Indian actor Prithviraj believes that Malayalam-language films are going through a glorious phase, alluding to movies being made on modest budgets while providing concrete content.
“We might not have as much money as other industries to spend on our films, but we do have talent and skill. Finally, we have learned how to use this talent and skill properly,” said Prithviraj in an interview over Zoom as he promoted his new thriller ‘Cold Case’.
Premiering on Amazon Prime Video on June 30, Prithviraj plays Assistant Commissioner Of Police Satyajith, an officer in charge of a murky murder investigation. This bankable actor’s observation about Malayalam cinema enjoying a glorious IT moment during the pandemic isn’t off the mark.
When Mohanlal’s much-anticipated ‘Drishyam 2’ skipped a theatrical release and opted for a direct online release on Amazon Prime Video earlier in February, the interest and adulation for realistic Malayalam cinema with subtitles peaked as it opened to a wider audience base.
It also helped that this star-fuelled thriller emerged as IMDb’s highest-rated Indian film of 2021, no mean feat for a South Indian film. Due to public demand, the film is even releasing in theatres in the UAE on July 1, subverting the theatre-to-web release cycle.
“But let’s be fair, I would like to think that even before ‘Drishyam 2’, Malayalam films were making some noise on a national-international level. Of course, ‘Drishyam 2’ is a huge film and its popularity crashing through the roof was an absolute catalyst. But let’s be fair, the interest in Malayalam films began much earlier,” said Prithviraj.
Movies such as Fahadh Faasil’s dark and morbid family drama ‘Joji’, Nimisha Sajayan’s patriarchy-smasher ‘The Great Indian Kitchen’, and actor Roshan Mathew’s human trafficking tale ‘C You Soon’ — all rolled out during the pandemic over the last two years — stoked deep interest in Malayalam cinema across movie-mad Indians who weren’t even familiar with that language.
“There’s a whole lot of new younger filmmakers, writers, actors, and technicians now. Filmmaking has just become more accessible. Anybody with a mobile phone can make now make a film today and Malayalam cinema has benefited the most because we have started to do what we are best at,” said Prithviraj, who turned director with the Mohanlal blockbuster ‘Lucifer’ in 2019.
The long-enduring actor — with blockbusters such as the riveting cop drama ‘Mumbai Police’ or the hustler fest ‘Indian Rupee’, and his testosterone-charged ‘Ayyappanum Koshiyum’ to his credit — is equally thrilled that ‘Cold Case’ will soon premiere on an Over-The-Top (OTT) platform. Kerala, like the rest of India, is grappling with a savage second wave of COVID-19 with cinema halls downing the shutters indefinitely in several Indian cities.
The pandemic has forced filmmakers across the world to re-consider their options on how to release their completed films and many are coming up with enterprising ways to roll out their films to the public.
“In the past year, we have realised the value of having these OTT platforms,” said Prithviraj.
Excerpts from our interview with Prithviraj as we talk about his latest murder mystery ‘Cold Case’, filming during the pandemic, and more …
Why should we watch ‘Cold Case’ and how will you sell it to us?
I don’t sell films. I act and direct them. But I can tell you why I acted in ‘Cold Case’. It struck me as an interesting script. It’s a story that travels in different paths. It’s not a whodunit alone, but it’s also about how did he do it.
There’s a police investigation that progresses based on logic, facts, inferences, and evidence. I play the police officer Satyajith. But there’s another path led by a journalist (Aditi Balan) who begins encountering things that cannot be explained with logic. There is paranormal activity and supernatural forces at work, but one path does not negate the other.
Was the film shot during the pandemic?
It was shot during the pandemic and it was my first film that was shot keeping in mind the COVID-19 regulations and restrictions. It was very new for me because it was my first time seeing everyone masked and observing social distancing. There were sanitisation stations every 10 meters. Everybody was following strict regulations, but the shoot was smooth.
Was ‘Cold Case’ designed as a web release or was the decision to release it on a streaming platform taken because of the times we live in?
A: It was the latter and was not designed to release on an OTT platform. When we made this film we thought this movie would be subjected to community viewing where hundreds of people together and watch it. But given the circumstances, I don’t think there is a better exhibition platform for this film than Amazon Prime Video because it’s a whole different level of reach than a theatrical release.
We screen in over 240 countries with people being able to sit in the safety of their own homes and watch this movie at their convenience. It’s a great proposition given the circumstances. Not just that, I don’t know how we can as a team appear in front of the camera and tell people: ‘go on to the theatres with your family and watch this film.’ I don’t know if that’s a responsible request to make. Given all that there is in front of us, the best thing that could have happened for ‘Cold Case’ is that it premieres on Amazon Prime video.
The title of your thriller seems to suggest that a case has gone cold. Are you reviving an old investigation here?
Cold is often a term used to describe something that has reached a dead-end or when the trail or your leads have gone cold. So, it holds true that way. It’s just that the case has gone more or less cold, but it suddenly becomes active again. But there is also another reason why the word ‘cold’ is used in this film. Unfortunately, I can’t dive into that right now until the film releases.
At this point in your burgeoning career, what do you look for in a film — is it just the potency of the script?
I would like to believe that any actor would look for first for a script that manages to your attention till the end. In this genre, what you look for is your need to know what’s going to happen till the end. And, that’s what makes that film significant. ‘Cold Case’ held all our interests. But it’s not a film that I got attracted to because of the character I played. Satyajit, the cop, is merely a character in this plot. But it’s a character in an interesting plot. Plus, I am happy that my saying yes to this project facilitated this film to be made because it deserves to be made.
The pandemic has been tough for everyone globally. How did you survive these two years?
People like us are the privileged ones because we get to put our legs up and watch series and films on web platforms. When you say the film industry, you just perceive it as a place belonging to actors or the fortunate lot that had the resources to get through the pandemic. But remember there are thousands of daily wage workers who aren’t as fortunate.
While I understand that the entertainment industry is not the priority, we are hoping that when the industry opens up there are thousands who will find a living through this industry. So for the sake of everybody, I hope we find a way to reopen this industry. On the plus side, if we make a good film we still have an opportunity to show it to people.
Streaming platforms tend to give directors and actors more space to perform. Your thoughts?
There’s a difference between making content for community viewing and viewing something in your private space. When you talk about community viewing, we are thinking of a group or family taking the time to go somewhere, finishing the film, and getting back to something else. So you don’t want to sit in a theatre for over four hours and therefore as a filmmaker you think of ways to compress your narrative and to dwell on absolutely necessary moments. But when you decide to make a film, a documentary, or a series that is going to premiere on an OTT platform, then you know that people are going to watch it on their own time and we have a lot more liberty.
I can choose to dwell on moments because I am going to make sure that viewers also spend time with me on that. It’s creatively very liberating and it’s financially great for our industry. We can diversify … So filmmakers and producers are going to start thinking differently and that’s exciting.
“Anybody is free to post a review on their social media or any other platform. If you don’t like the film, you can say you don’t like it. But I request the reviewer — both professional or otherwise — to make sure that you say that it’s your personal opinion. You have absolutely no right to say: ‘Don’t watch that film.” – Prithviraj
Did you know?
Prithviraj still believes that star-driven filmmaking isn’t behind them entirely. After having completed more than a decade in Malayalam cinema, the son of legendary actor Sukumaran believes that his biggest clout currently is his ability to command producers to back projects due to the clout he has built over the years as a performer.
Don’t Miss It!
'Cold Case' is out on Amazon Prime Video on June 30