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On the road to stardom

Acting is what Prithviraj loves to do, he says. After `Vellinakshatram', he's optimistic and feels he is developing into a director's actor.

HE'S RIDING the wave of success. With nine releases in just two-and-a-half years, this heartthrob of Malayalam audiences is clearly going places. `Vellinakshatram' is the latest feather in his cap - one he is sure to treasure, for it turned his fortunes around when it mattered the most.

Yet, it is too early to determine whether Prithviraj is a serious contender to the superstar throne. At 21, he has a long way to go before firmly establishing his acting credentials.

Clad in a T-shirt and Bermuda shorts, he looks `cool', something that youngsters in campuses across the State identify with. For someone who first donned the greasepaint when barely out of his teens, Prithviraj surprisingly had never given a serious thought to acting. "I used to take part in debates and elocutions in the school but was never an actor material. If at all my destiny lay in cinema, I thought it would have been on the technical side."

It was director Fazil who first persuaded Prithviraj to act in films. "Fazil sir asked me to appear for a screen test. He told me that he did not have any films on the floor though," says the actor.

Nothing much happened after that and with his schooling over, Prithviraj promptly packed up his bags and left for the University of Tasmania to pursue his bachelor's degree in Information Technology. It was during his second-year vacations in Kerala that the offer to act in Ranjith's `Nandanam' came his way. Fazil had shown the results of the screen test to Ranjith, who approached Prithviraj for the role of Manu in `Nandanam'.

Though `Nandanam' was his first film, it was only his third release. `Nakshatra Kannulla Rajakumaran Avanundoru Rajakumari' and `Violence' hit the theatres first. "Violence' made on a budget of Rs. 40 lakhs, ran for 60 to 65 days and fetched good returns," says Prithviraj.

Then came films such as `Vellithira', which sank without a trace, `Meerayude Dukhavum, Muthuvinte Swapnavum', an average hit and `Swapnakoodu', a slickly-packaged multi-starrer with hit numbers. `Swapnakoodu' did surprisingly well and Prithviraj was back on the road to stardom.

Prithviraj says he did `Swapnakoodu' because he wanted to work with director Kamal. "I'm a director's actor. If I am good in a film, the credit goes to the director," he says. He insists he didn't know a thing about `Swapnakoodu' till he was about to begin shooting. In fact, he admits, of the 13 films he has acted in, he read the scripts of only half of them before signing on the dotted line. Prithviraj says he wouldn't shy away from multi-starrers in future too. "I'd rather be a small component of a good project than a big component of a small project," he says. He cites the case of his father, Sukumaran, whose cameo appearances are counted among his best performances.

Two other ventures - `Ammakilikoodu' and `Chakram' didn't fare well at the box office. He fiercely defends his choice of films. "Many people have told me they liked `Ammakilikoodu'. Likes and dislikes are very personal issues. The bottom line is I do films I like." He even hopes to play a villain, not just an anti-hero.

"Vellinakshatram' was packaged to be an entertainer in every sense. The film has made him a bankable actor yet again.

His looks, Prithviraj believes, have not had much of a role to play in his success. "It is just that I am blessed with a face that can express a range of emotions."

Asked what has made him successful, he replies, "I don't know." His acting style is dissimilar to that of his father, says Prithviraj. "My father could portray anyone from a union worker to a businessman convincingly and yet give the character his distinct touch. I have not been able to do that. Yet, I am not a method actor. I do not transform into the character I play. I feel that doing my homework, and planning ahead do not help me perform better."

His decision to do a film by Vinayan in wake of the continuing stalemate between the Association of Malayalam Movie Artistes (AMMA) and Kerala Film Chamber has led to a furore. Prithviraj says he took the decision after giving AMMA enough time to get in touch with him. "Two of my projects have been delayed indefinitely and this could have been the third one." He says he could have managed not to act for a year or two but for the people who came to him asking for financial help, the situation was becoming difficult. "Things have dragged on for a bit too long," he says. He's even optimistic that his decision will accelerate the pace of negotiations.

With the shooting for the film set to begin soon, Prithviraj will be back in the thick of things. "I am enjoying every moment. I used to belong to that tribe of people who never knew what they wanted. Now, finally, I am doing something I like. I like the rush of adrenalin, the kick that acting gives me. I want to be an actor till I die."


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