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I was devastated when Mysskin called me a ‘sidekick’: Prasanna on playing 'second-hero' roles, and his upcoming 'Mafia'

Prasanna in a scene from ‘Mafia’

Prasanna in a scene from ‘Mafia’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In a personal and in-depth conversation, Prasanna talks about his next release, the hardships he faced and about being relegated to second-fiddle characters in Tamil cinema

They say that the greatest form of resilience is the ability to accept your reality. Prasanna has displayed this quality throughout his career. He, in fact, is more resilient as a person than an actor.

He was despondent when the movies he bet on fizzled out without a trace. Decisions were taken — for the sake of survival and sometimes, for visibility. But none of this deters from the fact that he is a good performer. Prasanna could have become a marquee star had the right scripts come his way.

“There have been a few slips in my career. But I don’t regret taking those decisions,” says the actor, settling down for an interview. Excerpts:

You have spoken extensively about how you wanted to pursue acting since you were in school. Was there a particular moment that gave you conviction?

I wasn’t a noticeable student in school and was mediocre at studies. I think I was in Class VI when I played Pisiranthaiyar in a skit. That was the first time people appreciated me. That gave me confidence to follow my passion of becoming an actor.

Do you remember the moment when you first saw your name appear in the credits when ‘Five Star’ released?

Yes, it was magical to say the least. I knew nothing about cinema. I was like a puppet ready to give my strings to the director. I remember watching the first show at Sathyam Cinemas and again in Maris Theatre in my hometown [Trichy]. People recognised me when I walked out and that was a moral boost for me.

You had no connections in the industry. How were your initial years as a budding actor?

It was quite tough because I had to learn everything about the industry myself, which took sometime until Azhagiya Theeye happened. Up till that point, I had done a few movies just for the sake of bread and butter. So, in that sense, Azhagiya Theeye was a path-breaker for me. Prakash Raj sir and Radha Mohan sir nurtured me and helped me identify the kind of movies I wanted to be part of. Then again, I was left to survive on my own and learned from my mistakes.

The failure of ‘Azhagiya Theeye’ took a toll on you. Did you worry about where your career was headed?

Not at all. At that point, I was thoroughly enjoying the experience. Even before I could fathom the market standards, Prakash Raj sir promised me another movie, which was Kanda Naal Mudhal.

Wasn’t it successful?

Kanda Naal Mudhal was my first 100-day movie. But that 100-day mark was still not enough for the industry people to notice that the movie was a superhit. Numbers mattered then and now. I still don’t know its budget and how much it collected.

At script level, were you convinced that ‘Kanda Naal Mudhal’ could be your big break?

No, I think I was too naive to judge what a movie would do to me. At that point, I was fortunate to have signed a movie that had a large canvas with big names [Priya, PC Sreeram, Yuvan Shankar Raja and Sreekar Prasad] involved. I’m so happy that Kanda Naal Mudhal has got a long shelf life.

When I met actor Pasupathy, he said that the industry read him differently because he was doing character-driven roles and at the same time, he was doing commercial movies. Do you have similar thoughts?

To a certain extent, yes. The industry is hero-driven. If you are not a hero, then it is always seen as one step down, however great your performance. That’s a reality one needs to accept.

Do you mean to say that there is space for someone like Ayushmann Khurrana, which you did not have?

Definitely. I’m saying this since you mentioned his name. He did Kalyana Samayal Saadham (KSS) in Hindi [as Shubh Mangal Saavdhan]. It turned things for him and interesting scripts came his way. But that’s not the case with me. KSS wasn’t very successful. However great the content might be, if it doesn’t get those numbers, it goes unnoticed.

You couldn’t break into a section of the audience since you mostly played urban characters.

But I won’t take the blame for that (laughs). I have never been offered a rural subject and people typecast me [chocolate boy] roles. I finally did a movie called Kaala Koothu. I was neither happy with the script nor the title. But I said okay because it had a Madurai background. I didn’t want to wait longer and jumped at the opportunity to show people that I’m capable of doing a village-centric movie.

A rural character will guarantee you the B and Cs. Is that the benchmark for actors?

At least that’s how industry insiders look at it. Only very few appreciate the quality to show different shades to a character, in terms of casting.

An actor’s diary
  • Prasanna feels that the character played in Power Paandi was a rare instance when a role was written for him. “I was hesitant when Dhanush sir called me because I was making a comeback, in which he wasn’t the hero,” he says, adding, “But he called me and said, ‘I thought about you while writing it. I don’t have a second option.’ When someone like Dhanush says such sweet things, you don’t think twice.”
  • Prasanna has a slew of projects lined up for release. He will be seen in Thupparivaalan 2, also starring Vishal. The actor has also signed a bilingual with Game Over director Ashwin Saravanan.

But you broke the perception people had on you with ‘Anjathey’, wherein you played a morally-flawed character. Did you have any second thoughts?

Not really. I’m proud about having done Daya. Though he was morally corrupt and sexually assaulted women in the movie, none of it was displayed on screen. Cinema is a visual medium, but the character was able to give you the chills without making you feel uneasy. That’s where Anjathey stood out.

Are you talking about the scene where he leers at a woman using a mirror?

Yes. It was left for the audience’s imagination and wasn’t visually imposed on them. They knew he was looking at her, in the least provocative way.

Do you expect your characters to be politically-correct? What if you were to play someone who assaults women?

Let’s not even go to that extent because I have never been part of a movie that encouraged stalking. I don’t know whether it’s my upbringing or association, those scripts never excited me.

Actor Raja once told me that he did not make an effort to seek out to filmmakers during the prime of his career. Did you try putting a word to filmmakers?

Both me and Raja sir are the same on some level (laughs). Somehow I never really liked the idea of introducing oneself to a filmmaker, hoping that someday he would give a call. But I did try and meet filmmakers when I took that sabbatical. Some of them were gentle and kind. The rest were condescending and looked down upon me. Having worked almost two decades in the industry, I didn’t want to compromise myself for work.

Could it also be because of your wild choices? Like playing a father in ‘Achchamundu Achchamundu’ or an impotent person in ‘KSS’?

No. More than the hero I wanted to become, the artiste in me was more excited about these projects. I remember a lot of people asking me about playing an impotent person in KSS. Not even for a second was I worried about it because I loved the script and character. I had other issues, though.

Which were?

The upper caste backdrop it had. I didn’t want that to be a negative point for the movie, which, I believe, still is. Had it had a different backdrop, it might have had the chance to reach a wider audience.

Do you think a movie like ‘KSS’ is possible today, given the caste tag associated with it?

KSS is potent as a concept even today, though it’s about impotence (laughs). But yeah, the upper caste setting could have been avoided.

What was running through your mind when you took that break post ‘KSS’?

I was out of work for two-and-a-half years. Sneha [his actress-wife] supported me through my rough patch. Also, I needed that time to unwind and rejuvenate myself.

When you made a comeback, you fell into The Curse of the Second Fiddle characters, be it ‘Nibunan’, ‘Thupparivaalan’ or ‘Power Paandi’…

I don’t regret taking up dual hero subjects. I was trying to figure out an alternate route to find people’s love and acceptance. But I’m sure I am going to bounce back as a hero. I’m just waiting for that one movie.

How frustrating is it when people say you’re under-utilised?

Honestly, nothing frustrates me any more (laughs). I look at the positive side when they say I’m under-utilised. It suggests that I’m a good actor and have potential. But one thing frustrated me recently.

Which was?

We were shooting for Thupparivaalan 2 in London. I had asked Mysskin to write a stronger role this time, which he did. There was some discussion related to costumes with a London-based designer. Mysskin was giving inputs and I began to play the middleman’s role because I understand him better. I ended up picking clothes for Vishal and the costume designer asked who I was. Even before I could answer, Mysskin jumped in and said that I’m also an actor who plays a ‘sidekick’. That destroyed me. Of all people, I didn’t want Mysskin to use that word, having known me for years.

In ‘Mafia’, Karthick Naren reportedly wrote this particular character keeping you in mind.

Thanks to directors like him who believe in the actor in me and are willing to offer that space for me to prove myself.

Do you think we have come to a point where filmmakers are writing characters for actors and not for heroes?

I wouldn’t completely agree. Given the odds, Karthick Naren would still want to make a movie where I play the protagonist. But you need a producer to green light such a project.

Was Raymond Reddington from ‘The Blacklist’ the inspiration for your character?

I believe it was a calling when Karthick narrated the script. Very few movies extract the best out of you. For example, I was just myself in Kanda Naal Mudhal and didn’t have to do anything different. But there are certain characters that require efforts to understand the nuances. Raymond Reddington kept coming back to me when I was offered Mafia. I was heavily influenced by The Blacklist, although I haven’t aped Reddington here.

‘Mafia’ is a dual-hero subject, but it has been marketed as an Arun Vijay film. Did that bother you?

I have understood the fact that this is a hero-driven industry. Plus, I can’t think of the last movie that had the antagonist’s name in the promotional material.

There was ‘Yennai Arindhaal’...

Oh, yes. But that was one of the rare instances. It’s just an industry practice. On top of that, Arun Vijay hasn’t come to this position so easily. He went through a personal struggle himself. What I have learned from him is to be prepared — both physically and mentally — when the right opportunity arises.

Arun Vijay got an ‘Yennai Arindhaal’, which opened doors for him. Do you think ‘Valimai’ could have been that movie for you?

Definitely. A star vehicle has its own charm. Who was Arun Vijay before Yennai Arindhaal? He has always been a consistent performer. But it had the mass factor in the form of Ajith sir and Gautham Menon sir. So naturally, you get more visibility. I’m doing movies like Mafia and Thupparivaalan 2 for that push to happen.

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Printable version | Apr 9, 2020 5:07:40 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/prasanna-talks-about-mafia/article30860970.ece

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