Prathap Pothen, who died in Chennai aged 69 on Friday, made his presence felt as a talented actor in several landmark films in Malayalam and Tamil in a career that spanned over four decades. He was also a fine director.
Prathap debuted as an actor with the 1978 film Aaravam, directed by Bharathan. He established himself as an actor of substance with the director’s subsequent movies Thakara and Chamaram.
He excelled as a mentally challenged young man in Thakara and as a college student in love with his teacher in Chamaram. Around this time, he made a mark in Tamil cinema too, with his fine performances in films such as Azhiyatha Kolangal, Varumayin Niram Sivappu and Nenjathai Killathe. Those films were directed by some of the finest filmmakers in Tamil – Balu Mahendra, K. Balachander and Mahendran.
After working with such directors it was not surprising that Prathap wanted to be a director. The first film he directed was in Tamil, Meendum Oru Kaathal Kathai, in which he also starred as the hero. The 1985 film won him the National Award for the best debutant director.
Two years later, he directed a film in Malayalam, Rithubhedam. It was scripted by M.T. Vasudevan Nair.
Vineeth, who played one of the main characters in the film, recalls M.T. speaking highly about Prathap.
“I remember M.T. saying that he gave the script to Prathap because he had rarely seen young men who were so well read,” the actor told The Hindu. “He was a fine director and I had great regard for him as an actor as well.”
Vineeth had reprised Prathap’s role in Thakara in the Tamil adaptation (Aavarampoo), which was also directed by Bharathan. “After casting me in the role, Bharathan asked me to watch Thakara a thousand times and to observe how Prathap acted in that role; he said that he had given the role all the nuances and the subtleties the character demanded.”
Prathap was indeed a capable actor who made his characters believable, be it with body language or the way he spoke. He interpreted the characters in his own way. Remember the way he played the villain Hegde in 22 Female Kottayam, in the latter part of his career.
But one of his finest performances as an actor came in a little known film called Once Upon A Time There Was A Kallan. He played a 70-year-old in the thriller. It won him a Special Jury Award at the 2014 Kerala State Film Awards.
“He was excited about the film, which was his 100th as an actor,” says Fazil. “We could not release the film at that time because of some issues, but we would shortly be able to do it. It will be a perfect homage to him.”