The last time I spoke to Prithviraj was in 2009. In an hour-long telephonic interview, he chatted about his debut state award, Mani Ratnam’s Raavan and being feted as the new superstar of Malayalam cinema. I was awestruck by the 27-year-old’s candour and confidence. He dealt every (dubious) question with disarming frankness. Not once did he mince words. “Prithvi is probably one of the few actors in Malayalam cinema who is willing to talk about his flops. He is articulate, straightforward and professional, and doesn’t care a hoot about what you think about him. He owns up to his mistakes. Even during movie promotions, he gives a very clear picture about his films,” says prominent film critic Vijay George.
Between then and now, Prithviraj the actor has evolved a great deal. He has bravely weathered many media-created storms—be it his marriage to long-time beau Supriya Menon, the controversial interview that followed in a prominent regional TV channel or being trolled on social media (for reasons other than flop films)—and the labels they chose to give him, all unflattering. At various points in his career, he has been termed arrogant, brash and hotheaded.
From the heart
Six years later, as I rustle up a list of questions for an interview, post the Ennu Ninte Moideen euphoria, there is a sense of nervous anticipation. Will he retain the same candour? Or will he choose to bore me with a new-found stifling diplomacy? Besides, his inaccessibility gets me worked up. Despite countless messages and phone calls, the man remains incognito. Finally, I knock at his brother, Indrajith’s, WhatsApp door. And voila, the actor emerges out of his hibernation.
I get a sense that my fears are unfounded a few minutes into the interview. Was Double Barrel a miscalculation? I take the direct route. “The product was not a miscalculation at all. We all knew what we were getting at. However, it did not do well the way we expected it to. I have no qualms in admitting that it was a failed experiment. I don’t regret the film. I don’t do films just so they become box office hits. Double Barrel looked interesting—as something that hasn’t been attempted before. I knew the risk associated with it, considering the big production costs involved. That is partly the reason why I did not take it to another producer.” Bravo. I had half a mind to put the phone away and applaud.
I quickly get to the current flavour of the season, Ennu Ninte Moideen. “All of us knew the film would do well. However, frankly speaking, the euphoria is rather unexpected,” says the actor. As for the news about a Tamil remake (with him in the lead), he admits writer Jayamohan had expressed an interest even before the film’s release. But he states that “nothing is concrete as yet.”
He previously did the Tamil remake of Classmates (Ninaithaley Inikkum). Isn’t it tedious as an actor, to do it all over again? “When you remake a film, you have to acknowledge the fact that you are doing a different interpretation of something that has already been made and that you do not necessarily recreate the whole film. It has to be rewritten, reconceived.
I will only know once the first draft of the Tamil script comes out. Then I will decide whether I want to do it or not,” he shares.
As for portraying such an intense lover on screen, he says that “it is just like any other film.” In fact, he has quite a few films lined up this year—Nadirsha’s Amar Akbar Anthony (immediate release), G Marthandan’s Paavada, Sachy’s Anarkali, Jijo Antony’s Darwinte Parinamam and Sujith Vasudevan’s James and Alice.
Taking a stand
Prithviraj loves the fact that filmmakers are telling stories in exciting and different ways now. “Film viewing has evolved over the last few years. A film like Mumbai Police doing well in the mainstream would have been unheard of 15 years back. People are ready to invest money. There are no hard and fast rules now,” he points out.
During the promotion of his second Hindi film, Aurangzeb, he had spoken about restricting himself to two films a year. However, I remind him, it never happened. “I do not know whether I said that,” he smiles, adding, “But I would really like to cut down on the number of films I do. Somehow or the other, an interesting script comes my way and I take it up. Ideally, I would like to slow down. However, I am not complaining.”
A career graph that spans more than a decade, with over 100 films, ranked in the top league, a producer and with the luxury to do the kind of films he wants to do. Would he call it his golden phase? “I would like to believe that the best is yet to come. I am enjoying what I am doing and, as you said, I am in a space where I can do films the way I want to. I do not know what more I can ask for. But you never know, there might be an even better phase in my career.”
Despite the nasty trolling that his film, Double Barrel, received, the actor is all for voicing one’s opinion online. “It is a free world. However, my only issue is when 100 people listen to a single individual and come to a conclusion. That is not done. Please take a call for yourself,” he says. But the exclusivity is missing for actors in this internet era, I point out. He says he doesn’t agree. It is about being accessible, getting the best publicity free of cost and “learning to live with it”.
An actor who likes to watch his films from the point of view of the audience, he admits sheepishly that the technician in him has taken over quite a few times. But he never listens to a script as somebody who will play a part in it—he visualises it as someone sitting in the audience. That clinches the deal for him.
Actor knows best
Prithviraj is a self-admitted loner, someone who has few friends and more acquaintances. A former colleague recalls a cricket match he once played with the actor. “He is not one of those people you can quickly get into back-slapping terms with. He is not comfortable socialising. I would say, he is not a great actor off screen,” he tells me. Therefore, it does not surprise me when he says he consults no one regarding career decisions.
He likes to think he is one of the lucky few who does what he loves for a living and gets great money for it. “I have fun doing what I do now,” he grins. Many directors who have worked with him, swear by his professionalism. Alternatively, about his ability to connect with them—be it Shyama Prasad, Lijo Jose Pallisery or RS Vimal—he says, “I have my own interpretations about the character and the film. But it definitely helps having a director with whom I can converse and have a give-and-take policy with.”
At what point of a film does he realise things are not working out? “It depends. There have been cases when I’ve had that feeling on the first day of shoot. With others, I’ve realised it only after seeing it on screen,” he shrugs. He firmly believes in taking responsibility for the success and failure of a film. “The producer, the director and the lead actor have equal stakes in a film. Regardless of whether I produce a film or not, I treat them all the same way,” he confides.
Then I ask him the pressing question: did he ever try to change himself, post all that dissension over his frank image? “I’d like to believe that all the flak I’ve faced has been for being politically correct. There has never been a point where I thought of having a new version of myself. I do not think I am equipped to do that. This is who I am and, unfortunately, I think I am too old to change now,” comes the tart rejoinder. The same refreshing candour, swagger and poise that would have put Vivian Richards to shame. Prithviraj is truly in fine form—his films notwithstanding.
(Courtesy: Indulge, http://indulge.newindianexpress.com/)