The Malayalam star talks about his first theatrical release post-pandemic, his definition of a true pan-Indian film and if Mollywood can come up with a film like KGF
While Prithviraj Sukumaran has had four OTT releases – Cold Case, Bhramam, Kuruthi and Bro Daddy – since the pandemic, the first project that he began shooting after the lockdown in 2020 was Jana Gana Mana, a movie that he says was always meant for theatres. The Dijo Jose Antony directorial, which also has Suraj Venjaramoodu and Mamta Mohandas, will also mark the star’s first theatrical release since February 2020 when it hit theatres worldwide on April 28.
OTTplay caught up with Prithviraj in Kochi a few weeks ago, on the day he left for Algeria to resume the shoot of Blessy’s Aadujeevitham. The actor spoke about why it’s an exciting phase in his career, if Malayalam cinema can come up with a KGF of its own and why he believes Jana Gana Mana is truly a pan-Indian film.
You would be completing 20 years in your career this year. A decade ago, you had said in an interview that Abhishek Bachchan had told you that by the time you would reach this milestone, you would be able to enter into a new and more exciting phase of your career. Based on the roles that you are doing right now – be it Kuruthi, Aadujeevitham or even Jana Gana Mana – would you say that that is the case?
I hope it is. You are right because as an actor a lot of deep and interesting characters are finding their way to me now. I also think it’s an exciting cusp – not just for me as an actor but for the entire fraternity. We are beginning to see what we have been speaking about for a long time; we are transcending boundaries and merging industries. So, I think it’s a very exciting time and a fantastic phase to be an actor, filmmaker and producer, who is only 39 years old.
The pandemic and the advent of OTTs have evidently fast-tracked the ‘Malayalam cinema getting pan-Indian attention’ vision that you have often talked about. How does a movie like Jana Gana Mana align to that?
I believe we have begun associating pan-Indian films to big budgets and a cast list featuring a hero from one industry, a heroine from another and character actors from other film industries. Frankly, that is not pan-Indian; the content has to be pan-Indian. For instance, look at KGF 1 or Baahubali; they didn’t cast actors from every industry. It’s basically the content that travelled. I think it’s high time we start realising that pan-Indian films are movies that have content that people across the country can relate to. In that sense, Jana Gana Mana is truly a pan-Indian film. I can vouch for that because the film’s story is relatable to anyone anywhere in the country.
Could you expand on that?
In essence, it’s a mainstream, commercial entertainer; let’s make no bones about that. Having said that, the film does pose, what I hope, are a lot of thought-provoking questions to the society’s conscience as a whole. Our personal conscience is nurtured, influenced and manipulated by various factors including what you see, read and the people you speak to. And then there is a larger picture of social conscience which is also influenced and manipulated by what you see as a society, a nation and all that. So, the film asks the questions to society as a whole, but doesn’t essentially give answers to that. That I thought was interesting.
Does your evolution as a person and what you see happening in the society also play a role in you picking films including Kuruthi, which had socio-political subtexts?
Not really. In that case, what made me pick Bro Daddy? Ultimately, what I choose is cinema that engages me. Whenever I hear a narration, I make it a point to listen to it as an audience. I don’t listen to a film as the actor who is playing that character or the director who will be helming it. First point is that it should appeal to the film-lover in me, ‘do I want to see the film?’ It’s as simple as that. What the movie speaks about or what sphere it takes shape in are all secondary.
You first heard the narration of Jana Gana Mana in August 2020, at a time when there was still an uncertainty prevailing regarding releasing films in theatres and so most people were opting for content that would work on OTTs. But what made you go ahead with this film, which is made on a big scale and for theatres?
Even before the pandemic, I had voiced my opinion that down the line, films will be bifurcated for community and personal-viewing, meaning theatrical and OTT releases. Jana Gana Mana, I truly believe, fulfils its potential as a whole only if you watch it with a community. This is because what the movie says, especially the way it conveys that, will work only when there are three factors involved – what you see on screen, what it does to you and what the energy of the people with you does to you.
This is why in the past two years, we didn’t even remotely think of an OTT release for this movie. In fact, on January 26, 2021, when the film’s teaser was released, we had multiple queries from associates from streaming services to discuss the possibility of an OTT premiere for Jana Gana Mana. All through then till now, we have maintained that this film is off the table for a direct OTT release.
Right now with OTTs, Malayalam cinema is not just for the Malayali audience. Does that also open up an avenue for actors to be part of content that they were hesitant to back earlier because it wasn’t viable as a theatrical release?
I personally have never backed any content that I thought would not work. When you say OTT, you are almost making it sound like an escapist platform where you can dump stuff that doesn’t work. Even in OTTs, if people don’t say good things about the film and viewers don’t want to see it, the film doesn’t work, the same way it is for theatres. So, ultimately the film has to work, regardless of the avenue it finds to reach people.
As a distributor, you have backed 83 and recently, KGF: Chapter 2. What are your thoughts on such films happening in Malayalam?
I can guarantee you we will. I can assure you we will have our own KGF.