It’s not easy to act, direct, and produce a film. Prithviraj Sukumaran does it all, and in Kaduva, sings as well. This multi-faceted personality was in Hyderabad to promote his upcoming film, Kaduva, which he says, brings back mainstream cinema in the Malayalam film industry. In this candid interview, he talks about the satisfaction of reuniting with director Shaji Kailas, the power of OTT platforms, and his drive to don many hats in the world of cinema. Excerpts:
With many of your previous films getting remade in other languages like Telugu, what prompted you to have Kaduva get released simultaneously across regions?
My last film, Jana Gana Mana, saw a minimal release in the Telugu states and raked in good profits. I think that we have to start this trend at some point because of the exposure of our cinema on digital platforms. I think remakes will die out, and filmmakers will have to come up with films that make sense across regions. I have noticed that people like to watch a film that runs an audio track in their native language and it’s essential that we make an effort to bring our films to you in your own language. This is not the case with Kaduva alone. It’s just a start for me. Rajamouli garu has shown the way to market a film across languages. We thought we could try out something like that. We have even retained the Malayalam title, Kaduva, as it’s based on my character, Kaduvakunnel Kuruvachan.
Where does Kaduva stand among recent successes in Malayalam cinema?
Malayalam audiences have been watching cerebral, socially relevant, thought-provoking films. And we are proud of them. When I heard this script in 2019, it occurred to me that our industry had stopped making commercial entertainers. As a film lover, I think all kinds of films should exist. Our audience likes mass action entertainers too, and as an actor-filmmaker, I want to see such cinema being created in Malayalam too. Telugu and Kannada industries show a fine balance across genres, and likewise, I hope that the audience will like that we are bringing back a forgotten genre in Malayalam.
You have proved your credentials in both parallel and commercial cinema. Do you have a favourite?
I believe that only two types of cinema exist: good and bad. Regardless of what the story is and how you narrate it, if a film manages to hold your interest, it is good cinema, and I am a big fan of such films.
After the not-so-successful Simhasanam (2012), you are collaborating once again with director Shaji Kailas for Kaduva.
He is one of those directors, who have a pronounced effect on how mainstream cinema is narrated in Malayalam. I think he has single-handedly changed how directors started looking at making action entertainers. When he started his career, people all over the country sat up and took notice of his work. He has influenced me a lot as a director. If you watch Lucifer (2019), you will notice that there’s a lot of inspiration from his cinema. I have always held a lot of respect for him. Simhasanam might not have done well, but Shaji Kailas is very much significant. The script very much lends itself to a Shaji Kailas film. I am glad that I have made this decision because this is a film that truly deserves his style of treatment.
‘I have always been a student of cinema’
Kaduva was caught in a plagiarism row. To be frank, I am not fully aware of the details as the litigation is between the writer (Jinu Abraham) of Kaduva and another person. They have taken it to court and the court has favoured our writer and we have got clearance as well. I am unaware of what happened between them. Also, I have no idea if Kaduva is inspired by a true story. The writer of our film hails from Pathanamthitta, which is close to Pala. I am assuming that every writer who writes a film will be inspired by his surroundings. Kaduva, set in the ‘90s, tells the story of a young planter from Pala, and to my knowledge, this is a fictional story.
Ego seems to be a common theme in your recent films—be it Ayyappanum Koshiyum or Driving Licence. Kaduva, too, seems to be about a battle of egos. Is this a coincidental pattern?
You are right. The core seed is ego, yes. Cinematically, Ayyppanum Koshiyum is a raw, rooted film without cinematic liberties, while Kaduva is a commercial entertainer that tells a larger-than-life story. I think, with Kaduva, I have completed a trilogy on the male ego (laughs).
You act, produce, direct, sing… You also distribute films. Where do you draw energy from?
I have always been a student of cinema. Even if I don’t direct or produce a film, as an actor, I participate in all sorts of pre-production work, including the casting process, location recce... To me, all these are facets of a team sport. It’s not like I am doing those things by myself. However, I’ll admit that producing a film is tougher than people think. It’s not about having the money alone. All the great producers of Indian cinema are not united by their wealth; they are united by their success. I am successful because I have a wonderful support system—in my wife (Supriya Menon), my company, and my staff. I have the cool job of picking up a script and going ahead with it.
Your film, Lucifer, is being remade in Telugu. Do you pitch in with suggestions?
I am not big enough to advise anyone. I am glad Chiranjeevi sir is doing Lucifer (2019) in Telugu (Godfather). In fact, if I had directed Lucifer in Telugu, my first choice would have been him. He is the best choice for that character, and I believe they will do a wonderful job. I believe it is a bigger film (in Telugu) and even bigger (in terms of its scale) than it was in Malayalam. I don’t know how they have tweaked the script; I am looking forward to seeing it.
Is it true that you were asked to direct Godfather?
Yes, but unfortunately, I couldn’t take it up due to my other film, Aadujeevitham, which I was committed to doing in 2008, but we started shooting only in 2018. I haven’t finished shooting it yet. I remember Chiranjeevi sir reached out to me years ago to do a role in Syeraa Narasimha Reddy (2019) as well. Being his fan, I wanted to do it, but again, I was busy with Aadujeevitham.
Are you part of Prabhas’ Salaar?
I listened to the script two years ago and agreed to be part of it. It’s an exciting script that is being made by my friends, Prashanth Neel, Prabhas, and Hombale Films. The pandemic, however, delayed the shoot, and there was a time I thought I wouldn’t be a part of it. Now, there’s a chance it may just work out. I am meeting Prashanth soon and I’ll share the update.
The pandemic is often looked at as an event that has boosted the OTT space. Do you agree?
I don’t think it’s true. OTT would have risen one way or another. Due to the shutdown of theatres, viewing patterns changed. People go to theatres these days only when they are excited about a film. As producers, we have to decide whether a script works better for the theatre or the television. Kaduva is a theatre film.