My Year of Prakash Raj

Some people spend a year
cooking Julia Child's recipes, or following all of the rules in the Bible, or reading books by people who spent a year doing something. My quest is to watch the 200-some films of South Indian character-actor-extraordinaire, Prakash Raj. (It'll probably take more than a year... and I'll post about some Prakash-less films here as well.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Passion for Cinema Post on Prakash Raj (2007)

I have to admit that my tastes in film writing and journalism tend more to the "glossy pictures and witty captions" style of Entertainment Weekly, than the serious film criticism of your Cahiers du Cinema. I did occasionally read a review at the Passion for Cinema website, when I read that they were shutting the site down, I took a few minutes to search for some articles and reviews to save to my hard drive. Among my finds was this 2007 post about Prakash Raj, and some related comments, which I'm reposting for posterity and so I can reference some of these comments.
I  have Dhaya and Nagamandala in my "to watch" stack of dvds, so I'll definitely be watching them in June.

The Man Who Became a King
WB,  JUNE 26, 2007 AT 7:35 PM
(copyright Passion for Cinema and poster WB)

"Okkadu – Gilli – Ajay  Besides the same story, these three movies had two more things in common
1. They were THE box-office hits of the year, in the respective languages – Telugu, Tamil, Kannada.

2. The role of the anti-hero, in all the three languages, had to be essayed by the same person.
Obul Reddy, the Kurnool factionist
Muthupandi, the Madurai sandiyar
Veerabhadra, the Hubli huccha!!
Three languages, three different accents, one person! Who is he?

Manirathnam chose him to portray Selvam (Kalaingar’s alter ego), against Mohan Lal’s Anandan (Thaliavar’s doppelgänger) in his Iruvar (the duo).
Rajkumar Santoshi, it is said, wanted him to play Ravana, against Ajay Devgan’s Rama, in his Ramayan.
Who is he?As a struggling stage artist, he was used to going without food for several days – he once lived without food for three days, only having a few cups of tea and coffee that people shared with him during those so called meetings. He sometimes accepted charity from his friends and their friends, who saw to it that he gets a meal or two from the IISC mess.

Who is he?A theatre artiste, he started small, acting in Kannada tele-serials such as Bisilu Kudure (wild horse), Guddada Bhoota(the demon of the hillock), and then stepped into Kannada movies. His first noticeable role was as Malashri’s brother in V.Ravichandran’s Ramachari (remake of the Tamil hit Chinna Thambi). Then the lady luck smiled on him and he was signed on to do a role in the Kannada movie Harakeya Kuri(the sacrificial goat).

 Harakeya Kuri is a movie based on Chandrashekhara Kambar‘s play, whose title was perhaps inspired by Basava‘s vachanas (habbakke thandaa harakeya kuri).Vishnuvardhan, a major star in Kannada wanted to try his luck in parallel cinema, which was the key driver for the production of the movie. Geetha was picked to play the role of the heroine and she noticed this young and emotional introvert who, the moment the camera starts rolling, could switch himself ON to effortlessly slip into the character. She thought that the young man has a lot to offer in terms of talent — advised him to get in touch with her mentor, who is known as Iyyakunar Sigaram (the highest peak among directors).

She thought right!Prakash Rai, the abundantly talented Kannadiga, who could not become a sought-after actor in Jaya Nagar, moved on to Kodambakkam, with 140 rupees (~3 dollars) in his pocket, to find success — trusting one person, whom he had never met before. K.B! Kailasam Balachander, the alchemist who has transformed the rude and rustic Sivaji Rao Gaikwad into a Superstar, took this lanky, unabashed Tulu huduga under his wing and gave him a chance.

Duet happened. Our man has arrived! And what an arrival it was! He set the screen — and the hearts of the audience — on fire with his passion(e).
Prakash Rai became Prakash Raj.
And when the success finally came to him, he held on to it, and never let go.
Then Aasai (wish) happened.
Prakash Raj became a million dollar name.
Then came Naam (we/us).
Prakash Raj became a producer. Duet films, he named his production house, tipping his hat to the movie that made him the Raj (King).
With the paucity of talented baddies in South Indian filmdom, he is the most sought after actor today in Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam, besides Kannada, who can speak like a native in all these languages.
Eccentric villians, emotional character roles — father, brother, CBI officer, greedy boss, lecherous guardian, wolf in sheep’s clothing, best friend — as a matter of fact, for any role that requires an actor who can give it a personal touch, his name is the first on the list.
His production house is now famous for producing small (in budget) movies that achieve big results — with a staunch belief in introducing and encouraging young directors.
His approach is kind of a Robin Hood strategy — Act in every film that comes your way, make as much money as you can, and satiate your passion for cinema by making good, credible movies.
You don’t have to believe me. Just look at the following list of movies he produced, should you need evidence.
Andhappuram (queen’s palatial chambers – where others, especially men, are usually prohibited from entry) — Remake of Telugu movie “Antah-puram”, which is about an NRI lady trying to save her kid from the factionism and bloodshed.
Azhagiya Theeye (o, beautiful fire!) — A plain sensible comedy love story, between a wannabe movie director, a medico, and a megabuck movie star; directed by Radhamohan.
Dhaya (kindness, name of the main character) — Prakash Raj’s directorial debut. Fetched him his second national award (his first was for Iruvar).
Kanda Naal Mudhal (Ever since I’ve seen…) — Another love story, with sensible comedy. Krishna hates Ramya. Krishna’s friend is Arvind. Ramya is to get married to Arvind. Krishna is not happy with the idea. The fun begins. Director V.Priya, a debutante, an associate of Manirathnam, delivered a super hit comedy par excellence.
Mozhi (language) — Jyothika’s last movie (before her marriage to Surya). A blockbuster love comedy, written and directed by Radha Mohan. The story of a girl, Archana (Jyothika), who is a congenital mute and hearing impaired, and the music director, Karthik (Prithviraj), who loves her.
Naam (us) — Remake of Telugu movie “Aithey”, a path breaking production.
Poi (a lie) — The film Prakash Raj produced solely for his mentor KB — to prove it to the world that his guru can still deliver sensible hits. During the inaugural ceremony of Poi, Rajnikant is said to have been overwhelmed by emotion and apparently praised Prakash Raj’s gesture by saying, “A lot of us owe a lot to KB sir. But, it is sad that none of us had the sense to produce a movie to be directed by him. You are his real sishyan (disciple)“.
This movie also gave a second life to Uday Kiran, an upcoming actor who got into trouble because he broke his engagement with the daughter of a big star, who was infatuated with his glamor. That action killed his career — because no one dared making a movie with this dumb kid, lest they invoke the wrath of the big shot star — until Prakash Raj came along to resuscitate it, that is.
Vellai Thirai (silver screen) — A movie under production which is based on the Malayalam hit Udayananu Tharam(Udayan is a star), which is satire on current movie industry trends and idiosyncracies. Viji, a Tamil T.V. actress dialog writer is making her his debut as a director.
(Thanks to Zero for the correction)
With an impeccable timing in acting, a great sense of movie making, and a signature style voice that made him a household name in four states — I believe that he has a few more satisfying surprises for us to look forward to.


ravptor June 26, 2007 at 8:38 pm
Who can forget his role in iddaru(iruvur) even if you just watched a part of it. Or his passionate plea’s in khadgam. He is truly one of the most accomplished actors in south.
I had read somewhere that he did street plays for 3years during his initial years performing every night in various villages in karnataka and living off whatever people left after the play. That’s real passion.
Great post wb, he’s one actor who will remain long after we forget most of them of today.

Vivek June 26, 2007 at 8:55 pm
Wonderful post on Prakash Rai, WB sir. I used to watch his first tele-serial “Guddada Bhoota” in Kannada when I was a kid. It was directed by well known director T.S.Nagabharana. Prakash Rai had become a household name because of this serial. Nagabharana also also directed Prakash Rai in critically acclaimed kannada movie “Nagamandala” (The Snake Web) (1997) based on a play written by Girish Karnad. Prakash Rai played double roles to perfection. I think he won state award for that role, not sure. Kannada film industry (it is Gandhi Nagar WB sir, not Jaya Nagar) rarely offered him roles of his caliber. I miss seeing him act in sensible roles in Kannada movies, but that’s alright, because occasionally, I see his telugu & tamil movies. Thanks for the info in this post.

Zero June 26, 2007 at 9:30 pm
Viji is not a T.V. actress. He is the dialogue-writer of films like Azhagiya Theeye and Mozhi; and a personal favourite!

wb June 26, 2007 at 9:34 pm
Ravi // Thanks for the kind words. Krishna Vamsi, Puri Jagannath, and S.V.Krishna Reddy are the guys who always gave him the best roles. Forget about the famous hits (Khadgam – Samudram – Amma, Nanna, Oka Tamil Ammayi – Idiot – Nuvve Nuvve – Nuvvu Naaku Nacchavu – etc). Who can forget his “I am too smart” Prakash in SVK’s Vinodam? Or the deranged killer/dad in Gun Shot? Manasicchi Choodu, an otherwise forgettable Telugu film became one of the most enjoyable movies of that year because of Prakash Raj’s role. How about his two bit role in Mass? Even his five minute presence on the screen has such an impact that it gives an authenticity to the role, and elevates the value of the scene. That said, with his passionate acting and his never-the-one-to-shy-away attitude, Prakash Raj is known to have given a lot of so-called actors some sleepless nights.

wb June 26, 2007 at 9:42 pm
Zero // Thanks for pulling me up. Appreciate it.Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Shailesh Limbachiya  June 26, 2007 at 10:08 pm
I think he was in Rajkumar Santohi’s Khakee as corrupt commissioner Naidu?

Justin John June 26, 2007 at 10:11 pm
The first movie I watched of Prakash Raj was “The Prince” a Malayalam film directed by Suresh Krishna. It was one of the worst films made in Malayalam. I didn’t like Prakash Raj in it. Felt that he was overacting alot. Saw Shart(*ing Tusshar Kapoor) also. He was overacting in it also. He was best in the Tamil, Telugu movies. Gilli is my favorite. Whenever I feel like saying I love you to anybody I feel like saying it in the Prakash Raj way “I Luv u da” .

Machchar  June 26, 2007 at 10:46 pm
Well, I had the good fortune of working in a movie as an assistant which one Prakash Raj’s first movies and also mine. The first day I saw him was with his pants off! haha yeah, he was changing his costume and I just entered the room and saw Prakash Raj, and my senior told me about him and then got introduced.
A total professional to the core, he used to arrive on the sets much before everyone and just watching him deliver his dialogues was a treat. I definitely had a premonition that this guy would become one of the biggest actors of the Industry.

Jaiganesh June 26, 2007 at 11:38 pm
He was mentored in early days by Naghabarana a Kanada veteran. He acted as the uncaring husband and a snake who takes his form in the movie “Naghamandala” opposite Vijayalakshmi. It was a difficult role and he carried it with aplomb. This movie was inspired by a folk tale and was later remade in Hindi as “Paheli” by Amol Palekar. You can see both movies and then let out a cry of despair as to how a wonderful and earthy folk tale has been raped by Bollywood. Prakash Raj acted in an inconsequential role of a police inspetor in Maniratnam’s Bombay. He acted in many post modernist art movies in Kannada. Once that movement died off in Karnataka and unable to move forward to the decline of Kannada movie industry due to nepotism there, he moved to Thamizh film industry and played mainly villanous role replicating himself in every movie, delightfully “stereotyping” himself. He was hailed by Rajini as “Ranga Rao” reincarnate after his role in Ghilli. I feel that is the best tribute he can get as an actor as Ranga Rao was a very warm person who played character and villainous roles in Telugu and Thamizh films of 50s and 60s with ease. Prakash Raj has not become King.. He has become an institution in himself, a refuge for anyone with talent but no recognition. He is another artist who has proved that in south India talent has no linguistic barriers.

venky June 27, 2007 at 4:16 am
WB, Just wish to point out a minor error. “Poi” was not a hit; in fact, it was a major flop. And as far as I know, it has not helped Uday Kiron’s career one bit.
And Jaiganesh, “Paheli” was not a remake of “Nagamandala.” Amol Palekar’s film was a remake of Rajasthani writer Vijaydan Detha’s novel “Duvidha.” A movie of the same name was directed by Mani Kaul in 1973.

ShawshankRedemption  June 27, 2007 at 9:41 am
WB, thanks for the post.
Although I liked this guy I did not know his biography or his stuggling days.
I think he overshadowed Mohanlal with his performance in Iruvar, its my opinion. But what is remarkable is the guy is passionate about Cinema and has produced good Cinema. We need more people like him who can give that inital break to new comers and many ciname passionates.

OM June 27, 2007 at 10:18 am
wb Bhai…this was much needed and took so long to come on PFC…Prakash Raj..a phenomenal actor…Anthapuram…to me( from whatever i have seen of him) is his best role…even Nan Patekar couldnt match him in the remake Shakti…

Jaiganesh  June 27, 2007 at 11:03 pm
WB bhai! In case of paheli Vs Nagamandala,it is my mistake, however the folktale is similar, uncaring husband and a genie taking his form to please the neglected wife and finally having to make a choice between the husband and the genie.
Now Prakash Raj in the early part of his career in Thamizh films had the notorious habit of making “Special appearances” which the films title card would say “Natpudan Prakash Raj”. He must have acted anywhere between 40 to fifty films just in guest roles, Robin Singh like cameos towards the end of the movie, driving home the “message” the director wanted to say!!
Film reviews in thamizh magazines would read, “as usual one more sparkling cameo from Prakash Raj” . He would come on say the same thing again and again in different movies and still people loved him and that would be the best sequence in the movie.
His role in “Kalki” KB’s unique movie was also much appreciated. He regularly writes a column in the thamizh mag “Anandha Vikatan” where he shares his experiences and influences. He makes prominent mention of his guru Kannada Actor Lokesh who excelled in 70s and 80s in many a Puttana Kanagal masterpiece.
If anyone knows more about Puttanna Kanagal, please write in detail. He has created many actors and directors in many languages. His most famous contribution to Thamizh film industry being director bharathiraaja, director duo devaraj- mohan, Actor Vinu chakravarthy and Superstar Rajinikanth. From Prakash Raj’s article, I am amazed to know that he has been the inspiration for Prakash Raj as well.

wb  July 6, 2007 at 1:57 pm
Vivek // Havudu ri swamy. Gandhinagara. But whenever I think about *namma bengaluru* I inadvertantly end up going to Jayanagara – adakkinta jaasti naanu helaballe, neevu dayamadi kelabedi.
Shailesh // Yes. That’s him.
JJ // True. Prakash Raj sometimes overacts. His overaction stands out, more prominently, when the other actors in the scene don’t act (either by design or by choice).
Macchhar // He is the right guy to meet with if you have a script that you believe in.
Venky // Thanks for the comment. I haven’t said Poi was a hit. The fact is that movie was Prakash’s initiative to deliver another hit for his guru – who was effectively away from movie making for some time and haven’t had a decent hit after – a gurudakshina, if you may. Rajni and Kamal are following the suit, apparently.
ShawshankRedemption // Yes. Iruvar is one of his best performances till date. And – indeed – may his ilk grow.
OM // Thanks mate. Antahpuram is a beaut – it’s Prakash Raj all the way – if you can ignore Sarada and Saikumar. Watch *Manasicci Choodu* if you can get the movie. Laugh riot!
Jaiganesh // His *Duet* has indeed become an institution – a destination for anyone talented. I wasn’t aware of his writings in Ananda Vikatan (I have read/seen Junior Vikatan sometimes though). Thanks for the heads up, mate. Is the stuff online? Puttanna Kanagal! Now, that’s another legend. I can perhaps share what I know of him, but that isn’t much. I’ll post my thoughts soon. But we really need someone good – someone like our RK – to educate us on him.Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Gautham Wickramasinghe August 28, 2007 at 10:42 am
Dear mr Prakash,
Sometimes you may remember the film “Kannathil Mutthamittal” If you see my sirname. You also acted as Dr Wickramasinghe in it! Sir You have an uncompareable Personality.I was amazed when i saw Iruvur.(as i dont know any indian language I have to wait till this TV people subtitle the films in singhela or English)PLEASE SIR CAN YOU STOP SMOKING? WE NEED TO SEE YOU FOR A LONG PEIORIOD AS A SCREEN PERSONAITY AND AS A GOOD EXAMPLE FOR COURAGE!!!


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