Warm, Witty, Erudite: Siva Ananth Remembers Prathap Pothen Through His Complete & Incomplete Films

I once watched Mr Kamal Haasan use my phone to make a prank call to him. I played a small hand in getting him the part in Guru, which completed Prathap Pothen’s list of directors he wanted to work with.
Warm, Witty, Erudite: Siva Ananth Remembers Prathap Pothen Through His Complete & Incomplete Films

Twenty two years ago, it was the veteran writer R. Selvaraj who uttered his name for the first time in my life. 

I still remember the aroma of the fried fish drifting from the open kitchen and the gentle noises of the homecoming birds nesting in the bushes around us when we sat down by the pool to enjoy a remarkably beautiful sunset. And Selvaraj sir asked, "Why can't this character be like Prathap Pothen, a warm person… but a little eccentric and super intelligent?"

Now, he was obviously using a shortcut we often employ in our story narrations to establish a character. "Like Prathap Pothen" simply means, a character that Prathap Pothen could have played with ease. He, obviously, played the mad — eccentric — intelligent character often and with considerable success. It is like declaring someone is "like Manivannan"; so you automatically assume the character to be sarcastic and wise. 

I bought the idea immediately and asked, "Why somebody 'like' him, why not Prathap Pothen himself?" A meeting was arranged with Mr. Pothen within a few days of us returning to the city and I caught up with the man in his house for an hour-long narration.

Prathap Pothen in a still from 'Moodu Pani'
Prathap Pothen in a still from 'Moodu Pani'

Later on, he told me how he was scheming to offer us green tea and say "no" to the role while I was laboring through the narration, but finally ended up saying "yes" because of the twisty-ness of the role. The film we were making never got finished, but we did actually shoot with him for a few days. 

The DoP, P.S. Vinod, and I were happy to chat with him throughout his filming, for he had great anecdotes to share; and he certainly operated on a higher intellectual plane than most others, which made the conversations worthy. From his end, he was happy to observe that Vinod and I worked as friends and that equation freely rubbed off on everyone including himself.

An intelligent, warm, witty, erudite man with the ability to charm coconuts off palm trees, Prathap Pothen stated in some interviews years later, how that first meeting for our film and his return to the filmmaking environment with youngsters at the helm gave him the impetus to work again. I really take great comfort in the fact that an incomplete film could still make a positive impact on one person's life. 

We worked together again on another film a few years later. This time we completed the film. He was super kicked to visit Austria on the production account, and for that he professed eternal gratitude to us.

On one of those cold early mornings in Innsbruck, when we both were waiting for the rest of the crew to come out, we decided to give ourselves a few minutes to admire the beauty of the Alps; when suddenly Prathap Pothen spotted Director K. Balachander working in his room right above where we were staying. He was filming, what turned out to be his last feature film; and he was preparing the scenes for the day in his own frantic, flamboyant style; writing and striking off lines with a flourish. We both rushed up to his room to say a quick Hello and Prathap Pothen made the veteran director laugh out loud with his jokes before it was time for us to catch our crew bus to the location. Obviously, I recalled their excellent collaboration in Varumayin Niram Sigappu and pulled some stories out of him from those days, throughout our ride up to the Dolomites. 

Prathap Pothen and Sridevi in a still from 'Varumayin Niram Sigappu'
Prathap Pothen and Sridevi in a still from 'Varumayin Niram Sigappu'

The day we wrapped the shoot, people split into groups to do their own stuff. A bunch decided to go to the local casino. I used to be uncomfortable handling money. And I still abhor gambling. So, I decided to stay back in my room. But Prathap Pothen forced me to take 50 euros from him (this was back in 2005 when 50 euros was actually worth 52 euros or something) to waste away in the casino and I lost all of it within ten minutes. 

I had been to his house several times during my motorbike years. His cook served the best chilly beef in the city and that was a matter of pride for him. I had seen the early cuts of some of his MRF commercials with Steve Waugh, Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar before they were ready for the public. I had read and commented on many of his scripts. I once watched Mr Kamal Haasan use my phone to make a prank call to him. I played a small hand in getting him the part in Guru, which completed Prathap Pothen's list of directors he wanted to work with.

Kamal Haasan and Prathap Pothen in the set of their 1988 film 'Daisy'
Kamal Haasan and Prathap Pothen in the set of their 1988 film 'Daisy'

I didn't meet him enough in the last few years. Our schedules didn't match. Our paths didn't cross. I didn't put in enough effort to make our paths cross. We drifted. I drifted. It was impossible to park a car in his building. His facebook posts stopped showing up on my timeline automatically. I had to remember to check on him and search and read his posts every few months. Despite all this, he was always kind to me. He always made me feel good about myself. He was full of plans. And he was generous enough to include me in many of them. I recall his infectious laughter. I think we would have been close friends if we weren't separated by a generation.

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