The Prakash Raj Interview where he talks about vadais and pickles and everything in between; and finding “an idiot who had too many questions” for his role in the upcoming Un Samayal Arayil
We talk to Prakash Raj on a Sunday morning. It’s 10 am – and while we wonder whether it is a decent enough hour to call someone, he answers on the fourth ring. He’d just posted a photograph on Twitter of “Mr Vinayak chilling in his farm”, so we know he’s wide awake. And, very much in town. “Tell you what,” he says, without preamble. “I am off to Four Frame studios in sometime. It’s a long drive from here. Why don’t we speak then?” He has to shower and breakfast before that, he explains.
Prakash Raj is just back from Bangalore after a hectic round of promotions for his upcoming trilingual Un Samayal Arayil (a remake of the Malayalam flick Salt N’Pepper) – having fuelled it with some crispy masala dosa and coffee from Janardhan Hotel. Today, though, he’s off to do the “business part of the film”; after duly posting a picture of the little stone-carved Ganesha at his beautiful farm in Mahabalipuram. He’s prompt. And when we take a while to reach him, thanks to a malfunctioning phone – he sends a text – “something wrong with the phone?” he queries. We answer in kind.[quote align=’right’]You probably remember that aunt – someone you haven’t met in ages – only because of the vadais she used to make, he says. And perhaps your grandmother because of her pickles.[/quote]
When in the city, Prakash Raj lives at his farm. This is where I stay, he shrugs; the city is too stressful for me. So even if it takes 50 minutes to get to his destination, he “prefers coming back home”. He cannot wait to get this over with, he adds – this number-crunching business that awaits him today – and “get into a long bath and a book”. He also doesn’t want to talk about anything else other than his upcoming release. “When I’m relaxing sometime, you can sit with me, and then we can talk,” is his response when we gently prod him about other things.
It is a distant aunt that Prakash Raj recalls when talking about his upcoming Un Samayal Arayil. You probably remember that aunt – someone you haven’t met in ages – only because of the vadais she used to make, he says. And perhaps your grandmother because of her pickles. “That’s their identity…that’s how they communicate with you. I liked the way food and love was dealt with in Salt N’Pepper.” It is about two people who are alone; and who think they are happy, until something happens to them. “I want people to walk out hungry after watching my film – hungry for food and hungry to reassess what love means to them.”
He winces when we call his film a remake – “You eat a biryani somewhere – come back and cook it at home; it is not the same biryani anymore is it? There’s a thought process that has gone into it.”He has digested the original and reproduced it, he adds in explanation. “Of course, a dosa is the binding factor here as well as in the original, but I have made a few changes. This is a movie where the audience knows what’s going on – but not the characters. You’ll want them to come together…I have to retain that magic,” he explains, and continues after a pause – “you wait and watch – I have changed the gender of one character and have also introduced a transgender in the movie – Kalidasan’s friend.”
Prakash Raj often slips into the third person while talking about himself. There was a time, he narrates, when “I realized that Prakash Raj the actor was getting quite predictable.” I had to tell him to snap out of it, he declares. Grow up. Unlearn a few things. “See, when you are more than 300 films old; you can easily get away with a bad performance…there’s a lot of goodwill that you have accumulated in the past. That’s when acting becomes more of a reflex. I realized this when I turned director. It was a humbling experience,” he explains; and quickly corrects himself, “no, not humbling. I became more accepting.”
[quote align=’left’]I want people to walk out hungry after watching my film – hungry for food and hungry to reassess what love means to them[/quote]We ask him if he had someone else in mind for the role he plays in the movie. “Of course, as a filmmaker, I would have loved another actor to do it in my stead. I searched,” he says, “as I did for Dhoni and the Kannada version of Abhiyum Naanum – but I couldn’t find anyone. Only Prakash, Sneha and Urvashi, before adding that there’s Thambi Ramiah and Kumaravel for regional flavor, as well. Perhaps anticipating our next question, he laughs. “I wanted to cast people who are recognized in all three languages – and I couldn’t find anybody else other than Prakash Raj. He had to be a good actor as well, you know? And this is the idiot I found. He had way too many questions.”
Prakash Raj is working on three projects currently; as producer – one with director Mahendran (of Uthiri Pookal) fame – “a mindblowing sensitive film that I loved immediately, he is on the script right now; I will wrap this up and get onto the casting and locale with him. Ilaiyaraaja is composing music.” There is another with director V Priya (Kanda Naal Mudhal) – “a women-centric film” and one more with Radha Mohan. “These are simmering at the moment,” he finishes.
We then gently remind him about that sit-down session. You want a long interview? He questions. “So I can meet you only in Chennai? Let’s see, I am busy till June 6. And then, my daughter is going away to university in London. She will be gone for four years you know; so I am trying to bribe her to come on a holiday with me to Brazil…but yes, to answer your question, sometime in July?”
Un Samayal Arayil, starring Prakash Raj, Sneha, Urvashi and Thambi Ramaiah, releases on June 6.