Actor Prithviraj
Actor Prithviraj Image Credit: Shaheen Thaha

Malayalam actor and producer Prithviraj may have embraced the idea of his films premiering directly on streaming platforms, but there are some projects that are designed specifically for theatres. His latest movie ‘Jana Gana Mana’ belongs to that specific bracket.

“It’s a big film and an ambitious project. The money involved is big, the logistics involved is big, and the sequences that this film has is big and that’s why I was so hell-bent on this being a big-screen experience,” said Prithviraj in an interview with Gulf News.

Prithviraj, Mamta Mohandas, and Suraj Venjaramoodu in 'Jana Gana Mana'
Prithviraj, Mamta Mohandas, and Suraj Venjaramoodu in 'Jana Gana Mana' Image Credit: Phars Films

Directed by Dijo Jose Antony and written by Sharis Mohammed — both of whom Prithviraj describes as blazing talents in their 30s to watch out for in Malayalam cinema –— ‘Jana Gana Mana’ is a rousing and defiant thriller that will prick at your conscience and nudge you to ask tough questions about the lack of ‘collective conscience’.

It promises to be a stirring social commentary with thrilling twists.

The trailer points towards a defeated and haggard man (Prithviraj) who takes matters into his own hands when a corrupt establishment fails him. His subdued persona undergoes a switch when he bombs the government red-tape driven office down and walks away with a triumphant smirk.

But that isn’t the whole picture, warns Prithviraj one of Malayalam cinema’s most versatile and talented multi-taskers. Don’t judge a film by its trailer seems to be his credo.

When Prithviraj, who is currently in Algeria for ‘Aadu Jeevitham’, is not directing blockbusters like ‘Lucifer’ he’s acting in stirring films such as ‘Kuruthi’ ( a searing socio-politcal film on religious rifts), or singing like a pro, or producing content that he believes in.

‘Jana Gana Mana’ is one such passion project. The actor claims he has poured his heart, soul and money into this film, also starring Mamta Mohandas, Shaari and Suraj Venjaramoodu.

“Sometimes you are so caught up with what is happening around us, all the opinions, and the news that reaches us … There’s so much information dump today, that sometimes we lose perspective … It’s an important film that needs to be told and is reflective of today’s times,” said Prithviraj. Excerpts from our interview with the actor as he discusses his latest film, his equation with his co-star Mamta Mohandas, and more:

Prithviraj and Suraj Venjaramoodu
Prithviraj and Suraj Venjaramoodu Image Credit: Phars Films

The trailer of your new film ‘Jana Gana Mana’ looks interesting and it seems like vigilante thriller where you take justice into your own hands …

It might be slightly unfair to categorise ‘Jana Gana Mana’ into any genre by seeing just the trailer or teaser. They give you glimpses from the sequel’s narrative and not so much from the part one of this film … I want to call this a socio-political thriller. It’s a film that takes shape from the time that we live in. The film also asked you very thought-provoking important questions and all this reaches you in the form of a taut, fast-paced mainstream cinema. ‘Jana Gana Mana’ is one of the few films that won't give anybody any idea about what it’s about through its promos.

So what’s this new fad where filmmakers put out misleading trailers? I remember speaking to Deepika Padukone for her recent Bollywood film ‘Gehraiyaan’ and she kept insisting that it’s not a film about infidelity, although its trailer seem to strongly suggest it…

‘Misleading’ is the wrong term here. We have been very open about how our promos and trailer will show events that happen after ‘Jana Gana Mana’, the film you will see this [April 28], ends. And there’s a reason why we stuck to that publicity design — there’s very little we can divulge about this film without giving the plot away. Usually, trailers show the highlights of a film in those two-minute teasers, but we will end up revealing a lot if we went down that route. I wouldn’t call it misleading. When you see the film, you will see a few surprises there.

The trailer of ‘Jana Gana Mana’ reminded me mildly of Naseeruddin Shah’s riveting thriller ‘A Wednesday’, where a seemingly helpless man takes on an entire system and adopts the ‘eye-for-an-eye’ revenge strategy …

In part one of ‘Jana Gana Mana’ we explore how the social conscience is affected by today’s world. We live in times where we are told what and how to think. Let’s say there’s an incident but is it fair when a news channel don’t report the news but they opinionate about the news and they tell you how and what you should think about the news they are relaying. And that’s why the title is suitable for this film as it’s about societal conscience. And that big picture is relayed to you through the prism of one incident and how it triggers a series of incidents. And, no matter how significant the messaging of a film you need to do it in an engaging manner. Otherwise, it falls short of what it’s trying to achieve. ‘Jana Gana Mana’ will be entertaining and promising. This film will raise questions that will make you think.

Prithviraj Image Credit: Phars Films

Is the film inspired from true life events such as the violent clashes at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi or similar incidents that rocked India?

The writer of this film, Sharis Mohammed, only reads newspapers. He doesn’t read novels or fiction or short stories. He keeps devouring newspapers and whatever you see in this film takes shape from the times we live in. But it’s not based on any one real incident and every character is fictional. But it’s inspired from the times we live in, like many other films.

Actor Prithviraj
Actor Prithviraj promoting his upcoming film 'Jana Gana Mana' also starring Mamta Mohandas and Suraj Venjaramoodu Image Credit: Supplied

Speaking of our current times, we live in overly sensitive times. Whatever is said will and often be taken out of context. And being a reactionary is a given. Does the film explore such complex themes?

The films talks about how things are taken of context … I strongly believe that if a film is objective about the plot, you are OK. The story of ‘Jana Gana Mana’ is not so much about the characters played by me or Suraj Venjaramoodu [who plays a hapless cop frustrated by the system]. The story revolves primarily around the female characters of the film. Our characters are used more as instruments to tell you what happened to those people. My character is somebody who has been treated unfairly by the system. Suraj’s character is someone who discovers how unfair that system can be.

Your wife and you have produced this film jointly. Congratulations on your anniversary, by the way. As producers, you both have phenomenally well and are laughing your way to the bank. Do you dinner conversations revolve around cinema …

Thank you! But we have very few dinners together. So, at the table, Supriya and I have much better things to talk about. But regarding the production house, we run jointly, we do not look at it as a revenue-generating mechanism. I am well paid as an actor and we want to run our production house as an establishment that facilitates good cinema … Regarding laughing our way to the banks, we can assure you that we are putting it back into the cinema we are making. The idea is not to be too analytical about the films that we back. If a film excites you, then the challenge is to make the film the way it should be made. For example, ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was hugely challenging. It was the first film that I began shooting after the first wave of pandemic restrictions lifted. We began shooting in September-October 2020. The film is big in its scale and we saw multiple lockdowns. The idea was not to lose focus. As producers, we have to see a film through its end. Many lose focus there. I am proud that we made ‘Jana Gana Mana’ the way we intended. Our team was put through several trying times and tests. It could be one of Malayalam cinema’s biggest films to be shot during the lockdowns. At one point, we had to change our location from Kerala to Lucknow and once we finished in Lucknow, there was a lockdown there and we had to shift back to Kerala. We started this film in 2020 October to 2022 January.

Prithviraj with his wife Supriya
Prithviraj with his wife Supriya Image Credit: Instagram/SupriyaMenonPrithviraj

You films often have women with agency … Do you back and act in script with strong women roles?

I have to admit that I don’t go looking for scripts with strong women characters. I go for scripts that appeal to me and if they have strong women characters then I am happy. I will be lying if I said I backed ‘Jana Gana Mana’ because it had strong women characters … The two primary protagonists are played by Suraj Venjaramoodu and myself. But these characters come into the plot to prompt a story that belongs to Mamta [Mohandas], Shaari, and other women.

Mamta Mohandas
Mamta Mohandas Image Credit: Supplied

Mamta has always maintained that you are her celebrity crush and that she would have married you if you had not been taken … But jokes apart, have you all evolved as actors.

I am very flattered [laughs] … Mamta and I worked on our first film ‘Anwar’ in 2010 and she has really evolved as an actor. I can’t speak for my own evolution, but I know she has evolved. We worked well primarily because those scripts demanded us as actors and not because we made a good-looking pair … Mamta is in a stage of her career where she has immense possibilities as an actor.

‘Jana Gana Mana’ is also a significant film for you … It’s your first theatrical release in a long time. We have been talking a lot over your Over-The-Top films recently …

It's a sign of things to come. ‘Jana Gana Mana’ was the first film I began shooting much before any of my OTT releases that have premiered on streaming services over the last two years. As soon as we released the first teaser in January 2021, we had multiple streaming partners asking us about the possibility of a premiere on their platforms. But I have always maintained that this film will release only in theatres since it needs to be watched on the big screen with our community. Some films definitely demand community viewing on the big screen.

Prithviraj in 'Jana Gana Mana'
Prithviraj in 'Jana Gana Mana' Image Credit: Phars Films

Don’t miss it

‘Jana Gana Mana’ releases in the UAE cinemas on April 28