Mammootty looks back over host of roles in Kerala movies in his 30-year career. He says he has slowed down from making 25 to 30 films a year to four or five, which is still more than your average hollywood star.
Star loses count of all his films
When you've had a film career spanning more than three decades and about 360 movies, you could be excused for losing track of exactly how many titles you've appeared in.
"I've still not counted all my films," admitted the Malayalam movie legend Mammootty speaking at the Emirates Palace as a guest of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival yesterday.
The actor was one of the stars of the red carpet opening on Thursday night, arriving for the gala screening of Arbitrage.
"In my early stages I was doing more films because our industry didn't have many actors. They all needed me and I wanted to cooperate, so would take small roles, big roles, all the roles I was offered," he said. "Back then I was doing 25-30 films a year, but now at present I just do four or five films."
Four or five films a year is still far more than most Hollywood actors, especially those working in their 60s. (Fellow actor Richard Gere, al so in his 60s, with whom he shared the red carpet, only manages a relatively paltry one a year.)
And it's an achievement that has helped Mammootty pick up a sizeable number of accolades along the way, including three Best Actor awards at the National Film Awards (an achievement equalled only by Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Hassan), seven Kerala State Film Awards and 11 Filmfare Awards. He is also behind just Prem Nazir in his number of lead roles.
Despite this extensive backlog on and off-screen, this is Mammootty's first Abu Dhabi Film Festival.
"I'd like to thank the organisers for inviting me. In India, we are the largest filmmakers in the world, regularly making films in 14 languages. I represent only one part of it. I think [this invitation] is an appreciation of my work."
But it's not his first time to the UAE. In fact, he's been several times, often shooting films. In 2001, he starred in a film called Dubai that was almost entirely shot in the emirate. Unfortunately, it wasn't a box office success. Last year he was in Sharjah to pick up an award at the Asia Vision Movie Awards, which recognises the best in Kerala's Malayalam films.
"I regularly come and go in the UAE. Nearly 35 per cent of the Indian community here is from Kerala, we feel it's a home away from home," he says.
Another draw bringing Mammootty to the UAE is GITEX, Dubai's annual technology trade fair, of which he is a regular attendee. "I come to see what's happening in the technology world," he said. "But unfortunately, I can't make it this year."
Although the South Indian Film Industry is bigger than Bollywood in terms of output and its films are more respected on film festival circuits, it hasn't yet garnered the same international appeal as its Hindi neighbour. There are, however, signs that it is growing and earlier last year Dubai hosted the first South Indian International Movie Awards, with an aim to expanding its global reach.
But in the UAE, Mammootty said the large Keralan population meant there was a big demand for Malayalam films - not just for Keralans.
"Even the Emirati nationals watch our films. Their workers and maids are mostly from Kerala, so they're forced to see our films, the house will be forced to watch them. The United Arab Emirates is an extension of Kerala."