9 Was Unlike Anything I Had Read Before: Prithviraj

9 Was Unlike Anything I Had Read Before: Prithviraj

The actor, who also turned producer for the upcoming supernatural thriller, explains why people considered the film impossible to make and how he got Mohanlal onboard so easily for his debut directorial

The trailer of 9, which is a huge hit on YouTube, gives us the feeling of a complex subject conveyed very "visually". Was it something you could connect to immediately during the narration? Or do you prefer to read the script?

Hmmm…that depends on what the director prefers. Some of them insist on narrating. The others prefer I read the script. But with Jenuse, the director of 9, it was the script. It was unlike anything I had read before.

Considering you also chose to produce it, I can picture you turning over the last page and immediately picking up the phone to confirm the film.

It was literally that instant. With a subject like 9, you need someone who can see the film. It's a very visual narrative and I've had many people telling me that it's a film that can't be made. But I knew it could be executed.

Being impressed with the script is one thing. But how exactly do you gauge a filmmaker's ability to actually execute it?  

Listening to the script is just the first round. A lot of the discussions that follow are about the execution. The director must be able to give you a plan on how he or she is going to translate that written material to the screen. If there is such a plan then you go with it. The rest of the effort is to do whatever it takes to facilitate that vision.

We all have our biases, likes and dislikes. But when you're an actor sitting down to either read or listen to a script, is it possible to just rely on your tastes to make a decision? Or are there other factors that need to be considered?

But that's the one way one can decide right? You need to choose a script that appeals to your conviction. That's the only unpredictable parameter. Of course, I do consider the business side of a project too. I calculate how much the film will cost. Then there are efforts to minimize the risks. With a film like 9, we had a definite plan in place and that's what allows us to make such unusual films.

As a follow up to that, when a film you really believe in doesn't work at the box office, does it rattle your decision-making skills?

You can't allow that to happen. Let me put it this way…what about when a film does even better than you expected and it goes on to become a smash blockbuster? Does that mean I should keep doing films like that? I don't want to over-analyze and complicate my decision-making. So I try to just go with the gut and do the film I like. Back when we made City Of God (with Lijo Jose Pellisherry) it was not very well-received. But you see how the film has come back? Filmmaking is not a business of the now.

Talking about scripts and narrations, not only did you get Mohanlal to act in your directorial debut, Lucifer, but you got him to produce it as well. That must have been one hell of a narration…

(Laughs) Trust me I'm surprised too. Both Mr. Mohanlal and Mr. Anthony agreed to be a part of the film even before I narrated the script to them. I still have no clue what the basis of that decision was.

I noticed something interesting as I was going through your filmography. I couldn't think of another lead actor who has starred in the films directed by both father and the son. You've managed to do that with 9.

I hadn't thought of that but honestly, it makes me sound like I'm a million years old. I have done two films with Kamal sir, Jenuse's father.

Did you notice any traces of the father in the son?

I think they are both completely different kind of filmmakers. Kamal sir is a legend. I have worked with him in Swapnakoodu and Celluloid. He is a director that has evolved the hard way through practice by assisting and making his films.

Jenuse is more textbook. He's from a film school and approaches cinema very differently. I enjoyed working with both of them though I find no similarities.

From the trailer, 9 looks like it has elements of the supernatural and even horror, which is generally considered a taboo for a top actor to touch. Yet you have repeatedly made films in that genre…

There's only one type of films I will not do.

Which is that?

Bad ones.

You are becoming a director having acted in around one hundred films. Were there films that you did in this period which you felt were right up your alley. To direct I mean…

Of course. There are so many. But it's not fair to the director for me to name any of those films.  But everything I have learned about direction, I have learned through acting. It wouldn't be unfair to call me an AD on most of those films.

Lastly, you've acted in around 100 films, that too in four different languages. You've produced multiple films, sang songs and now you're directing a major film. All this and you're only 36. What are some of the tips you have for us common folk who struggle with time management?  

Just one. Never listen to your wife complaining.