Call him a veteran or call him one who has always gotten better with time, stardom is synonymous with his name. Giving up the anonymity he values for the movie business that he loves, Prithviraj is easily one of the biggest forces to reckon with.
Prithviraj Sukumaran, 38, is easily one of the greats of Malayalam cinema. In 18 years, he has done more than 100 films in various languages, including Malayalam, Tamil, Telugu, and Hindi. Film critic Vijay George once said in an interview, “Prithviraj is a hero and a future superstar for the audience since his debut.” But he had to work very hard to attain that stardom. His career began at the age of 19, when director Ranjith auditioned him, and offered him the lead for his film Nandanam. However, his debut film was Nakshathrakkannulla Rajakumaran Avanundoru Rajakumari (2002). At 19, the actor was pursuing an undergrad program at the University of Tasmania, in Australia. He had no plans to stick around post the release of his first few films. But during Vellithira in 2003 (his fourth film), he realised that all his life, he wanted to be an actor. He decided to stay back, and continue working in films. Today, he dons many hats in the movie business. He is an actor, a producer, a director, a singer, and a distributor.
Everything in life is a trade-off. To achieve something, you have to sacrifice something. On his long journey to superstardom, one thing that Prithviraj had to give up was anonymity, which is something he values a lot. Talking about it in an interview, he reportedly said, “It is a trade-off that you need to learn to live with, and I am still learning to do that, but I have no complaints. The movie business has given me a lot.” 2020 has been a rollercoaster ride for everyone, including Prithviraj, in more ways than one. When the year began, he was on a three-month break after wrapping up his film Ayyappanum Koshiyum. He wrote a message on social media on the last day of Ayyappanum Koshiyum, which said, “As I travelled back from location, I realised lying ahead of me is something I have not known for almost the last 20 years. I am taking a break from the movies for the next three months. A break. A break from not waking up and getting into the mindset of the character, and leave for the shoot. Yes, that in itself, is part of an exercise for one of the most ambitious projects of my life, Aadujeevitham. But three straight months of not being involved with the actual process of filming seems like a distant, faded memory. I don’t know if I’m happy or a little intimidated by this prospect.”
But, this did not keep him off work. In the early months of this year, he already began prepping for the sequel of his directorial venture L2: Empuraan with Mohanlal. The film Driving Licence, which he produced and acted in, released in December 2019, and was running to packed houses. He was also promoting his next film, Ayyappanum Koshiyum, which went on to become one of the biggest hits of 2020 in Malayalam cinema. Film critic Ramesh Bala, says, “Ayyappanum Koshiyum is about two individuals pitted against each other in a very realistic way. Here, both characters are strong and powerful. It is not like the films where you have one larger-than-life hero, and he bashes the villain. The film is so good that it is being remade in multiple languages right now. The treatment of the film worked for the audience.” Prithviraj was back on the sets of his film, Aadujeevitham, with a crew of 58 people that flew to Jordan in March. They were stuck there for a couple of months because of lockdown. Even India had implemented the lockdown around the same time. He eventually returned to India, but then had to go into quarantine as per rules. When the shooting of Diljo Jose Anthony’s film, Jana Gana Mana began, Prithviraj tested positive for Covid, and had to go into quarantine again. After he recovered, he went back on set to shoot for another film called Cold Case. Critic Ramesh Bala feels, “Prithviraj has had a very eventful year, with too many things happening.”
Back when Prithviraj was starting his career, Mohanlal and Mammootty ruled the box office of Malayalam cinema. It was also a phase when the industry, as a whole, had not opened up to newer and fresher ideas. During that time, Prithviraj had limited opportunities to try something different than what the acceptable norm was. He worked with the best of the filmmakers possible, excelled in films like Swapnakoodu (2003), Classmates (2006), Thalappavu (2008) and Thirakkatha (2008). He experimented with films in other languages like Tamil and Hindi as well. 2009 was a breakthrough year for him with Diphan’s directorial Puthiya Mugham, and the masses accepted him in a big way. In 2010, he turned producer, and formed a production and distribution company called August Cinema with cinematographer Santosh Sivan, producer Shaji Nadesan, and actor Arya. Together they produced films like Urumi (2011), Indian Rupee (2011), Manjadikuru (2012) and Anuraga Karikkin Vellam (2016). In 2012, he began accepting characters that were more flawed and vulnerable in contrast to the more macho image that Malayalam cinema audience liked seeing on the big screen. He played a gay cop in Rosshan Andrrewsdirected thriller Mumbai Police. It was the nuanced character of Antony Moses that excited him, and made him sign the project. In 2019, he became an independent producer with Prithviraj Productions. People close to him were aware that it is only a matter of before he also gets into direction. One of the most anticipated films of 2019, Lucifer, starring Mohanlal, was Prithviraj’s directorial debut, and it turned out to be a blockbuster hit.
Talking about the success of Lucifer in an interview, he said, “I’m happy with how Lucifer fared at the box office. Lucifer is a film for the masses. We had a set of parameters within which we had to work. The numbers that the movie raked at the box office makes it evident that we succeeded in our endeavour.” Prithviraj is passionate about taking Malayalam cinema to new heights across the globe. He spoke elaborately about the same in an interview with Film Companion South. He said, “The only way we can expand Malayalam cinema is to make it appeal to a global audience. The part where our actors do films in other languages and find acceptance in other territories, is just one side of it. We want to have faces that can draw recognition in and around the country, and even outside. Malayalam cinema will grow when we make content appealing to a sect of the audience not confined to knowing the Malayalam language. Films like Take Off and Ennu Ninte Moideen, though rooted deeply in morale, have a universal appeal in its content.
The actor has had a long journey in the business. Today, he’s the only one among his peers who is also a successful director. He is where many actors, directors, and producers would want to be. He told Film Companion South, “Yes, it is the best phase of my career, not for the fact that I have grown in stature as an actor, or my remuneration of a film. The fact that I’m in a space where I have enough clout within the industry to pick a script of my choosing. I have the resources to make sure that the film retains its essence from conception to execution. I’m in a position where I can facilitate projects and enjoy it. It is this phase that I want to be in forever. As long as I’m in the movies and continue doing what I’m doing right now, I will be happy.”