Child star Prithiviraj Das on the experience called Haridas

Beautiful, fathomless eyes, slender fingers that draw shapes in the air and a face that makes you want to hug him. R. Prithiviraj Das has walked into everyone’s hearts. He played the autistic Hari in the much-acclaimed Haridas.

The Class VII student of Indian Public School, Coimbatore, was chosen for the role after more than 250 children were auditioned. “I got to hear of the audition from a neighbour and begged my parents to let me try,” he says. They sent across a photo to the director followed by a CD where he showcased various emotions “and two dances too”, says Prithivi.

Director GNR Kumaravelan invited him to Chennai where Prithivi had to react to a situation in which he comes home from school and finds out someone close to him has died. “I told him I could not and would do a happy scene instead. But, director uncle convinced me to perform for this scene,” says Prithivi. When he gave his take, his mother Anbumozhi and the director were teary-eyed. Prithivi was signed on to play Hari.

Soon, Kumaravelan sent Prithivi to Koothu-p-Pattarai for training and to a school for autistic children to observe the children there. “Each one walked differently; their eyes would never linger on anyone; some were so brilliant…” Prithivi recalls.

Kumaravelan also got him to play with a relative of his who was autistic so that he would better understand his role. The effect showed on screen — be it Hari’s constant playing with his toy horse, inability to shed tears, hesitation to bond with anyone (including his father) or the gay abandon with which he runs a marathon — Prithivi nailed it.

Prithivi is very playful in real life. Even during the interview he is constantly playing with a cricket ball, jumping around and wanting to do many things. But Kumaravelan says that the minute he called for a shot, Prithivi would deliver flawlessly.

Actors Sneha and Kishore agree. “He was so impatient, and I was worried because the film rested on his shoulders. But, he realised the importance of his character early on and did a brilliant job,” says Sneha.

Kishore laughs while recalling working with Prithivi. “I expect kids to be kids. But, he is a lot smarter than I am! Luckily, his smartness never reflected in his attitude; he was convincing in his role. He made me comfortable and so, the bonding between us came across beautifully on screen.”

The much-spoken about rain scene where Kishore cries holding Prithivi is everyone’s favourite. Recalls Kumaravelan: “At one stage, Prithvi was shivering profusely. He started crying and said he could not carry on. I told him I was very sorry for making him do it, but the scene was important. He came out like a big boy, wiped his tears, and said, ‘Okay I’ll do it, you don’t’ have to apologise’.”

Prithivi had taken time off school for the movie and now is back with his school mates. “Most of them have watched the movie and liked it. What I like best is that they don’t look at me like a hero. They still make fun of me the way they used to. I’m constantly being teased because I tonsure my head every year at Tirupati,” he grins.

Some new scripts have come his way, but his mother says they are waiting for the holidays before giving the nod.

Prithivi says he wants to both study and act. He dreams of buying his mother a diamond ring with his first earning and still feels bad that he lost his PSP player during a school trip to Europe. So, what did he think of himself in the film? “When I saw it the first time, I wondered if that was me.”

Were you moved by your performance? “No, but I think I made many people cry!” And, he’s back to playing with the ball.