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. “Prithvi is probably one of the few actors in Malayalam cinema who is willing to talk about his flops. He is articulate, straightforward and doesn’t care a hoot about what you think about him,” says film critic Vijay George.
Since then, 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 or being trolled on social media (for reasons other than flop films).
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? I get a sense that my fears are unfounded a few minutes into the interview. Was his last film, Double Barrel a miscalculation? I take the direct route. “We all knew what we were getting into. However, it did not do well the way we expected it to. I have no qualms in admitting that it was a failed experiment. But I don’t do films just so they become box office hits.”
I quickly get to the current flavour, 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.
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. 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.”
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’d like to believe that the best is yet to come. I am enjoying what I am doing. 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. Please take a call for yourself,” he says.
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. About his ability to connect with them, he says, “I have my own interpretations about the character and the film. But it helps having a director with whom I can converse and have a give-and-take policy with.”
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. This is who I am and, unfortunately, I think I am too old to change now,” comes the tart rejoinder. The same refreshing candour and poise. Prithviraj is truly in fine form—his films notwithstanding.
— Neelima Menon