As Prithviraj settles down for a chat, there is an easy-going, mellow, even humorous and informal air about the actor — a complete change from the guarded, measured answers he used to give. Well, he has a lot of reasons to be happy this year — the highlight is that he has upgraded his own portfolio to that of a producer and a director.
9, directed by Jenuse Mohamed, has hit the screens. The film is financially backed by Prithviraj and his wife Supriya. That he is the man signing the cheques is evident when he asks, “Do you know it costs ` 15,000 to hire an Innova in Manali in peak tourist season? We had to book an entire resort in Manali for the shoot, but it was nice since all of us stayed together.” When ribbed about how he is suddenly talking finances, he quips, “I was only doing that — signing the cheques and taking a call on the creative aspects. Everything else, the logistics and groundwork, was handled by Supriya and line producer Harris Desom.”
9 is the story of the troubled relationship between a father and his son, told against the backdrop of a cosmic phenomenon lasting nine days. The film has some arresting visuals, thanks to the unseen locations in Manali, Spiti Valley and the Himalayas. Those beautiful visuals came with their own share of challenges. “Getting to Spiti, which is 30 km away from where we stayed, would take 14 hours just because there were no roads; it’s just rock and snow that had melted into big or small streams. The jeeps and cars used for transportation would get stuck in those streams and then towed, which was a usual occurrence,” Prithviraj recalls. “We shot in the Key Monastery and the people there were so welcoming. The Lama there gave all of us gifts and blessed the film.” The beauty of the place was not lost on Prithviraj. “I really want to revisit Spiti Valley, just for a holiday,” he quips.
Asked if he was getting typecast in roles in films like Ezra, Adam Joan and now 9, Prithviraj expresses his surprise that the audience perceived Adam Joan to be a horror film. “To me, all these films are very different from each other. Fortunately or unfortunately, I can only choose films according to what they look like to me. If you feel my films are similar, then my judgment is wrong and I probably need to rethink,” he states.
Thirty six years young, and already a producer, actor and a director — is this the best phase of his career yet? “I like to believe that the best is yet to come,” he quips, adding, “These are all things that I wanted to do. Actually, I think I am late; I would have preferred to be all these a little earlier, but I was just too busy as an actor!” He explains, “When I decided to direct Lucifer, a lot of people told me it was a bad decision because I was taking a lot of time off my career as an actor and that I was at my peak. Let me answer this way. When I bought a Lamborghini, I was questioned where I would drive it in Kerala. Very true. But I have grown up loving cars and I had the picture of a Lamborghini Diablo in my room when I was in college. So, when I had the money and chance to buy one, I thought I should buy it. What if I wait for 25 years, and don’t want one then? Maybe, directing a film would be a wiser decision 25 years later, but at that point in time, maybe I would not want it so much. I am happy I directed Lucifer when I wanted to!”
Directing Lucifer, more specifically, Mohanlal was a very enjoyable process. His devoted team and producer Antony Perumbavoor ensured a smooth ride. The shooting went exactly as it had been planned in spite of the floods. “Lal sir is a delight to direct. On the first day of the shoot, he asked, ‘Sir, what should I do?’ Of course, he knows what he has to do, but he still wants the director to tell him what he wants from the shot. He is very instinctive and you will never get two similar takes with him. My only prayer was that when Lal sir gave his perfect take, the camera, lights etc. should be perfect, too. I have made him do 15 -16 takes but for no fault of his, and he would say in his trademark style, ‘pinne entha mone’ and do the retakes under the harsh sun in the crowded capital city streets of Thiruvananthapuram. I have held him back late and asked him to come early, but he never complained.”
So, more directorial ventures to follow? Prithviraj answers, “At my heart, I am an actor. I cannot direct films back to back. There is too much fatigue and it drains me. I will make more films, but I don’t know when.”
Coming back to his role as a producer, what does he think of backing women-centric scripts? Agreeing that there has been an encouraging rise in the number of women-centric films, he remarks that the reason is the new breed of filmmakers and writers. “It is an evolving thing. That is where the world is headed to. Some of them got there a little early; the others will follow. I have a daughter and I am hoping that she gets to grow up in a world where there is gender equality! I also like to believe that cinema is also headed that way and the sooner we reach there, the better!”
There is a lot of migration happening in Mollywood. Prithviraj prefers to term it as expansion. “I want actors to make their presence felt in other languages. That is how Mollywood can push its boundaries,” he says, adding that Mollywood’s biggest battle is with its territory. “We have to make content that will appeal to people outside the state and be universal. Actors and technicians can be ambassadors of that change!”
Actors and social media seem to be hand in glove. “I am vociferous about my opinions and air it when I want to. I am not a fan of jumping into the social media bandwagon. It would be effective if you learn about an issue, listen to the reactions for a day and then make an educated opinion. That would stand you in good stead,” he says.
There are also people who label him arrogant and unapproachable. He laughs, “You will have to ask someone who approached me! In spite of whatever people are making me look like, I have managed to reach this far, so it works for me.”
Right now, Prithviraj has enough work till 2020 including Blessy’s Aadujeevitham. He has Kalabhavon Shajohn’s Brother’s Day coming up, which will let him let his hair down. “I love action, masala, comedy, horror, but it should be effective in what it is trying to convey.” Before signing off, he says, “I have seen so much of failure that I am no longer afraid of it. I want to push boundaries because I am no more competing. My aim is to entertain and engage.”