Dulquer Salmaan plays the urban hero with panache in Malayalam cinema; will Bollywood offer more of the same?

Karthik Keramalu

Aug,14 2017 14:17 56 IST

On the busiest day of the week for a cinephile (Friday), the ding-ding of social media in my pocket grew louder. I was watching a Tamil movie in which the male protagonist was also the co-writer and co-producer. During the coffee-and-pee break, I released my phone and scrolled down to see what was happening in the “real” world.

The news that appeared in large ink, on my phone, startled me. Malayalam (and Tamil) cinema had given away one more actor to Bollywood. I felt the pain of separation in my guts. Had the allure of a wider audience cast its spell on the poster boy of Malayalam cinema? Did Suleimani (aromatic black tea) from the rooms of Kozhikode fly away to Mumbai to become Vada Pav (buns and fried potato)? I asked myself if I had to write a goodbye song, for I couldn’t take it anymore.

Dulquer Salmaan, the heartthrob of Kerala and Instagram sensation, was going to make his Bollywood debut. I knew it wasn’t going to be curtains for him in the South, yet it took a while for me to realise that.

Irrfan Khan, Dulquer Salmaan and Mithila Palkar.

I scrolled down further to get more details about the project. I learned that he’d be joined by the impeccable shapeshifter, Irrfan Khan, and the fresh-out-of-college, fellow internet sensation Mithila Palkar. A wave of calmness washed over me.

I knew Dulquer would enjoy his debut on the other side of the Vindhyas. Plus, the as-yet-untitled film has Ronnie Screwvala as the producer, with newbie Akarsh Khurana taking the director’s chair.

Dulquer the rider

Dulquer and Irrfan, as friends, on a road trip, with Mithila in the equation? Would it have the flavorful bonhomie of Dil Chahta Hai, or the cathartic sermons of Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara?

This isn’t going to be the first time where Dulquer will be seen on a road trip. In the five years since his first Malayalam release, Second Show, filmmakers have given him more than one valid reason to hit the road. He’s been on the move in a couple of films. His characters – Kasi travels from Kerala to Nagaland on a Bullet in search of peace and the girl he fell in love with (Neelakasham Pachakadal Chuvanna Bhoomi); Arjun, a bike mechanic and racer, tries to make Bangalore his home by not giving in to his nomadic urges after dipping his feet in several places (Bangalore Days); Charlie shifts cities in the blink of an eye (Charlie) – have tapped into the psyche of the millennial.

Going by that logic, I can say he’s played more characters that belong to the skin of Ranbir Kapoor – the coming-of-age kind of rituals.

A small reason for the acceptance of these characters may have something to do with his affinity for cars and bikes. His Instagram account is a gleeful witness to the angel-horned affection he shows toward them. Naturally, the idea of him high-fiving Irrfan on a road trip shouldn’t come as a surprise.

He’s the urban hero of Malayalam and Tamil cinema 

Dulquer Salmaan is the go-to guy, in Malayalam and Tamil cinema, to play the quintessential urban hero. His main contemporaries, Fahadh Faasil and Nivin Pauly, along with seniors who swim in the same pond, Kunchacko Boban, Jayasurya, and Prithviraj, slip in and out of the big villages and small towns of Kerala as gentlemen, lazy bums, thugs, honest-to-rogue police officers, and anti-heroes.

Whereas Dulquer seems to be the only guy from that battalion of actors to headline films wherein his characters are educated and, to some extent, appear to be polished. Even in the Rajeev Ravi brick-and-blood saga of urbanization, Kammatipaadam, Dulquer’s character Krishnan speaks Hindi (a language that Krishnan, probably, picked up in Mumbai).

In any film, for that matter, the hero is one step above the other earthlings. However, with Dulquer, it’s a little different. It doesn’t matter if he’s making biryani in Ustad Hotel, or mouthing mushy dialogues to impress his ladylove in OK Kanmani, he embodies the true spirit of the guy-next-door. His characters don’t aim at being the supreme beings. They just find company wherever they go.

How is Bollywood planning to receive this urban hero?

Other Bollywood Entrants from the South vis-à-vis Dulquer’s Path

In the recent years, Prithviraj, Dhanush, and Ram Charan have entered Bollywood. Though Dhanush’s Raanjhanaa hit the bull’s eye, his next Hindi release, Shamitabh, didn’t do wonders for him. The fact that he’s completed the shoot for a Hollywood film is another story.

Ram Charan’s Zanjeer, remake of the Amitabh Bachchan starrer, sunk without a trace, and Prithviraj is still wading through mediocre Hindi films. Then again, there are examples of Siddharth and Madhavan. These men take up Bollywood films every now and then, and manage to enhance their pan-Indian images.

Dulquer’s star is most likely to shine in a film that involves road trips. It’s his territory after all.  Moreover, the film is attached with the names of Irrfan and Mithila. Hence, the smiles, at the moment, outweigh the doubts.

The actor who can speak Malayalam, Tamil, Hindi, and English without his listeners catching the scent of an accent has proved that he’s like a dying lamp that dances to the tune of the moving wind. If Bollywood can grind his talents to the fullest, we’ll have people from Kerala and Tamil Nadu whistling for their home boy.