Prakash Raj interview: On presenting Kannada movie ‘Photo,’ and being targeted for his politic

Watch | Prakash Raj interview: On presenting Kannada movie ‘Photo,’ and being targeted for his politics

The veteran actor discusses his growth as an individual and an artist, and says that he has no qualms about people disliking him for his political views and outspoken nature

Updated - July 19, 2024 05:45 pm IST

Published - March 08, 2024 04:02 pm IST

Prakash Raj, known for his outspoken views, had an emotional moment last month. The seasoned actor couldn’t control his tears after watching the Kannada film Photo, directed by debutant Utsav Gonwar. Now the actor is presenting the film, releasing in theatres on March 15.

Photo is a haunting account of the impact of the coronavirus outbreak on the underprivileged. The film, which depicts the migrant exodus during the COVID-19 lockdown, received a standing ovation at the Habitat International Film Festival in New Delhi. It premiered at the Bengaluru International Film Festival (BIFFes) in 2023. 

Prakash Raj

Prakash Raj | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

The film begins with a boy from Raichur traveling to Bengaluru to meet his father, a daily wage worker. The young boy dreams of clicking a photo of himself in front of the Vidhana Soudha, but the pandemic derails his plans. The film depicts the migrant exodus during the COVID-19 outbreak. “When some wounds of the society resurface, it disturbs you a lot,” says Prakash Raj.

Excerpts from a conversation with the actor:

What made you emotional about ‘Photo’?

I am an emotional person. The Colour Purple by Steven Spielberg made me cry, but I teared up for Photo for a different reason. Charlie Chaplin says, “Life is a comedy in a long shot and tragedy in the close-up.” Photo is that sort of a film. During the pandemic, when I saw hundreds of people walking to their homes barefoot on the highways, I cried and didn’t know what to do. All I could do was cook food for 500 people. Around 40 of them decided to stay with me for two to three months. I felt very helpless. Now after the pandemic, we have swept everything under the carpet and behaved like everything is fine.

But there are certain wounds in civilisation that you should never forget. I told myself I would not sit and regret that I couldn’t make a film like this. So I decided to stand by the movie and help it get a theatrical release.

A still from ‘Photo’

A still from ‘Photo’ | Photo Credit: Masari Talkies/YouTube

The film’s talking point is that it questions the system. Do you agree?

What have we done? We had our homes to stay safe in the pandemic, but what about the construction workers and other migrants? They were on the streets, and the roads were blocked. It’s not just about the government’s failure. It’s also about we not being sensitive about what’s happening around us. In the film, the boy wants to take a photo in front of the Vidhana Soudha, and, ironically, the centre of power has done nothing to help these poor people. Power doesn’t come from the one who is governing; it should come from the governed.

The film also raises a political question. When a political leader decides to give a big speech, you will see two-three lakh people ferried in lorries to the event and given free food. During elections, people are taken to cast votes. However, when the pandemic happened, I didn’t see one MLA or MP spending even 1 rupee to send these migrants home.

How did you become this sort of individual known for his outspoken nature?

It’s something I learnt from the works of Tejaswi (Poornachandra) and Lankesh (P), and the exposure I got from poetry and theatre. We didn’t protest during our college days, but we did question and discuss certain things. When Catechism was made compulsory in a Christian college, we asked how that could be possible. We refused to attend classes. We are students, and you can’t pin a religion onto us.

Questioning isn’t arrogance. It’s seeking one’s freedom and finding one’s voice. It’s easy to name us activists, Khalistanis and anti-Hindus. But we aren’t into all that.. we are just asking about human rights.

Do you feel sad that those who loved your work do not admire you as an actor anymore because of your political views?

I don’t get disappointed. I want to be known for what I am rather than being someone who plays to the gallery. People can disagree with my opinions, but they should know what I stand for. Some people say I am a bad actor, and some say I am not an actor at all! It is alright because I know where they are coming from. They comment on my personal life. That’s the only way they can win a debate or an argument. They try to paint a picture of yourself that’s not true. I have chosen to live life the way I want to, and it’s worth it.

Prakash Raj with Utsav Gonwar, the director of ‘Photo’

Prakash Raj with Utsav Gonwar, the director of ‘Photo’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Are threats on artistes and boycott calls for films a product of polarising political opinions? 

If banning is effective, then many films should flop. That’s not the case. At the same time, a movie on our supreme leader didn’t fetch great money.

Artistes are easy targets. As a filmmaker, you are vulnerable to these threats because you have invested money in the project. They question your career and instil fear in you. They are cowards. The one who takes weapons is a coward. I don’t pay heed to it, and I am still successful as an actor. I am still alive.

What’s your opinion about social media? You are very active on X...

Social media is here to stay. It’s a place to express your views. I have around 2.8 million followers. I don’t do advertisements, so my account is quite genuine. When people comment on my views, I am happy they follow me despite not liking me. It means I am disturbing them and making them think. Among the 1 million likes, 50,000 thousand reposts, and 10,000 comments for a post, the negative comments are very few. For those who yell at me, I want to tell them that we are fellow human beings and that we must have a conversation. So I don’t block them. Some of them who opposed me have apologised later and said they misunderstood me.

I don’t get bogged down by negativity on social media. I am a spirited guy!

You are a pan-Indian actor because of your expertise in different languages. How did you achieve this? 

Every language has its own rhythm, metaphors, and beauty. When somebody says, “Your sins will ripen and fall one day,” the person must be coming from a riverside, and has seen trees. A person from the desert will not use that kind of a metaphor. So, I continue to read literature and meet people from different places. Though I have my own language, I need to speak the language of the people the film is made for. Only then they will accept me as their own. There is joy in this process.

Surrendering myself to my roles gives me a window to see new cultures. I must have worked with thousands of character actors and 200 filmmakers from across languages. I know there is hard work involved in learning a language, but it is worth it. I am not known for my handsomeness or beauty. I am known for the way I depict the characters, and I am happy about it.

You have proven your versatility on-screen multiple times. However, why do we mostly see you only as an antagonist nowadays?

People relate to intense roles. I am popular as an antagonist. Some call me a ‘villain actor’, and I laugh at it. It’s their way of branding me. However, I have also done films like Iruvar, Kanchivaram, Abhiyum Naanum, and Ok Kanmani. I balance both sides of my image as an actor. Filmmakers say they are excited to see what I can do in the roles they give me. Meanwhile, people on social media say I am a villain in reel and real life. Some say I am a villain on screen and a hero in real life. You don’t let these comments affect you. They are all just opinions.

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