'Urumi,' the magnum opus that reached theatres on Thursday, is a turning point for Prithviraj who has put his money where his mouth is by producing the film along with Santosh Sivan and Shaji Natesan. It is a decisive turn for Malayalam cinema because ‘Urumi,' while broadening the horizons of Mollywood, is also an attempt to reach out to a global audience. The lavishly made ‘Urumi' brings together a host of talented actors and technical personnel from Indian cinema. Helmed by Santosh Sivan the movie stars Prithviraj in the lead with Genelia D'Souza, Tabu, Vidya Balan, Prabhu Deva, Nitya Menon, Jagathy Sreekumar and so on.
The year gone by has been a good one for the actor who acted in some-profile releases such as ‘Anwar' and ‘Pokkiri Raja.' This year will see him step into Bollywoodwith Sachin Kundalkar's untitled film in Hindi, produced and scripted by Anurag Kashyap. He and Rani Mukherjee play the lead in the film.
FridayReview caught up with the actor on the sets of ‘Teja Bhai and Family,' directed by Dipu Karunakaran.
What was it about ‘Urumi' that made you turn producer?
Santosh and I used to keep discussing a historical film during the making of ‘Raavan.' We wondered what was it like when Vasco da Gama set foot on our soil…Finally we fell in love with the project that we decided to go ahead and make it ourselves. We roped in Shaji Natesan, a friend of ours, and thus was born August Cinema.
Although period films have tasted success in Malayalam, this must be the first film on Vasco da Gama…
It is the first film, perhaps in the world, that explores Vasco's arrival in Kozhikode in 1498 and its repercussions. Shanker Ramakrishnan, who has written the story and script of the film, juxtaposed the aftermath of the Portuguese explorer's arrival in Kerala with the local events of those times.
And you wanted it to be set on a grand scale
‘Urumi' is a multi-lingual film that will be released in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi and English. The only way to break out of the constraints of the traditional market of Malayalam cinema is to make a movie with a pan-Indian appeal.
That explains the multi-star cast?
If the film were to have a pan-Indian appeal, it needed to have faces who would be accepted on an all-India level. All these stars said ‘yes' without any kind of hesitation as soon as Santosh called them. They were confident about his cinema and his sensibilities.
And what about your character Chirakkal Kelu Nayanar?
He is a fictitious character who interacts with persons who are part of our history and reacts to situations that happened then. Vasco visited Kerala thrice and he died in Kerala on his third trip. On his second trip to Kerala in 1502, his unspeakable cruelty against the natives is on record. ‘Urumi's story takes off from there. Kelu sees his father, Chirakkal Kothuval, a warrior and commander of the Arackal kingdom, being murdered by the merchants-turned-conquerors. Kelu had to wait for 22 years for Vasco to return to Kerala so that he could avenge his father's murder. There is speculation about how Vasco died. The most commonly accepted theory is that he was killed by malaria. But if Quentin Tarantino can have Hilter killed in a theatre, this is our take on how Vasco died. [smiles]
Did you have to learn martial arts for this film?
I had to undergo a three-day crash course in using the Urumi. We flew in martial arts exponents to the location. Urumi is a double-edged sword that is very difficult to use. I cut myself a few times during the filming.
You have also sung (‘Vadakku Vadakku') in the film.
That was because we did not want to go through the hassle of finding another singer…
No, honesty speaking. Deepak Dev, who has composed the music of the film, is a fantastic sound engineer. So, what I sound like in the studio is not how it sounds in the final version.
Why was Malshej in Maharashtra the main location of the film?
It is very difficult to find a place in Kerala that would resemble the sixteenth century. Santosh is a perfectionist and he wanted frames untouched by modernity. ‘Raavan' was also shot near this place. But this time, we went further into the heart of the mist-laden Western Ghats. The mist that you see in the film is not artificial. All of us had to use a car, a four-wheel drive, a tractor and then walk to reach the location every day. The logistics was quite something else. So we went for a multi-cam set.
When will the other language versions, including the English version, be released?
Although we had planned on an all-India release, due to elections we decided to postpone the Tamil and Telugu releases. Song writing is in progress for the Hindi version. But the English version will have a completely different look and narrative. The screenplay and dialogues are being done by Santosh himself. We had shot separately for that. But it would be difficult to say when it would reach theatres.
‘Manikya Kallu' is a film I had committed to three years ago. It was due to date problems that I got to do the film only now. Then there is ‘Indian Rupee' with Ranjith, P.T. Kunjumohammed's ‘Veera Putra,' Roshann Andrews' ‘Mumbai Police,' and Johny Antony's ‘Masters,' a dark film, in which I work with Sasikumar (of ‘Subramaniapuram' fame).
You gained the sobriquet of an action hero last year…
Two of my films – ‘Anwar' and ‘Thriller' were action oriented; I do not become an action hero because of that. But, then again, if I came across a script that I felt was right, I would go ahead and do it, even if it was an action oriented film. I also worked in ‘Veettilekeyulla Vazhi,' which I thought was an excellent work. So, I don't think I have ever been shackled by an image.
They are many directors I have worked with and I would like to work with them again and again. These are directors I have never worked with but would love to work in the future – Sathayan Anthikkad, Srinivas (really enjoy his sensibilities), Priyadarsan, Ashutosh Gowariker.
‘Anwar' is one film I plan to add to my select private collection of DVDs. It is a movie I would like my grandchildren to watch.
Anwar Rasheed and Amal Neerad, both good friends, have agreed to make two films for August Cinema. I may or may not star in it. Hopefully, I plan to direct my first film next year.