Prithviraj: A Quintessential Actor

A Write-up detailing the journey of Actor Prithviraj Sukumaran from his first film to his latest.

Prithviraj played the role of Ravi Tharakan, in Ayalum Njanum Thammil, a mischievous college-goer who enjoys ragging juniors and finding innovative ways to cheat in exams. who finally scraps through to become a Doctor. And during the course of journey in his career, he finds a mentor who transforms him to a better human being. To simply put, it was like turning a spoilt brat to an accomplished doctor- A Messiah for the less privileged. And the film resonates with the real life of Prithviraj. He was poked and eerily made fun during his initial years, for his bold stance, attitude and calling a spade a spade. But as the years passed by all the naysayers have vanished. And the people have been astonished seeing the actor and the person he has become over the years. He has carved a niche for himself in the Malayalam movie industry. All those who had nudged him previously, now envy this self-made Quintessential Actor.

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A still from Nandanam 

Prithviraj first starred in Renjith’s film Nandanam at the age of 19. Though he didn’t have any god-father in the industry, he was lucky enough to land in interesting roles in the initial years. Especially the toughie role did in Chakram at 21. He had revealed years later, he was so grateful that he had got different kind of roles so early in his career which helped him become a better actor. Vargam, was one of the first Police role he did. The dialogue delivery of SI Solomon, (the character he played in Vargam) had turned heads then. Though the movie wasn’t a success, the character was praised. Prithvi had openly said that role inspired him to take up more Police roles in future. The movie was released at a time when Superstars were controlling the industry. And only the films of Superstars were minting money in BO. And there was this guy in his early-20s waging a lone battle.

Prithvi had lashed out at superstars for doing the same kind of Middle-aged roles often. He said they didn’t try experimenting and was doing mindless entertainers again and again. And he even said all the famed writers and directors queue up to the Superstars to make the run of the mill entertainers. He accused no reputed director dared to try a different subject. Also, he said there’s dearth of good scriptwriters and Malayalam cinema averse to do experimental films. And was lamenting about the future where the Malayalam movie was heading too. This lashing out of Prithvi had earned him the wrath of fans and even from insiders in the industry. People made fun of him and was poked even for the accent he carries. And he was the butt of joke during that time, not to forget the countless SMSs abusing him. He was labeled as arrogant and egoistic. And Prithvi took everything in his stride and let his work do the talking.

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The Ragging scene from Chocolate

As he had hoped, he slowly got the opportunity to act in different kinds of films. Some were experimental kind, some had a different treatment. His films had something new to offer. Anathabadram was a horror fantasy film with dark magic. Vasthavam was a  political drama where he uses his power as minister’s staff to his advantage, the movie said the inside story of politics. Prithvi bagged the State award for the best actor for that role and became the youngest recipient of the Best actor award. He also starred in Albudhadweep, a different take on Gulliver’s travel. And his three biggest hits during that time were college movies. But the three were so different from each other. Classmates (An emotional drama– had a non linear storyline, with one in the present- the Alumni meet and the other- their college life)Chocolate (A fun entertainer- of a lone Male student in a Women’s college) and Puthiya Mugham (A masala action movie- A Village Brahmin becoming a thug because of the bullying) all earned good money and Prithvi the actor was becoming the star Prithvi. He also landed a lead role in Mani Ratnam’s Ravanan starring opposite Vikram and Aishwarya Rai. And during the promotions and premier of the movie in London. Prithvi had talked of the crossover of region-based films and few other things. And the notable part was when he tells he comes from the Southern part of Indian, Kerala. And the accent and the way he put in was a proud moment for a Malayali. (Catch a part of that Interview below).

Here was an actor who wanted to take Malayalam Cinema to a more global audience. And in an interview later, he said he was in London as a spokesperson for Malayalam cinema. He also shared he wanted to take his movie across states and countries. He also cited that Tamil movie has a good following in Kerala, but the reverse was not happening, he pointed out. When his senior actors was finding it tough to take their movies to nearby states. Prithvi was eyeing for crossovers and beyond.

Prithvi acted in two Hindi movies Aiyya and Aurangazeb, though both movies didn’t do well, he was able to create an impression with the latter. He didn’t do much movies in Hindi as he didn’t get meaty roles. I think they failed to utilize him well. But I believe it’s a blessing in disguise for the Malayalam movies.

And moving into the 2011s, We were able to see a different Prithvi, he ventured into production with August Cinemas, which he co-founded with Santhosh Sivan and Shaji Natesan. The first film was Urmi, which depicted the story of Kerala after Vasco de Gama landed on our soil. A well-made movie, though I believe it didn’t garner enough attention for the merit it had. And I had hoped it should have been the movie that should have been sent to the Oscars that year from India (but another Malayalam film went). August Cinemas kept on making meaningful and different films. They not only made films with Prithvi in lead, but also made films with other actors too. Last year, Prithvi backed out of the group saying he couldn’t concentrate more on the creative phase of the films. And he’s goes to start a Home production in future.

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Poster for the film Celluloid

2013, was a special year for PrithviHis first film was Celluloid, were he played JC Daniel- the father of Malayalam cinema. The role of the dentist who directs and produces the first film in Kerala. The way he enacted the character as he aged from 30s to 70s and the easiness with he handled the Trivandrum slang showed the stamp of a great actor in action. And as expected he won the State Award for the Best actor, the second time. Next was Memories, were he played a drunken cop in grief. Though it was an edge of the seat Investigation thriller, his performance was note-worthy, and the viewer was able to feel the pain he was going through as we watch the movie unfold. And the last was Mumbai Police. Another police role, though he was playing successive Cop roles, we could see the two was so different from each other. He played Antony Moses, the ACP who loses his memory while investigating his friend’s murder. The movie climax was a shocking one. The three movies was commercially successful and earned the praise of critics alike. It was some sort of record, that to get both approvals and that too for three successive films.

From then on Prithvi was on a roll choosing scripts and doing films which he had full faith in it. But, he has been experimenting quite a bit lately. And also he have created a new genre in Malayalam cinema, the Prithvi Raj cinema style of English movie. Though pun intended, we can’t hide the fact he has a liking for Hollywood style movies. Ivide, Ezra, Adam Jon, Ranam all these movies are testimony of that. But of these films only Ezra could mint money in BO.

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Poster for the film Nine

This February his first movie as an independent producer was released. Nine, the Sci-fi horror thriller was an interesting movie, a kind which we rarely see in Malayalam movie. And he got Sony International Pictures to tie up for the distribution for the movie. It was Sony’s first foray in South India. Prithvi is playing the cards closely and not to forget his cross over dreams, to take Malayalam cinema to the global audience. The movie did decent business, though couldn’t become a huge success it ought to. But nevertheless, it didn’t become a failure.

And now coming to the latest movie, his directorial debut. He had openly admitted that one of his dreams is to have a home production and to direct a movie. He had fulfilled the former and now he has completed the latter too. The opportunity came via Murali Gopi, who was working on a script for Mohanlal. And Prithvi knowing that the director wasn’t fixed for the movie, latched on the opportunity. And rest as you know is history.

Prithvi has 100 plus films to his credit with 17 years of experience in the industry and  has undoubtedly surged as the front runner to lead Malayalam cinema to the future. And from a person who was first touted as arrogant, he worked hard to be in the top. And be one of the torch bearer of the change in Malayalam cinema.

As Prithviraj promised to Mammotty in PokkiriRaja, “That I would win a Oscar by your age”. I hope he does win that Oscar in future.

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PS: As Lucifer is getting released this week. The hype surrounding PrithviRaj’s directorial debut is enormous. The expectations of- Mohanlal acting under Prithvi’s direction, Murali Gopi’s first mass entertainer, the illustrious long cast- everything looks solid. It has every ingredient to enthrall the audience. But its better to keep the expectation a bit low based on the earlier experience with hype.

ഒരിടത്തത്‌ ഒരിടത്തത്‌ ഒരു ദൈവം ജീവിച്ചിരുന്നു …

And I believe this movie is not going to know as Lalettan movie nor a Murali Gopi scripted movie. But it’s going to be a PrithviRaj Sukumaran movie.

See you in Cinemas.

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