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Prithviraj: Don’t listen to the doomsayers, OTTs and theatres will co-exist

The Malayalam star, who is set for his OTT debut with Cold Case, talks about the Tanu Balak film, starring in the remake of Andhadhun and his upcoming directorial Bro Daddy with Mohanlal

Prithviraj: Don’t listen to the doomsayers, OTTs and theatres will co-exist
  • Sanjith Sidhardhan

Last Updated: 10.47 AM, Jun 23, 2021

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In the Malayalam film industry, Prithviraj Sukumaran was probably among the first to predict direct-to-digital release of movies, much before the pandemic and advent of OTTs. He is now set for his first OTT release through Tanu Balak’s Cold Case. The Malayalam thriller, which also has Aditi Ravi and Suchitra Pillai, will drop on Amazon Prime Video on June 30.  

Ahead of the film’s release, OTTplay caught up with the star to know more about the film, why he picked the Malayalam remake of Andhadhun and his upcoming directorial Bro Daddy, which has him teaming up with Mohanlal again.     

From the trailer of Cold Case, it’s evident that it’s an investigative thriller with elements of horror. What can you tell us about the movie and how different is it from other investigative thrillers that you were part of?

You are more or less right. Where I thought the script of Cold Case stands out from the usual read is that it is basically the same story travelling in two different paths. One is of a police officer investigating a case that had gone cold and suddenly gets a lead again. Obviously, being a police investigation, that track progresses purely based on logic, inferences and leads. The other track is again a probe, but this time by an investigative journalist and in this path, you start encountering things that cannot be explained by logic, that are paranormal. What is interesting is that one path doesn’t negate the other; the inferences from one track doesn’t prove the other wrong. Eventually, when both these tracks intertwine, the protagonists cannot say who is wrong and who is right. As someone seeing the film, you would feel, both of them are right. That way it’s intelligently designed and written.

It’s a movie that was shot after the lockdown restrictions were lifted in 2020. Was it conceived keeping in mind an OTT release?

No, this was a film we did hoping that theatres would be open and running long back. It wasn’t designed as an OTT film; it was meant for community viewing. But given the circumstances, the best platform this film could hope for is Amazon Prime Video, because obviously getting a film to premiere in 240-plus countries for people to watch in the safety of their homes at their own convenience right now is much more than what we can ask for.

Cold Case has three cinematographers as part of the film – Jomon T John (Charlie, Simmba), Girish Gangadharan (Jallikattu) and its director Tanu. How has that reflected in its making?

The film was partly shot by Jomon and the rest by Girish. I am familiar with both of them. My first film that Jomon shot was Ayaalum Njanum Thammil, where Girish was his assistant. I have done more films with Jomon and Girish, of course, I know him very well. Tanu is someone I have known since my childhood. I was born and brought up in Thiruvananthapuram and by the time I was in high school, Tanu and his brother were already making a name for themselves by helming music videos. The first time I worked with Tanu was when he shot a music video for (director) Shyamaprasad sir’s Akale (2004). So, I have known him from back then. Eventually, when Tanu made a feature film, I am glad I was part of it. Jomon was one of the producers and cinematographers, and Girish too shot the movie, so, you will know how good they are when you watch Cold Case because I think it’s a very well-shot movie.

Prithviraj in a still from Bhramam
Prithviraj in a still from Bhramam

Talking about cinematographers, you have also completed shooting for Ravi K Chandran’s directorial Brahmam, which is the Malayalam remake of Andhadhun. What are the challenges of remaking a film as popular as the Ayushmann Khuranna-starrer?

The challenge is that it’s a hugely popular film and that’s what is exciting about it as well. I was shooting Lucifer when Andhadhun hit theatres. It was Vivek Oberoi who told me that there is this film that I should do in Malayalam. So, I asked him why and he said, ‘I saw the movie and you would be great in it’.

After that, I got busy making my film. Months later, (producer) Mukesh R Mehta came to me and said, ‘We have an opportunity to do this and would you like to be part of it?’ I said yes because I think it’s important that content not only travels from South to North. I think it’s crucial that down the line when a filmmaker makes a movie and that content can travel, it shouldn’t just be that South films are being remade. It would be nice to have the other way round too. I think Andhadhun as a film has content that lends itself very well to Malayalam. I hope I will be proven right when you see the movie.  

Prithviraj as ACP Sathyajith in a still from Cold Case
Prithviraj as ACP Sathyajith in a still from Cold Case

In all the industries that you have worked in, you have played a police officer – Police Police in Telugu, Raavanan in Tamil, Aurangzeb in Hindi and obviously in a lot of Malayalam films like Memories and Vargam. Which would you pick as the most challenging role and where would you place Cold Case’s ACP Sathyajith among these?

For someone who has done so many cop movies, I think it’s important to find a difference between these kinds of films. There are some cop films that are character driven. For instance, Mumbai Police is about Antony Moses; the whole film is about that character. Even something like Memories, you discover the plot through Sam Alex.

Then there’s another type of cop film where you are just a character in the plot and Cold Case is one such film. It has a very complex, interesting plot within which Sathyajith and Medha (Aditi Balan) are two characters. And because they are placed merely as characters in the plot, there isn’t a lot of detailing or layers that the writers lend to these roles. When you walk into films like that, it’s important as an actor that you take a step back; you don’t overemphasize building the character or push the character to become bigger than the plot. So, within Cold Case, Sathyajith is a no-nonsense police officer, who is very good at inferring, following leads and breaking down evidences but other than that, it’s not a character that needs to have a very specific body language or where a lot of his complexities have to come through.

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The pandemic and the rise of OTTs have changed the viewing experience for the audience in the past year. What does this mean for an industry like Malayalam, which was only beginning to explore new markets? Also because you have at least two big projects – Lucifer’s sequel Empuraan and a virtual production that will be directed by Gokulraj Bhaskar – in terms of conception of films, do you see a change happening?

Let us face this fact that the OTT-premiering phenomenon, of films releasing directly on digital platforms, was anyway meant to happen. I have said this even before the pandemic. The process might have been accelerated because of what has happened around us in the last couple of years. I think it’s great; not just for the financials of the industry but also for creative reasons. Down the line, theatres will always be mainstay for large-scale films. There will be films that you and I will want to watch on a big screen with a crowd. If tomorrow, Marvel’s new multi-billion-dollar film releases on OTT platforms and theatres on the same day, I would still go and watch it in the theatres.

But there will also be another kind of cinema where the liberty that an OTT platform provides, for a filmmaker to not have to subject his creation to community viewing, would actually mean that the film becomes better. Where you take a script and you think that the best way you can tell a story is to let the viewers dwell on each moment; such films will eventually be designed as OTT films. A classic example is Joji. It’s a brilliant movie that is designed and executed keeping in mind that it will be on Amazon Prime Video and it worked.

Empuraan is never a film that is designed like that. It’s designed for the theatres, for thousands of people to sit together and watch. So, this phenomenon is nice and (both OTTs and theatres) will coexist. Don’t listen to the doomsayers.

Prithviraj and Mohanlal on the sets of Lucifer
Prithviraj and Mohanlal on the sets of Lucifer

Before Empuraan, you are directing Mohanlal again in Bro Daddy. The film’s co-scriptwriter Sreejith N said in a recent interview that you were laughing from the start to the end of the narration and asked them not to pitch it to anyone else. What made you decide on directing the film?

I just think that, especially given the type of content that is being produced and created in the past one and half years, all of us badly need a happy film. At least, personally, I would like to see one that puts a smile on your face and you laugh through it; something that gives you a few hours of happiness, nothing more than that.

I was personally looking forward to something like that and everything that kept coming my way were murder mysteries, thrillers and dark satires. That’s when I heard this script. It really appealed to me and it made me realise how much we have missed a film like this. In my mind, it was never meant to be a huge multi-starrer or anything. I thought it was so different from what I am used to as it’s different from my first movie and my supposed second film; so, I wanted to give it a try. It will be great for me as a filmmaker. I am going to break myself as I will have to conceive it differently. And then casually I narrated this script to Lalettan and immediately, he said we are doing it. That’s how it took off.

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