face, they are like, “What did you read? Stop reading.”


But do you agree with the assessments? 


I’m not sure if I’m blanking out but I don’t think critics have been very off about my films. I mean, they can do personal attacks, they can have some agenda and insult you personally. But I don’t think they can tell us something about our films that we don’t already know (laughs). All of us go in with a particular film in our heads. And you hope that the filmmaker is also watching the same film in his head. If there’s a mismatch, then there’s something wrong. 


Sita Ramam has been loved across quarters. It’s also your highest-grossing film at the box office. 


I am delighted. When I first heard the script, it sounded like a classic epic love saga. But I was also scared that it will become what we wanted it to become. We shot in Kashmir and Spiti in the worst of times. It was terrifyingly cold, at -22 C. No running water, everything was frozen. People were dropping (sick) in our unit, and there were ambulances on standby. We shot the film like that. But I think the reason why we put so much genuine effort is that we felt we were making something special. 


Do you think the film has also expanded your fanbase? After all, it’s a rare Telugu hit with two non-Telugu leads.


I genuinely believe that we don’t understand the reach of great cinema. My second film, Ustad Hotel (2012), travelled more than I ever imagined. Before OTT, I went to Hyderabad and met kids who were like, ‘Hey, we love Ustad Hotel’. I definitely think Sita Ramam has opened up a whole bunch of new viewers to my filmography. They are going back and exploring. This is what I always seek. I genuinely, passionately love cinema. Even before I became an actor, I have always been seeking to be a part of great cinema. I have not chased the box office. 


Your films don’t carry the weighty ‘Pan India’ tag. At least they are not marketed like that. 


I’ve never understood tags. Films, I feel, should stand on their own instead of being tagged as Pan India films, Telugu films, Hindi films or Tamil films. It’s just cinema that we’ve loved, and the ones we didn’t love, we don’t really talk about. I get these inquiries often, when people say, “Sir, we have a Pan-Indian script for you’. And I’m like, ‘No you don’t. You can’t decide if it's Pan India or not.’ 


Chup is framed as a tribute to Guru Dutt. Did you watch Guru Dutt’s cinema growing up? 


I’ve definitely grown up on a good diet of Guru Dutt’s music. My parents always listened to a lot of classic Hindi songs and Ghazals. We did a lot of road trips when I was a kid. My dad loved to drive. When we shifted from Kerala to Chennai, he never, for some reason, flew us there or took trains. He was like, ‘Let’s drive.’ So in the car, we would always listen to music. So I knew Guru Dutt’s songs.

For Chup, I revisited Kaagaz Ke Phool (1959), because there are so many references to that film within our film. There are even shots of me watching Kaagaz Ke Phool. I genuinely loved watching it. I want to revisit his entire filmography. 


What do you think of the rating system in film reviews?


I don’t understand it. If you give an exam, you have 50 questions and then you can be graded on it. Like you got 48/50 questions right. But how do you get 3.5 out of 5 stars? And what is that .5? Nowadays they get really specific, like 3.44. I’m like, ‘Kya hai yeh (what is this)? 


What’s your all-time favourite Sunny Deol movie?


It’s funny but the two films that I remember watching of his with my school friends were Border and Dillagi. I remember liking Dillagi a lot, weirdly. Everyone expects me to say Gadar, Ghayal, Ghatak. Even Sunny sir, when I told him, was like, ‘Really?’