Prakash Raj, who is a multiple National Award winner (for Iruvar and Kanchivaram), has been a part of the industry for almost 30 years. His body of work ranges from mass, gallery-pleasing roles in Ghilli and Vasool Raja MBBS to a subtle, restrained one in Sila Samayangalil. He shows no signs of slowing down and continues to be a dominant player in the Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and even Hindi film industries. He ventures into the production space every now and then, having also turned director a few times.
This year, he was a part of blockbuster Telugu films Rangasthalam, Bharat Ane Nenu, Mahanati and Goodachari. His Tamil film 60 Vayadu Maaniram is ready for release. In 60VM, he reunites with one of his favourite directors, Radha Mohan, and the film is the official remake of the critically acclaimed Kannada film Godhi Banna Sadharana Mykattu. He also has big films lined up to round off the year – Mani Ratnam's Chekka Chivantha Vaanam and Rohit Shetty's Simmba.
My salary for a film can either be in the form of money or the experience that I can gain from it, says Prakash Raj
So what keeps him going? "I still get excited by a good role, I'm still vulnerable. I can be fooled, I don't mind making mistakes and repeating them. I still retain that hunger to do more. I can surrender myself to a role and appreciate what I don't know. What I know is boring and monotonous, I look keenly at what I don't know. Luckily, I have filmmakers who trust me and come to me with roles they feel that I can pull off. Their trust makes me more responsible and more tense. All this keeps me going, simple," he says.
Prakash, director Radha Mohan and dialogue writer Viji go back a long way, with their partnership originating with Azhagiya Theeye in 2004. What force binds the trio? "The three of us are friends not just because of cinema. I like the way they look at life and they also admire that aspect in me. We have plenty of differences in our respective worlds, the books we read, our sense of humour and our opinions in general. But these differences make us richer and give us new perspectives when we collaborate. We can sit together for hours and laugh, even after two decades of friendship. Radha Mohan doesn't stop surprising me and vice-versa. Cinema is just another reason for us to be together."
At the press meet of 60 Vayadu Maaniram, Prakash spoke about how Kalaipuli Thanu offered to produce the film and how getting a film to reach the masses is an art in itself. "We should know our strengths. I can pick subjects passionately, produce films and stand by them. But I have burnt my fingers in the process of taking my film to the masses. Thanu sir's value is in the way he takes his films to the people. Apart from a good director and good actors, a film needs this element of strength as well. He is a tremendous value addition to 60 Vayadu Maaniram."
Prakash also spoke about the general state of the industry, which is plagued by a poor success rate. "Bad films are made too and they invariably bomb. Sometimes, external conditions like heavy rains and storms bring down a good film; Radha Mohan's highly enjoyable 2015 film, Uppu Karuvadu, was unfortunately at the receiving end (of natural calamities). But the process of making a film shouldn't suffer. No matter what, we need to go ahead and do what is needed for a film," he says.
Citing Mani Ratnam's Iruvar (1997), of which he was a part, he adds, "Sometimes we need to live with wounds deeper than flesh. Iruvar is being celebrated as a classic today but was a failure at the box-office on its very first show back in January 1997. How can we explain that? How will Mani feel? We need to have the strength and resilience to carry on despite these wounds. Otherwise, it's very tough to survive in this industry."
The two have collaborated on Bombay, Kannathil Muthamittal, OK Kanmani and Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. "Mani is beyond success and failure. He is an encyclopaedia of cinema. I don't accept it when people say that he has aged. He continues to run with the same passion and intensity."
Prakash is no stranger to intensity – his social media feed, particularly his explosive posts on Twitter, quickly become fodder for the media
"Social media is a boon and a bane. The trash can was opened when SMSes were introduced; we just have to live with it and go through these advancements. But, we should make sure that we don't get washed away or sucked into it. Personally, I see it as a great decision to use social media as I now have a solid stage on which to convey my thoughts. But, some people use it to propagate fake news. People are watching everything."
60 Vayadu Maaniram is slated to release on August 31 while Chekka Chivantha Vaanam will hit the screens on September 28.