'Aiyyaa is not a woman-centric film'
After doing 80 films down south, Malayalam actor Prithviraj is ready to take on Bollywood with his first Hindi film Aiyyaa, opposite Rani Mukerji.
In this interview with Sonil Dedhia, Prithviraj says why he has no qualms of choosing woman-centric films, and his plans on doing more Hindi films.
Your started your Malayalam film career with a woman-centric film called Nandanam. Aiyyaa is also a woman-centric film. Would you call it a coincidence?
I don't know when a film is called woman-centric. If the perspective of the narrative is from the woman protagonist, then Aaiyya is a woman-centric film. But at the end of the day, the film is a love story.
If I like a script, then all my analysis and calculations end there. I would rather be part of a good film than do a smashing role in a bad film.
I am glad that I chose this film as my debut. If Aiyyaa had not come my way, I would not have made my Bollywood debut.
Image: Prithviraj in Aiyyaa
'Aiyyaa is not the first Hindi film offered to me'
Do you wish you had chosen a hero-oriented subject to start with in Bollywood?
No, I never thought like that.
What should I debut in? An action film with five action sequences, four songs, and romance? There are so many people already doing that. Why would the audience here want to see someone from the south do something the stars here are doing successfully?
I always believed that if I have to make a debut, it has to be in a film that stands out.
You must have received several offers before Aiyyaa. What made you choose this film over them?
Yes, it's true Aiyyaa is not the first Hindi film offered to me. But it is definitely the first script in Hindi that I wanted to be a part of.
I didn't want to do a Hindi film just for the sake of it. If that had been the agenda, I would have made my Bollywood debut long back.
I never designed my career to do a Bollywood film. Had Aiyyaa been a Malayalam film and had (director) Sachin Kundalkar approached me, I would have still done the film.
Even in my career down south, I have never really chosen films according to my characters or to maintain my stardom.
Image: Prithviraj and Rani Mukerji in Aiyyaa
'I don't make my decisions based on what other actors are doing'
There are rumours that you are just doing a cameo in Aiyyaa.
If it is a cameo, then it will be the longest cameo in the history of Indian cinema. I have shot for 75 days so I don't think it qualifies as a cameo.
There was a time when southern stars such as Suriya, Vikram, and Sudeep tried their hand at Hindi films. You could have done the same at that time.
I don't make my decisions based on what other actors are doing. When Suriya and Vikram made their Bollywood debut, I didn't get a script that I wanted to do.
I didn't make a conscious decision that I want to do a Hindi film because south stars are being accepted. The coincidence is that immediately after this film, I have signed Aurangzeb with Yash Raj Films.
Image: Rani Mukerji and Prithviraj in Aiyyaa
'I like the fact that Bollywood is unpredictable'
The common perception is that actors from down south do not want to act in Hindi films because they might not be able to live up to expectations, and they find the south industry more satisfying. What do you think?
This is a sentiment I can understand because when you have your own system in place and have created a space for yourself where everything works the way you want, then making a new beginning is a task.
I started at 18 and have done about 80 films in 12 years. I can actually start again as I believe that I am at that age where most people make their debut.
I am also a sucker for unpredictability. I like the fact that Bollywood for me is unpredictable.
How do you look at the transition from being a superstar to being a newcomer and creating a new space?
All the films that I have signed or intend to sign are purely on the basis of the merit of the films.
As long as I find interesting work or it finds me, I would love to do more Bollywood films.
Image: Prithviraj amd Rani Mukerji in Aiyyaa
'I want to give more time to Bollywood'
You have followed a routine of doing five or six Malayalam films a year for almost 12 years. Actors in Bollywood prefer to work on one or maybe two projects at a time. Are you planning to change the way you work?
I have made a decision to slow down in doing Malayalam films. I want to be a part of one film from my own production house and would do another Malayalam film.
I am blessed in that I don't have to work for money. I want to sit back and enjoy what I am doing. I want to give more time to my newfound Bollywood career.
The actresses from down south have been more successful than actors.
The reason is that the actresses have made the transition at a much younger age than the actors. And as I said, I am just 30 today and I already have 12 years of experience.
Bollywood is largely male-dominated; women have mostly been objectified. But you chose a film completely the opposite of that.
I love it (laughs). What was interesting about Aiyya was that for the first time, the man in the story was being portrayed as the object of desire. For a change, it was a woman who was lusting after a man!
I remember that I celebrated my last birthday on the sets of Aaiyaa. Rani got me a cake on which it was written 'to a handsome heroine'. I loved the whole prospect.
Image: Prithviraj in Aiyyaa
'I was offered my first Malayalam film purely on the basis of my surname'
You were studying IT in Australia. What made you decide to get into films?
I had not thought of becoming an actor because I was more of a geek (smiles). I was home from Australia for summer vacations when I was offered a film.
I was offered my first Malayalam film purely on the basis of my surname (Prithviraj's father Sukumaran was a popular Malayalam actor). After that, film offers continued to pour in.
Your family is heavily involved in the film industry. Do you discuss films at the dinner table?
We get together so sporadically these days that cinema is the last thing we want to talk about. There are way more interesting things to talk about.
You got married to a journalist last year. Did love blossom during an interview?
No (laughs). My wife got in touch with me long ago when she was working with NDTV to do a feature on South Indian cinema.The feature never happened but we became best friends. I fell in love with her and decided to get married. It was a naturally progressive love story.
Image: Supriya Menon and Prithviraj
Photographs: Paul Bathery Varghese
'Auragnzeb is the first film I have audtioned for'
You have been an actor, producer and singer. What next?
I would have directed a film three years ago, but unfortunately, every time I decide to do it, my acting commitments come in between.
When I was very close to starting my film, Mani Ratnam offered me Raavan. I was shooting for Urumi and was also in discussions to start directing when Aaiyaa was offered.
I would love to direct a film and will do it very soon.
Can you talk about your next Hindi film, Aurangzeb?
It's a big privilege for me to be part of Yash Raj Films. Personally, it is a great feeling because in my entire career, Aurangzeb is the first film I auditioned for. I got Aurangzeb not because of who I am or what I have done but because of that audition.
It is said that Rani Mukerji recommended you for Aurangzeb.
If Rani did so, I take it as a compliment. It means that she likes my work.
We were shooting for a song in Aiyyaa. Shanu Sharma, a casting director at YRF, came to meet Rani. A couple of days later, I got a call for the audition. It is my first ever film that I have audtioned for.
Image: Prithviraj and Rani Mukerji in Aiyyaa