Cinema

Hundred, not out

Pratap Pothen  

Wacko neighbour. Loony recluse. Mad scientist. Pratap Pothen keeps getting these three roles in Tamil cinema. And he keeps swatting them away. The stereotyping owes much to the superhit Balu Mahendra film Moodu Pani, in which he played a psychopath who killed sex workers for a hobby; and Balachander’s Varumayin Niram Sivappu in which he played an eccentric director with an unhealthy obsession for an actress (Sridevi). “Both roles caught the public imagination, and I admit I cashed in when I was offered similar stuff. Now, unless I’m offered an unreasonable amount of money, I doubt I’ll accept these roles,” says Pothen. Malayalam cinema, however, satiates his hunger for variety, and a sizeable percentage of his films are from Mollywood.

Now, his 100th film is all set for release, and Once Upon a Time There was a Kallan is also in Malayalam, a fact he is quite delighted about. “It was after all a Malayalam film that got me back into acting,” he says, referring to 22 Female Kottayam. “The director offered me the role of a rapist and told me how my character rapes the same woman twice in the course of the film. I went, ‘Oh god, here we go again!’ Thankfully, I liked the story, but I didn’t quite expect that it would get such a great reception.”

Pothen is sure that Kallan will be a milestone in his career, and believes he has bagged a plum role. “It covers a spectrum of emotions and is the story of an old man and his loneliness.” As someone who lives alone, Pothen says he could relate to the solitude of the protagonist.

In Tamil cinema, Pratap will be seen as Shruti Haasan’s father in the upcoming film Poojai, but he plays it down. “It’s not really much of a role, but I had fun shooting for it.”

In all the discussion about him as actor, it’s easy to forget that Pothen once directed the likes of Kamal Haasan and Prabhu ( Vetri Vizha). It has, however, been 17 years since he last made a film ( Oru Yathramozhi in 1997). “I found I was getting too emotionally invested for my own good,” he explains, saying he couldn’t be one of those directors who are happy to get their salary and not worry about the film’s fate. “I could never walk out of a project halfway; I lobbied for all the technicians and actors; and the strain of getting some films to release was too much to handle.”

Such deep involvement caused much mental unrest, and Pothen decided to take a break from direction. However, with three Malayalam scripts lined up, come February and he will be making films again. And what about directing Tamil films? “They are too dependent on stars,” he says, but admits he is ready after this long break to think about it again.

What could have rekindled the love might be his role as jury member on Naalaya Iyakunar, a TV show that produced several hit filmmakers such as Balaji Mohan, Nalan Kumarasamy and Karthik Subbaraj. “They have come as a breath of fresh air. Can you imagine a film like Soodhu Kavvum being made a decade ago?” he asks. And when he does come back, he is confident of roping in names like Kamal Haasan and Sathyaraj. “Sathyaraj keeps asking me when I’m making a Tamil film. Let me make a few Malayalam ones first,” he says.

For now though, Pothen can’t quite believe he has completed 100 films as an actor. “Who would have guessed? Definitely not me!”


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Printable version | Sep 14, 2021 4:08:47 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/cinema/hundred-not-out/article6514825.ece

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