Tamil Nadu

The swashbuckling actor who was classy and atypical

A still from Nenjathai Killathe.

A still from Nenjathai Killathe. | Photo Credit: THE HINDU ARCHIVES

When he walked beside late actor Shoba, his tousled hair ruffled further by the wind blowing across the riverbed to the background score ‘Poovannam Pola Nenjam’ in the movie  Azhiyatha Kolangal, Prathap Pothen indeed was seen as a whiff of fresh air.

Every one who saw that film could not have helped thinking: here’s another hero with a long career ahead. It was late director Balu Mahendra who introduced him in Tamil in the movie, after his splendid role in Bharathan’s Malayalam film Thakara, which was much later remade in Tamil as  Aavarampoo.

“He represented a transition in the Tamil film world. He wore jeans and dungarees. He was well-read and watched world movies; he was an intellectual and had an extraordinary sense of humour,” recalled director K. Rajeshwar to whom Prathap Pothen recently gave an advance of ₹10,000 for writing the story for his next film.

Prathap Pothen at the shooting spot for Eera vizhi kaaviyangal.

Prathap Pothen at the shooting spot for Eera vizhi kaaviyangal.

Prathap Pothen quickly made an impact in the Tamil film world after  Azhiyatha Kolangal. Strumming a guitar and striking up the iconic tune ‘ En Iniya Pon Nilayve’, set to music by Illayaraja, in  Moodu Pani or ‘ En Gaanam’ in  Eera Vizhi Kaaviyangal, he stole the heart of film buffs. He proved to be a perfect foil to the heroes of the films in which he acted and it was amply exemplified by his role in the film  Nenjathai Killathe with ‘Mike’ Mohan in the lead role. The oversized spectacles, the bell-bottom, delivery of dialogues, and mannerisms brought alive a man who seemed to be ‘slightly off’. Or even the director obsessively in love with Sridevi in  Varumaiyin Niram Sigappu, Prathap Pothen presented an eccentric and non-conformist acting talent the Tamil film world was in dire need of.

Pratap Pothen and Radikaa in Meendum Oru Kathal Kathai.

Pratap Pothen and Radikaa in Meendum Oru Kathal Kathai.

“Eccentricity is not anyone’s nature. It is a reaction to remain sane in this place of absurdity. That was why we did not express our anger at his negative role in the film  Moodupani,” says Mr. Rajeshwar, who also wrote the screenplay and dialogues for his film  Meendum Oru Kathal Kathai in which he starred opposite Radhika. The on-screen chemistry led to a short-lived marriage between the two stars.

Director Santhana Bharathi, who co-directed him in the film  Panneer  Pushpangal (along with P. Vasu), said Prathap Pothen was considered the ideal choice for an eccentric character in the film. “He suited the teacher role we had in our mind. Though we had obtained his call sheet for 15 days, the shooting was over within a week, but he stayed on with us and became a good friend,” says Mr. Santhana Bharathi.

Prathap Pothen with Sripriya in Oru Varisu Uruvagiradhu.

Prathap Pothen with Sripriya in Oru Varisu Uruvagiradhu.

But he admits he did not foresee that one day Pratap Pothan would emerge as a major star of his time. “He was stylish and had realised his limitations. For instance, he could not act in a fight scene, one of the important features of a Tamil film then,” he says.

Mr. Rajeshwar, however, explains that Prathap Pothen had an undefinable screen presence and it was articulated in all his films.

The music of Illayaraja also contributed immensely to the films of Prathap Pothen as with the other heroes he composed for. But some of his songs in Pothen’s films remain intriguing. For instance, the choir-style ‘ Yeriyile Elanatha Maram’ in  Karaiyellam Shenbagaboo, ‘Kodaikala Kaatre Vaa’  in  Panneer Pushpangal, ‘ Hey Thendrale’  in  Nenjathai  Killlathe, ‘ Athikalai  Nerame’  in  Meendum  Oru  Kathal  Kathai, ‘Kaanum Santhosam Yaavum Poi Vesham’ in  Eeravizhi  Kaviyangal drip pathos, cementing the cinematic moment.

According to Mr. Rajeshwar, who had penned the screenplay, dialogues, and songs for  Seevalaperipandi and the Kamal Haasan -starrer  Vetrivizha, Prathap Pothen had very unusual and unique features. “They were attractive, but not classic. That was why I advised him to choose characters in his own films, a technique followed by Bhagyaraj and Raj Kapoor, instead of acting in movies directed by others. But he did not quite listen to me,” Mr. Rajeshwar adds.

Writer and director Suka said Prathap Pothen used to have a close relationship with Balu Mahendra and it was he who secured a seat for his son in a school in Kodaikanal. “But some trivial issues caused a divide between them and I could never succeed in bringing them together after that,” regrets Mr. Suka.

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2022 1:35:59 am | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/tamil-nadu/the-swashbuckling-actor-who-was-classy-and-atypical/article65643997.ece