Dubai: It’s almost impossible to envision a scenario where Bollywood superstar Salman Khan makes his entry into South Indian films by playing second fiddle to an established Southern actress. Some may even call such an event sacrilegious, but something similar happened in Bollywood a year ago. One of Malayalam cinema’s biggest stars, Prithviraj, made his Bollywood debut in Rani Mukherji’s exaggerated, wacky comedy ‘Aiyyaa’. All that was asked of Prithviraj was to brood and then brood some more — shirtless. His fans got a taste of some of his smouldering sexuality, but the film was a big letdown for those who hoped to see Prithviraj flex his celebrated acting muscles too. However, the 30-year-old southern heartthrob defends his choice.
“As a debutant, I can’t be complaining. Regardless of how it [Aiyyaa] went, I am now in the process of signing my third Hindi film. That should say something about me then, right? It got me noticed in the right places,” Prithviraj, the face of retail store Kalyan Silks, told tabloid! during a recent visit to Sharjah to inaugurate a new showroom.
The son of legendary Malayalam actor Sukumaran is now in talks with ace director Farah Khan for her project ‘Happy New Year’, starring Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan, and has just finished work on his second Hindi film, ‘Aurangzeb’ with Yash Raj Films, in which he plays a cop.
‘Aiyyaa’ represented all things new and he was in a stage of his career where he could afford the luxury of experimenting with roles.
“For many, ‘Aiyyaa’ was my first Hindi film. But for an actor in me, it was my 76th film and ‘Aiyyaa’ represented something new. I hadn’t heard anything like that in my career before. I was OK with the reception it got. I am OK with the fact that the film didn’t do too well… it was just refreshing to do that role,” said Prithviraj of the box-office flop. If all this had come from a lesser-known star, this logic would have been understandable. But coming from a star who’s known for his character-driven, content-rich films, it’s almost unpalatable.
“I got a lot of compliments for my first Bollywood film. But most comments that came my way were about my body and to be frank, I enjoyed it. Down south, people look at me as a serious actor,” he said. He had a point.
In just over a decade, Prithviraj single-handedly broke the monopoly that veteran actors such as Mammootty and Mohanlal held over the Malayalam cinema industry. Not so long ago, most films were made keeping these two incredibly talented, but ageing actors in minds. Their bankability was a surety, even if it meant watching those 50-plus heroes romance 20-something waifs like Katrina Kaif.
With roles such as the one in the award-winning ‘Indian Rupee’ — where Prithviraj played an ambitious real estate agent — or the distraught doctor act in ‘Aayalum Njanum Thammil’, he changed the dynamics of the Malayalam film industry. Released on Thursday, his latest Malayalam film is a biopic, ‘Celluloid’, about Kerala’s cinema pioneer J.C. Daniel. The film won seven awards at the prestigious Kerala State Film Awards, including Best Film and Best Actor for Prithviraj.
So, such dumbing down of talent to penetrate the glitzier world of Bollywood may not make sense, but he’s loving the space that he’s currently occupying.
“The best thing that an actor can hope for is to keep doing good things and do good characters… I feel as if I am in a dream and that I may wake up any moment,” said Prithviraj of his glorious reign down south. Any resistance in accepting him in the same league as his long-enduring seniors is worn down with each film he rolls out.
“The aesthetics regarding how cinema is perceived has changed and [what] they like to see on screen has changed. Filmmakers can now function without the fear of failure. It’s heartening to see films like ‘Celluloid’ attain commercial success. The fact that it has got such critical acclaim is great but the ultimate vindication for any artist is when people come, pay money and watch the film,” said Prithviraj. He may be modest about his stellar achievements but the director of ‘Celluloid’, Kamal, doesn’t shy away from heaping praise.
“Prithviraj is so talented and involved that he has this ability to grasp any character. I need to tell him just once and he gets it. He plays J.C. Daniel in different eras of his life — where he’s 28, 35 up to 80 and the consistency he brought on screen is amazing,” said Kamal, in a separate interview with tabloid!.
Nine years ago, they made ‘Swapnakoodu’, an unapologetic masala entertainer about three bachelors in Goa who learn about love and loss. Both agree that Malayalam cinema has evolved, giving way to a new wave of young actors.
“Earlier, ‘Celluloid’ would be considered an art film. But when actors like Prithviraj accept roles and that film gets commercial success, it’s always good news. There’s now a change in the ‘hero image’. Nowadays, it isn’t all about being the sacrificial do-gooder heroes,” said Kamal. Avant-garde films such as the revenge drama ‘22 Female Kottayam’ and the oddball drama ‘Chaapa Kurishu’ are being accepted with open arms.
“We [Malayalam cinema] were going through a lean patch in terms of creativity. But over the past couple of years, there have been some heartening finds. Even actors are taking a conscious decision to be a part of films that have not been told before. We are entering a serious phase of experimentation. We are now progressing towards what could be the best phase in our industry,” said Prithviraj.
It’s interesting to hear Prithviraj voice his opinions in such a responsible, articulate manner. In the past, this firebrand star has unwittingly been pulled into controversies. Any remark that he makes of his seniors — specifically Mohanlal and Mammotty — gains instant scrutiny and widespread analysis. Some of the allegations include brash remarks insinuating that senior actors weren’t too supportive when he entered the film industry.
“Have you ever heard me say it? It’s a figment of somebody else’s imagination,” said Prithviraj. He put the record straight with: “I never had to go through any kind of unacceptability or whatever you call it. I owe it to them for including me in their first films and looking at me as a serious actor, I have never felt that the seniors in the industry have ever done anything to not let me have any opportunities,” said Prithviraj. His career catalogue filled with hits underlines his thoughts.
His top tip? “Showbiz should not be the reason why you are in cinema. That is the biggest lesson of it all. You know the whole thing abut money, glamour will lure you for the first year… After a while, fame and money will cease to matter. All that matters is if you are happy with yourself.”
Did you know?
Prithviraj doesn’t subscribe to lucrative brand endorsements. But he accepted to be the face of Kalyan Silks based on their goodwill and humanitarian corporate policies.
“In 12 years in this industry, Kalyan Silks is my first endorsement... I was getting exciting films and I didn’t need money from endorsements. Usually what happens, all these brand endorsement offers come through a PR agency, it’s all about numbers and arithmetic. But with Kalyan Silks, they met me personally and explained what their brand stood for. They made it more personal than business.”