He has done an array of roles – the antagonist, a parent, a character-actor. He has donned several hats – those of an actor, producer, director, theatre artiste and now a television presenter. From what we see, he defi nitely seems to be enjoying his television outing. Prakash Raj had a televised auto-biography go on air earlier this year, titled “Solladhadhum Unmai” where he opens up about his personal life, relationships, values and more. This was in collaboration with the Vikatan group. We can expect more of these in the long run, he assures me as I start off with the interview.
Was your foray into television a planned move?
I’ve never planned any part of my life. I started with theatre and I come from a generation that did not know about cinema. Theatre came my way, television came my way and cinema came my way. I didn’t know what any of it would be like. I needed an identity and that’s how my journey started. I never believed in planning for the future. My everyday work takes me to the next level. I believe in the journey, rather than the goal, because when you fi nally attain what you want, you will fi nd another goal in front of you. It’s never- ending. It is better to live with the journey and love every moment of it.
You debuted in Tamil cinema under the auspices of K Balachander. You have been close to him over the years. Do you have many lessons from his school of thought?
K Balachander gave me a new direction. It was actress Geetha who referred me to Balachander. Once he saw me, he realised my potential. Even today when I talk to him or spend time with him I see that he has been a major guiding force. I feel proud to be called his student. The strength he gave me made me believe in myself. Once you are introduced to Balachander, he will take you seriously. With the opportunities that came to me and the ones I made use of, I refi ned myself as an actor. Balachander has been the single major force of thought and momentum in my life.
Whether a fearsome villain, or a dean on laughter-therapy, or a doting dad; you’ve done it all with élan. Is there a method to your acting?
I am not trapped within any image. I look at myself as an actor. There have been many fi lms in my career that have been repetitive, but I don’t mind doing more of the same thing. Life has also thrown me into roles that I have not done before. People have trusted me; directors have had faith in me. Probably I am luckier than most actors. Whatever I do, people seem to like it; it’s like they have given me a license to entertain them. Whether I choose to woo Trisha as Dhanalakshmi in Ghilli or pamper her as Abhi Raghuram, my daughter in Abhiyum Naanum, I have done my homework by not succumbing to any image and that’s the most beautiful joy.
You have excelled in father roles. Does this have anything to do with the pain of having lost your son when he was very young?
No, it’s not that. People keep joking that after Mahatma Gandhiji I am the father of the nation because I do so many father roles. Well, the role of a father is a beautiful one. And my excelling in it need not stem from the fact that I am a father in real life.
You’ve also donned the producer’s hat oftentimes, and quite successfully too. What’s your business plan when it comes to producing a fi lm?
Hmm, well, I don’t do it as a business. As an actor I have grown, and people have given me a certain elevated place in the industry. Because of this, I have a little strength to produce meaningful cinema with directors like Radha Mohan and a lot of others who approach my production house. Our body of work for the last ten years shows us how we have grown.
When it comes to choosing which film to produce, sometimes I have been stupid and vulnerable, as all actors are. I make a call based on what excites me. Sometimes I have made mistakes and sometimes I have been right. According to me, film production is not about earning money or losing it. Whatever we make goes into the industry. It’s not that I play cards or gamble it all away. Duet Movies was named after my first film. Now, as more pan-Indian films are happening, many people suggested to me that since I was becoming a brand by myself, we could use my name for the production house. So, it is Prakash Raj Productions from now on.
We intend to produce films in Kannada, Tamil and Hindi; if my team grows, may be even world cinema.
You’ve won five national awards, and plenty of other awards. What do they all mean to you?
I find that with National Awards, I am accepted and it is a form of recognition for the work that I have done for that year. It doesn’t mean that I am the best actor in the country forever. That again gives you an impetus to do better next year. The claps and the recognition push you to better your best every time. And I love that.
What epithet would you prefer for yourself?
Let me put it like this. When everybody was sleeping, I was awake. I think I am going to be awake for a long time now. And that’s where I am going to sleep for a long time now.
Clearly nudity is not taboo for you. What got you to agree to a script that needed nudity?
The director was very clear about what he wanted. The character himself is relieved when he removes all the masks he wears the whole day. It was a character trait that had negatives shades, and I knew it. But the director wanted to say something through that. That it didn’t work was a different matter altogether.
You’ve even played a eunuch…
Yes, it was the remake of a Hindi film called Sadak. I actually met people and the whole mindset was very interesting. It is always exciting for an actor to do a role he has never experienced. A role that you can get into and come back from. It’s about the perception of things from that angle.
Tell us about Pony Verma, your wife. How did the two of you meet and end up married?
Well, she is energy personified, and when we met I was going through a bad patch with my previous marriage and we were going our separate ways. Pony entered my life and added meaning to it. We talked about it all, she was ready to accept a married man with his baggage, with his two daughters, and I love her for that. I have not hidden anything from her. She is so beautiful, she is like a song. She and my ex-wife are good friends.
What is happening now on the career front?
My film Gowravam is out and people have liked the intention and honesty of the film. I am happy about it and I am directing Un Samayal Araiyil (Tamil), a trilingual, which will be titled Ulavacharu Biryani in Telugu, a remake of Aashiq Abu’s Malayalam film Salt N’ Pepper.
Will you be taking up Bollywood more actively?
I will be taking up cinema more actively.
Is there a “retirement plan” or will Prakash Raj run as long as he wants?
I will live as long as I want. I don’t believe in retirement.
You’ve worked with giants like Mohanlal, Amitabh Bachchan and Kamal Haasan – how have those experiences changed your life?
It has definitely been a wonderful experience, to work with such living legends. There is so much joy in being able to sit across from them and work with them.