Interview Actor Prithviraj plays J.C. Daniel in director Kamal’s new biopic Celluloid. The actor talks about why the legendary filmmaker’s story needed to be told.
After making his presence felt in Bollywood with director Sachin Kundalkar’s Aiyyaa, in which he starred opposite Rani Mukherji, and a poignant performance as a doctor who becomes a healer in director Lal Jose’s Ayalum Njanum Thammil, Prithviraj is back on screen with director Kamal's Celluloid, which releases today. Celluloid is a biopic on the life of legendary filmmaker J. C. Daniel, regarded as the father of Malayalam cinema. Daniel directed, produced, shot and acted in Vigathakumaran (1928), the first film in Malayalam. Celluloid chronicles the hurdles that Daniel had to face while making the film, especially the ire of the orthodoxy when he cast actor P.K. Rosy as his heroine. Daniel’s contribution to Malayalam cinema was, however, largely ignored during his lifetime. The legend died in 1975, a broken man. It was only later, in 1992, that the Government of Kerala instituted the J. C. Daniel Award to honour lifetime achievements in Malayalam cinema. In an interview with FridayReview, Prithviraj talks about stepping into Daniel’s shoes, his Bollywood dreams, and more. Excerpts…
How was it playing J. C. Daniel in Celluloid?
Daniel’s story is by far Malayalam cinema’s biggest tragedy. Celluloid is very true to life and each and every scene that is shown in the filmhappened to the man. It’s upsetting to know that Daniel died in poverty, his life’s work unrecognised for years. Celluloid has a very special narrative and Daniel’s entire life has been picturised. I also play his youngest son in the film. It is a big journey for any actor. Some of the scenes in the film might seem a bit clichéd or overly dramatic, but all of it is true.
Although J. C. Daniel was never celebrated during his lifetime, later on his life was well documented. Why hasn’t there been a biopic on him, until now?
I am genuinely puzzled as to why his life wasn’t made into a film earlier. And here is a real life story that is full of highs, lows, history, emotion and so much drama that it borders on the unbelievable!
Does the film narrate the story of Malayalam cinema’s first heroine, P.K. Rosy, as well?
She is an important part of the narrative but the focus here is on Daniel. The film also chronicles the controversies and events that happened after Vigathakumaran was released.
How do you think Celluloid will fare at the box office?
I will be ecstatic if the film is a blockbuster but I won’t be sad if it is not. Daniel’s story needed to be told. That is the reason why the film has been made and having seen the preview of the film I feel that reason has already been justified. Now it is up to the people to decide if they want to see the film or not. The only thing I want to remind the audience is that everything depicted in Celluloid is real and it all happened to the man who made it possible for you and me, all of us, to be able to go to the movies today.
Have you really decided to shift your attention from Malayalam to Hindi cinema?
I’ve decided that I’ll only do good films that come my way – and that can be films from anywhere, not necessarily Hindi. Actually, a few days ago, I was offered a fantastic Tamil film to be directed by Vasanthabalan. If time permits, I will do the film. What I actually said in an earlier interview was that I want to take it slow career-wise. I have consistently been doing four to five films every year for the past several years and I want to limit it to a maximum of two or three.
Tell us about your second Bollywood film, Aurangzeb…
I have completed the shooting of the film directed by Atul Sabharwal. I play a Haryanvi cop in it. Yashraj is easily the biggest production house that I have ever worked with and by far the most professional as well. I did not get the role based on who I was or what I had done previously. I had to go through an audition. It's an important film for me because it is the first film where I don’t have the liberty of playing a South Indian!
Also, are you part of Farah Khan’s Happy New Year, with Shah Rukh Khan in the lead?
I just had some preliminary talks with the makers but nothing has been confirmed yet. I, actually, need to find the time to go to Mumbai and meet them.
Looking back, though, are you disappointed that your debut Bollywood film, Aiyyaa, was not a success at the box office?
Yes, the film didn’t do well but as a ‘debutant’ in Bollywood I can’t really be complaining. Then again, whatever has happened to me in Bollywood has been purely on Aiyyaa’s merit.
And your forthcoming projects in Malayalam…
Currently I am shooting for Rosshan Andrrews’ Mumbai Police and then I will join Jeethu Joseph's Memories.