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Prithviraj tracks a 'Cold Case'

Anu Prabhakar
Filed on June 27, 2021
Photo/Supplied

The South Indian superstar's new film will once again see him playing the good old cop.

The first time this writer met the actor was more than 10 years ago for an interview at a popular restaurant in Dubai. By then, he had already won the Kerala State Film Award for Best Actor for Vaasthavam and was the youngest actor to do so. It was also the post Classmates and Chocolate era of his career – meaning half of Kerala, if not South India, had a crush on him. In an industry where surnames mattered, his first name — despite being a star kid — was already enough.

But he was also thought to be too brash and arrogant — for instance, his comments about aging megastars playing their age instead of romancing younger heroines were deemed too audacious. But in our interview back then, he was frank, clear-headed and showed a thoughtfulness that was beyond his years. And when we catch up with the actor over a Zoom interview more than a decade later, it quickly becomes clear that he hasn’t changed — at least, fundamentally.

Same old cop role?

Prithviraj is busy promoting his upcoming movie Cold Case which will have its exclusive world premiere on June 30 on Amazon Prime Video. Describing it as a “part investigative thriller, part crime thriller and equal parts horror film”, the filmmaker calls it a “hybrid genre”.

“What is different about this film is how all these genres come together to narrate the same story,” he explains. “In the screenplay, the same story travels in two different paths — one is of a police investigation where every inference is logic based and every step forward is based on evidence. And then there is the other part of a horror film, where everything progresses through paranormal activity and supernatural occurrences. And what is interesting is that one path doesn’t prove the other wrong— these parts meet in the end … that way, it is very intelligently designed.”

He plays the efficient investigative officer ACP Satyajith. “I am not going to claim that he is very different from my other cop roles as then I will be lying to you,” he says, adding that the movie is plot, and not character, driven. “He is just a character in this plot and because of that quality of the screenplay, Satyajith is not a very deeply layered, complex character or anything … But the path and story through which this character travels is new and exciting.”

He had to build the physique of a movie cop right after completing a schedule of Aadujeevitham for which he’d lost a jaw-dropping 31 kgs. Moreover, he’d also tested positive for Covid-19. “There were very negligible symptoms and pretty much no after effects of the infection, so I was lucky,” he recalls. “But when you lose more than 1/3rd of your body weight, you don’t feel too good, so I’d started working out and putting on weight for Cold Case from that time. I was not at my healthiest, strongest self while doing the film but the camera and makeup men have done all the work.”

OTT movies

During the pandemic-induced lockdown, the Malayalam film industry relentlessly churned out a slew of thriller films like Chathur Mukham, Nizhal and C U Soon. “I have noticed (the trend),” he says. “It’s actually, in a way, a side-effect of the pandemic. We’ve realised that these giant, large scale movies are not going to be possible for a while. All of us have started to think about ‘contained films’ which we can pull off in contained spaces with limited number of people and a small crew. When you start thinking on those lines, more often than not, you are headed towards these dark thrillers where incidents happen in closed spaces. Once you start thinking of joy, laugher, comedy, music, many characters, the scale becomes big and this is not something that we can pull off right now.”

He predicts that OTT movies and theatrical releases will co-exist post-pandemic, and he is very excited about it. “I was one of the first people, at least in Malayalam, to state that films premiering on OTT platforms will happen in the near future. This is something that would have happened regardless of the pandemic — it just accelerated the process.” Creatively, he says, it will shake things up. “A Joji was born out of the thought, ‘Let’s do a film which we can premiere on an OTT platform’, in the same way an Empuraan (the much anticipated sequel to Lucifer) was born out of the thought ‘How do we make this a large-scale, big screen viewing experience’.”

Director’s cut

A few days ago, Prithviraj had announced his next directorial venture Big Daddy headlined by Mohanlal, on social media. He would like to rope in his contemporaries for his later movies but would working with them and watching their talent on display first-hand make him happy as a director but nervous as an actor? No, he insists. “For me, cinema is a team sport,” he explains. “At least the way Malayalam movies are made, I don’t think as actors you can just hope to land up on location, do your shot, switch off and come back to your van. I know for a fact that when Dulquer (Salmaan), Fahadh (Faasil), me and all my contemporaries decide to get into a film, we get into it from the conception stage. We work with the writers, directors, producers — we are a part of setting the project up. So for me, directing a film is not poles apart from being involved in a film as an actor. I guess the only flipside is that when you direct, you kind of realise sometimes how much of a pain an actor can be,” he chuckles.

We touch on multiple topics — takeaways from his experience directing Lucifer and the criticism around the song Raftaara (“There are a 1000 things in Lucifer I think I could have done better – the song is not one of them”), his long standing dream to play an out and out villain (“We will speak a few months later when some of my next films have released”) and how youngsters look up to him (“Please don’t aim so low”) — before settling on how he takes a public stand on controversial issues involving the industry and the country. “I don’t know, man. This is me,” he says. “I am sorry and I understand not everybody might like me or the way I am. But I refuse to be somebody else as long as I am not in front of the camera.”

“It’s not that I take a stand on everything,” he continues. “Sometimes, some things affect you personally for reasons known only to you. Sometimes you have people very close to you who are affected by things that are happening and you want to speak for them. That’s it. I am not a political person and I have no affiliations to any political parties. I am an artist — it’s all about cinema and humanity for me.”

On fatherhood

As self-confessed introverts, we discuss raising extroverted children. “My daughter is very much a people’s person,” he smiles. “I like to be in my personal space. For me, anything beyond my wife and daughter is a crowd. Not that I don’t enjoy company or a crowd … but in fact, it took me so many years to agree to have somebody stay over to help with things at the house because I really like it when in the evenings it’s just me, my wife and daughter in my apartment. But given a choice, my daughter would like to invite 40 of her friends every day.”

But surprisingly, he insists fatherhood has not changed him or his decisions as an artist. “I don’t believe that art should be obliged to society. Artists can have obligations to society but art should be independent. You are free to choose if you want to see something or not, you are free to choose whether your children should see something or not but I don’t believe in censorship.”

He insists he will always first be an actor who might end up directing the “eventual film or two”. Talking about directing movies in other languages, he says, “Most of the directorial offers that came my way post Lucifer were from other languages. I was fortunate to have had some of the biggest stars from various languages speak to me and say that they would like to work with me, which was very flattering. But for me, it’s always about finding that material which will make me excited as a filmmaker. And when that happens, I am not going to think about which language it is going to be in.”

What’s Cold Case about?

At the heart of crime thriller Cold Case is a murder case, which is investigated by the honest, intelligent and efficient cop ACP Satyajith. However, the case gets complicated as it takes a supernatural turn. Satyajith and investigative journalist Medha Padmaja try to unravel the mysteries around the case.

Cast: Prithviraj Sukumaran, Aditi Balan, Suchitra Pillai