Why Dulquer Salmaan Could Be Bollywood’s Next Big Thing

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Why Dulquer Salmaan Could Be Bollywood’s Next Big Thing

Illustration: Palak Bansal

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hirty-one-year-old Dulquer Salmaan, the son of veteran Malayalam star Mammootty is one of the highest paid actors in Kerala. He also has a soaring fan following that cements his popularity as one of the most bankable leads in Malayalam cinema. Two years ago, the actor spread his wings and made a foray into Tamil films with Mani Ratnam’s OK Kanmani. Come next year, the young actor will finally make his Bollywood debut with Akash Khurana’s road-trip movie Karwaan alongside Irrfan Khan. As of today, various news reports have also confirmed Salmaan’s presence in Anurag Kashyap’s upcoming love-triangle Manmarziyan, in which the actor will be joining Masaan actor Vicky Kaushal, and PINK actress Taapsee Pannu.

At a time when Bollywood is dominated by the flashiness of Varun Dhawan, and the puzzling existence of (double) Arjun Kapoors, with an Ayushmann Khurrana, and Rajkummar Rao only managing to sneak their way in, Salmaan’s arrival in that category is indeed a refreshing addition. That the actor has gone on record to reiterate that he is not interested in chasing lead roles in Bollywood, and is instead looking for “memorable” ones (evident from his two film choices, where he is not the solo lead and which don’t feature big stars) is further evidence that he could make a case for more substance-led, performance-driven films.

Back in Kerala, where Malayalam actors often fall prey to mindless and formulaic action entertainers to further their massy image, Dulquer Salmaan’s popularity and box-office compatibility has risen despite his conscious decision to stay away from such films. Instead, the actor’s career graph is littered with smart, unusual choices that not just highlight his ability to get under the skin of starkly different characters, but also give a face to the modern, urban Malayali.

Along with Nivin Pauly, Salmaan has then been one of the people responsible for the new generational makeover that Malayalam cinema is witnessing; one where the setting has moved from the rural to the cosmopolitan, and which boasts characters that are relatable.

Back in Kerala, where Malayalam actors often fall prey to mindless and formulaic action entertainers to further their massy image, Dulquer Salmaan has consciously decided to stay away from such films.

In Charlie, Salmaan embodied the sexy Mallu man with as much ease as he played the millennial in Ustaad Hostel. His good looks, coupled with the innocent loverboy image that he honed with OK Kanmani, also guaranteed that he became the default choice for the new-age romantic lead. To ensure that he is not just typecast in romantic films, the actor has, in the last five years, played a husband with anger management issues in Kali, a small-time thug in Kammattippaadam, and a man on a mission to extract revenge for his wife’s death in Theevram.

It is this unpredictable versatility, and flawless charm that Bollywood could very well make use of, and one that no one better than Dulquer Salmaan can bring to the table. If the risks he’s taken in Malayalam films is any indication, then he might just be the lead who brings unpredictability back to Bollywood.

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