A versatile actor who has not only transcended linguistic borders but has also shown his might behind the camera, Prakash Raj is an embodiment of talent. Bindu Gopal Rao talks to the multifaceted star about his latest directorial venture and more...
“Would you like to have a masala dosa and then we can do the interview?” Well, it is not every day that a celebrated National Award winning actor invites you for breakfast, so I gladly said yes. This was my first meeting with actor, director, producer and television presenter Prakash Raj and he certainly blew me away with his simplicity and down to earth demeanor. In fact, he made it a point to acknowledge every single person at the restaurant, obliging everyone for photographs and the best part was he spoke to his fans in their language. Little wonder then that he is sought after not only in Kannada but also in the Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Hindi movie industries alike.
“I was always a reluctant guy, trying to push boundaries and get away from where I was. My mother was a nurse and I studied in St Joseph’s Boys’ High School in Bangalore. It was not that I was not good in studies, but I was not happy.
It was theatre that gave me an identity and it was nice to be called a good actor and orator in school and college. I come from an era where there were no phones and laptops and my journey has been to update, adapt and learn new things along the way.”
Although he joined St Joseph’s College of Commerce, Prakash was not interested in academics. “I headed to Kalakshetra and was lucky to have the company of some best writers and I knew this was what I wanted.” He then did a lot of work in television and started acting in small roles in Kannada films.
“Actress Geetha, who was working with me, introduced me to Tamil film director Balachander, who gave me a big break. He had a script that suited me because of my theatre background. All I had to do was to learn the language. After this, I was cast by filmmaker Mani Ratnam and things started looking up.” In fact, it was Balachander who changed his named from Prakash Rai to Prakash Raj.
Likewise, his Bollywood journey started with Wanted and Singham and he has certainly made a mark for himself. “I have always been a newcomer and have learnt and unlearnt the ropes.” Having worked for films in so many languages, he adds, “My roots have chiselled me — my Kannada literature and my experience in theatre — and today I speak a universal language through cinema that pervades boundaries.”
His adventure behind the camera started with the 2010 Kannada movie Naanu Nanna Kanasu that explored the relationship between a father and daughter. In 2012, he made Dhoni in Tamil and Telugu as a reflection of today’s education in society.Currently, Prakash is out with his ambitious trilingual directorial venture Oggarane, in Kannada, Ulvacharu Biriyani in Telugu and Un Samayal Arayil in Tamil.
“Direction is what I enjoy now since it widens my perception and makes me work more, read and focus on various dimensions of cinema like music, editing, screenplay, art direction, storytelling and not just acting. And the joy of creating a moment to the story is most endearing and enthralling for me at this point of time. It’s a new toy I have, and I like it.”
Oggarane is the remake of the Malayalam film Salt N Pepper, and features Prakash Raj and Sneha in lead roles. “I loved the way they talked about loneliness, love and the need to have a partner in life, and the backdrop of food was great. It inspired me and I bought the rights for the film and have made it my way. It’s like having a good biryani in a hotel and coming home and making your own version,” he explains.
“I feel food is a major link in any relationship and there is an identity attached to it. For every person, the best food is always cooked by their mother. People are particular about eating different kinds of food. The movie delves into complexes of two middle aged people who are single and realise that they have lost out on something because of it. Food and love are interlinked,” he adds.
Movies and more
Speaking about his choice of films, Prakash says, “If a story inspires me and I feel I want to make it into a film, I will do it at any cost. In case of Salt N Pepper, what inspired me was its plot. The soul of the film is in its screenplay.” With his huge body of work, Prakash has been the recipient of several awards.
As an actor, he has won a National Film Award for Best Supporting Actor in 1998 for Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar and a National Film Award for Best Actor in 2009 for his role in the Tamil movie Kanchivaram, directed by Priyadarshan, and as a producer he has won a National Award for Best Feature Film in Kannada for Puttakkana Highway, directed by B Suresh. “Awards are a pat and an acknowledgment for the good work done in that year. I am not the best actor forever.
That year, I was in a script that got me the award so it’s a crown that you have to keep aside and wait for other crowns.” The actor is also active on social media and says it is a good way to connect with fans. “I felt it is a good way to answer fans’ queries. Of course, everyone is not a fan of your work and they do have opinions to share. Someone did tell me that I was using my fingers a lot while acting, so I did take that point. I listen to all the feedback I get, but the final decision on anything is my own.”
Not a stranger to controversy, the actor-filmmaker feels it has become his surname now. “When there is a controversy, I do not say that the other person is wrong and I am right. There are always two sides to a story. When you are are in this profession where there is media scrutiny, such things are common and I take it in my stride.” Prakash, however, says he has a life beyond films. “Films are only five per cent of my life. I have a farm, I till and plough my own land and use my tractor. I spend a lot of time with my mother, daughters, wife, friends and family.
I also have my literature and I travel a lot.” Ask him what’s next on his agenda and he says, “I don’t know. I have heard a wonderful script from director Mahendran that I’m likely to produce and there are a couple more productions in the pipeline. For my next directorial venture, I have a few scripts and whatever excites me the most, I will start working on it.” This versatile actor has certainly more aces up his sleeve and his fans are certainly not complaining.