From Mollywood to Bollywood

He was busy pursuing a course in Information Technology in Tasmania, Australia when director Ranjith made him an offer he could not refuse.

The year was 2002 and the film was Nandanam and the young actor was Prithviraj, son of the late Malayalam hero Sukumaran and actress-wife Mallika. A decade has passed since and Prithviraj has become one of the most sought-after actors in Mollywood. He has even branched out to do some good Tamil films.

The fair and handsome actor who has a cult following in Kerala has excelled in most of the films he has done till date and though some of his ventures have not struck gold at the box office, critics and audiences have lavished praise on him for his portrayals. Prithviraj, who has done more than 60 films, has been an automatic choice for films with campus themes.

A couple of them where he was featured as hero — Lal Jose directed Classmates and Shafi’s Chocolate — turned out to be runaway hits, giving a distinct fillip to his career. These films also turned him into a heartthrob and also provided him a good platform to build his career on, as his interest veered more towards meaty roles where he could prove his ability as an actor. Fortunately for the young star, such offers were not long in coming and with his State-award-winning performance in Vasthavam, he announced his arrival on the big stage.

Films like Swapnakoodu, Shyamprasad’s Akale, Santosh Sivan’s Ananthabhadram and Ranjith’s Thirakkatha offered him good breaks to consolidate his position. Prithviraj was in his element in the role of the protagonist Joseph in Madhupal’s Thalapavu, the real life drama of a man who was wronged and killed by a policeman, who later repents his crime and confesses to the killing. Some of his later-day hits include Puthiya Mugham and Kerala Café, touted as the first anthology on celluloid. Prithviraj was also seen in the Mammootty-starrer Pokkiri Raja, which was a box office hit.

Prithviraj co-produced the historical multilingual film Urumi, which made the rounds of international film festivals and afforded him a lot of exposure, as he was cast in the lead role of a patriot taking on the might of the British.

However, he won more laurels in Indian Rupee, where he shared screen space with thespian Thilakan and got a pat on the back from the veteran for his accomplished performance. A number of his starrers like Molly Aunty Rocks, Ayalum Gnaanum Thammil, D Company, Arivaal Chuttika Nakshathiram and Celluloid, where Prithviraj will essay the role of the man hailed as the father of Malayalam cinema, J C Daniel, are in various stages of production.

It was cinematographer director K V Anand who launched Prithviraj’s career in Kollywood, casting him not as a hero but as a scheming, swashbuckling villain in the film Kana Kandein, where he stole the thunder from the hero Srikanth. The films that endeared him to the Tamil film afficionados were Radha Mohan’s Mozhi, a laugh riot, and Mani Rathinam’s Raavanan, where he played the hero opposite Aishwarya Rai. If Mozhi provided him an opportunity to breeze through in a light role opposite Jyothika, Raavanan was a tough grind. But Prithviraj had the satisfaction of coming up to the director’s expectations and also winning the hearts of the audience.

Prithviraj found his career in Tamil

cinema running into rough weather when a few films like the Bhagyaraj-directed Parijatham, Satham Podaathe, Kannammoochi Enada and Vellithirai turned out to be box office turkeys. Vellithirai, incidentally, was the Tamil remake of the Mohanlal-Srinivasan Malayalam superhit Udayanu Thaaram. The young actor, however, won acclaim for his portrayal of an upcoming director who is harassed by his one-time-friend-turned-superstar.

The actor is now keeping his fingers crossed for Aiyya, his first Bollywood film where he has been paired opposite one of his favourite Hindi actresses — Rani Mukherjee. The film, an Anurag Kashyap production, directed by Sachin Khandalkar, will present him as a Tamil actor in love with a Marathi lass and for the first time in his entire career, Prithviraj will sport a six pack.

The actor has already confessed in media interviews that Aiyya is one of the craziest films that he has ever done and if the promo stills are any indication, the film has a few rollicking and risque dance sequences which are certain to stun his fans back home.

Perhaps the real break, which is yet to materialise, is the Yash Raj production Aurangzeb, for which he has been signed on. Yet with his South Indian looks and acting style, it remains to be seen whether he will be able to make any impression in Hindi cinema, which has a dubious record of welcoming heroines from the south, while giving the short shrift to heroes, even if they were of the calibre of Kamal Haasan or Rajnikanth.

With his career going great guns in his native Malayalam, and with more offers likely in Tamil, his Bollywood prospects might not be a big concern for the actor. Further, as a successful producer, he also has the option to do offbeat films, which is an added bonus.

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