Dulquer Salman: Mollywood’s uncrowned Prince

Among the biggest challenges faced by any emerging superstar is chasing stardom while simultaneously evolving as an actor. Do you want to be a bigger star or a better actor? Very few have managed to get the mix right, as it can be a slippery ground to tread on. And that’s the kind of crossroads Dulquer Salmaan is currently at. His most recent film, The Zoya Factor, is among the biggest disasters of Bollywood in recent times. Of course, Dulquer shouldn’t get much stick, given that it was only his second Bollywood outing.

Despite being an on-screen adaptation of a best-seller, marketing blitzkrieg and a theme of sports-meets-cinema, the film couldn’t muster even one crore on its opening day across India. To put into perspective how big a debacle it is, Dulquer’s Malayalam films have had openings of two crore-plus in Kerala alone in the past. Needless to say, The Zoya Factor had an unprecedentedly awkward opening even in the actor’s native state where many single screen theaters reported poor occupancy.

Since it wasn’t a Malayalam film, Dulquer’s stardom is reasonably intact—for now at least. In such a scenario, his next two projects in Mollywood are of utmost significance, given the lag that he has created in the industry over the past two years. Srinath Rajendran’s Kurup and Anoop Sathyan’s untitled project are the films in question—the former in particular seems to be an exciting project for many reasons— Srinath’s directorial debut (Second Show) was Dulquer’s debut.

The duo is reuniting after a long gap and that in itself is reason enough to keep a tab on the project’s updates. Also, Kurup is a fictional take on notorious conman Sukumara Kurup and this gives Dulquer the opportunity to excel in a taut thriller. Meanwhile, the other film marks the directorial debut of Anoop Sathyan (son of veteran director Sathyan Anthikad), immediately grabbed headlines when it went on floors, with the film also marking Dulquer’s debut as a producer.

For the first time, Dulquer is set to share screen space with Mollywood’s action hero of the nineties Suresh Gopi, who is also reuniting with acclaimed actress Shobana after a lengthy gap. While the genre is not revealed as yet, it’s fair to say that we have enough reasons to be excited about this one as well. Dulquer had done a film with the Anoop’s dad in 2017, Jomonte Suvisheshangal: Although it was only a moderate success at the box office, its initial collections had left the trade stunned as it got a blockbuster opening with never-seen-before crowds on the first day—unlike the regular Sathyan Anthikad films that pick pace through word-of-mouth. That mega opening was a confirmation of Dulquer’s crowd-pulling ability.

Even Kammattipaadam, an unconventional thriller directed by Rajeev Ravi, took a bumper opening purely on the merit of Dulquer’s star pull. In today’s era of wide release and digital platforms, a film’s theatrical success is largely down to how much it garners on the opening weekend/week. It’s also the foremost criteria to judge a star’s crowd-pulling ability.

The 2015-17 phase saw Dulquer swiftly peaking as a star, setting consecutive first-day opening records through Charlie and Kali. The fact that he was achieving this without doing out-and-out commercial cinema made it even more laudable. It’s also during this period that he did his first non-Malayalam film, O Kadhal Kanmani directed by Mani Ratnam. With A R Rahman’s music becoming a smash-hit, the film also raked in the moolah globally, getting Dulquer the kind of fame he hadn’t received earlier.

Unlike many South Indian actors, Dulquer is blessed with the kind of looks that can make him a pan-Indian star. His Chennai upbringing means that he speaks Tamil fluently and decent Hindi to boot. Above all, he has the skill set as an actor. Therefore, if Dulquer harbors the dream pan-India star across India, you can’t fault him, can you?

Making good choices in terms of quality will certainly get you acclaim but to be a star, it should also reflect in the numbers. Also, any top star would tell you that it’s pivotal to first establish yourself as a superstar in the native industry before venturing to other shores frequently. In Dulquer’s case, he was just about peaking in Mollywood before he did three non-Malayalam films on the trot, one of which was his Bollywood debut Karwaan.

He also made his Telugu debut in the female-centric film Mahanati that had Keerthi Suresh in the lead. It had a Tamil version in Nadigaiyaar Thilagam and Keerthi Suresh recently won the National Award for Best Actress with her sterling performance. On his part, Dulquer did a good job enacting the legendary Gemini Ganesan. The film was a blockbuster apart from the critical acclaim it garnered, but the lead actors didn’t get much credit for the film’s success—being rookies in the industry.

That said, Mahanati was a fine choice for Dulquer but films like Solo (which was a bilingual in Malayalam and Tamil) didn’t do justice to his potential. Even in terms of quality, the film evoked mixed reactions from audiences. Also the baggage of being a bilingual doesn’t help, as the nativity factor does get lost in between. It’s heartening to see Dulquer showing the courage to push boundaries but it’s also high time that he realized his worth.

Dulquer’s Bollywood choices have been bad in terms of career-planning. His debut film was a satirical drama while his next was a rom-com with bits of satire thrown in the mix. It’s not easy to get noticed or make progress as a star by doing these genres, given that Bollywood already has a queue of young actors doing similar films. As  an actor of considerable worth, it’s time that Dulquer looks for more ambitious films wherein he can showcase his acting chops to the hilt.

His self-inflicted downward curve in Mollywood has proved beneficial to his peers with Nivin Pauly getting a sizeable head start in terms of commercial successes and big grossers. Fahadh Faasil, who was more of an actor than a star few years back, has also struck gold with a plethora of box office riches in the recent past. While Dulquer still has a considerable edge over Fahadh Faasil as a star, it is Nivin Pauly that he will be battling with as far as stardom is concerned. As of now, Nivin Pauly’s choice of films gives him an edge over Dulquer among the family audience.

Blessed with a baritone that reminds one of his legendary father Mammootty, Dulquer has everything going for him to do well as an actor and also emerge as a superstar. If he can plan his career right, he could be the undisputed Numero Uno in the coming years in Mollywood and can effortlessly then spread his wings in other industries too. Dulquer’s strategy till date has ensured him pan-India popularity but if he can also make better commercial choices, then sky is the limit for Mollywood’s uncrowned prince.

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