Dubai is a huge base for Malayalam films: Prithviraj
The Malayalam actor was in the city to receive UAE's Golden Visa
What do you do when you are given just five minutes with a Malayalam superstar, adored by the masses and lauded by the critics for his sheer talent and the supreme confidence with which he tackles any given project?
Try not to meet eyes with his security team who are on standby to ensure a smooth transition from one interview to the other and throw in as many questions as possible to get the maximum mileage out of the golden minutes allotted to you.
In our case, it also helps that the subject matter is none other that South Indian actor Prithviraj who is as erudite as they come and who can talk non-stop on any given subject and is not known for mincing his words either.
In town to receive the UAE’s Golden Visa bestowed on select artists from across the world, the Koode actor is dapper in a striped shirt that showcases his lean physique.
Fresh off the 45th Kerala Film Critics Award win for Best Actor for the 2020 action thriller Ayyappanum Koshiyum — an accolade he shares with his co-star Biju Menon, Prithviraj is known for his collaborative approach to projects. Be it as a director, a producer or an actor, Prithviraj whose last release Kuruthi was out on Amazon Prime Video, has proved himself to be a consummate filmmaker who revels in collaborative work that brings out the best in him and his team.
We met up with the actor, at the Address Downtown on Thursday, where he along with his family, wife Supriya and daughter Alankrita — also recipients of the Golden Visa — were stationed during their Dubai break.
"Our expertise flourishes most in Dubai.”
“Regardless of which country is your favourite destination or your top pick for a vacation, if you are a Malayali, especially if you are a Malayali working in the industry that I do, Dubai is second home. It is not even like we have a choice!
"Our area of expertise flourishes most in Dubai, outside of Kerala. And regardless of whether we have a Golden Visa or not, I come to Dubai every month for something or the other. And suddenly, me being gifted this Golden Visa underlines the fact that this is my second home. There is Kerala, Trivandrum, where I was born and brought up and Cochin where I live, then there is Dubai, a place where I work and live…
"And it is a place that my child (daughter Alankrita) loves... Given a choice, she will be in some kids’ play park from morning to night and it is not something we get to do when I’m back in Cochin.
"When I’m here, aside from meetings and a couple of media interactions, I’m mostly free and she thinks she has me to herself a lot more in Dubai.”
"Dubai is at the centre of our business.”
“I seriously think that what started off with Lucifer — in terms of what happens with Malayalam cinema outside of Kerala and India — is just a start and Dubai will now be a huge base from where Malayalam cinema will expand to international territories. It is also going to create a very interesting cross section of business schematics in terms of OTT platforms.
"I am looking forward to the release of my next film, Bhramam, that is going to be a theatrical release in GCC and an OTT release in all other territories — that’s an interesting phenomenon...There are so many interesting ways to channelise and monetise our business, our industry and our art and Dubai is going to be in the middle of all that.”
"I enjoy signing autographs more than taking selfies.”
“The mobile phone camera is one invention that, however charming it may be, sometimes you wish never occurred. It just sort of takes away the charm of meeting a fan or somebody who likes you.
"I must be the last generation of actors who went through that whole experience of... if somebody wanted a photograph with you, they would have to make a plan, they’d have to get a camera, they’d have to take time off, bring the camera to you, ask you for a photograph. These days that charm does not exist anymore.
"If you see somebody, it’s like, ‘can I have a selfie with you?’ I’m still somebody who enjoys signing the autograph more, to me that’s more personal.
"For somebody who takes the selfie, the selfie may seem more personal…. but for somebody who does it, the autograph is more of a personal connection.”
"You ask me what makes me so secure…”
Actors are generally perceived as megalomaniacs, feeding off sycophants and a coterie dominated by ‘yes men’. There are only a handful of artists who are confident enough in their art to actively seek collaborations with like-minded people.
Prithviraj is definitely one among them. As an actor, he has shared the screen with peers who have an equally, if not more significant role, and as a filmmaker, he has signed on Malayalam film industry’s top stars including Mohanlal for his projects.
But ask him what makes him so secure in his own skin and he is at a loss to explain himself. “I don’t even know what the other side of the equation is. You ask me what makes me so secure, I can only answer that question if I know what the other side of it is… How does it feel to be insecure, I’m not so sure…. People ask me how I could give the role I was offered in Kuruthi to Roshan (Mathew). I don’t think that way….”
We’ve all heard stories of lead actors having a say in how much screen time a co-actor has in the same movie. “I hope I’m blissfully unaware of that side… Ayyappanum Koshiyum as a film worked best when I played Koshy and Bijuchettan (Biju Menon) played Ayyappan. Obviously with the equation Sachy (film director) has with me, you can imagine that he would have posed this question to me — which one would you want to play? And I said, it is a no-brainer, I have to do this role and Bijuchettan has to do that role.
“The same with Kuruthi; I took the call that I will play the villain and I will give Roshan Mathew the so-called protagonist’s character. To me it is just about the best possible outcome of the script that you have in hand.
"How can you best translate this piece of writing into cinema, and what can I do for that — is it best that I do this, or somebody else does that? That, I think, should be the ultimate achievement of any actor or filmmaker.”
"You cannot really converse with a mob...”
There’s never been a time that required utmost courage from public personalities be it artists, entertainers, authors or popular cultural icons than now.
We live in a society, after all, where cancel culture is invoked at the slightest provocation. This is one reason many public figures don’t dare to share their opinion on matters of public interest.
Prithviraj is known for speaking up on issues close to his heart, be it the kidnapping and molestation of an industry colleague and friend or taking up roles that other mainstream actors might not be comfortable with.
But as to what makes him such a courageous man, when his views could prove detrimental for his career, he responds with a straight on, “I am yet to discover that fear. Online anonymity has given this license to people to be convoluted in voicing your opinion that it is no longer a discussion or a debate, it is just a mob shouting at each other.
"You are now pushed to thinking; you really cannot converse with a mob. You cannot get involved in a discussion or a debate with the mob. That is a faceless mob.
"So do you really want to be part of the discussion? Do your really want to be part of the debate? Or do you want to just say, hang on; this is what I want to say and that’s the end of the discussion.”