Prasanna: Thiravam is not a biopic of Ramar Pillai
The actor, who has made his OTT debut with Thiravam, discusses the Zee5 series, and how consumption of entertainment has changed over time
Prasanna flaunted six-pack abs in last year's Thiruttu Payale 2, and so, it’s a bit of surprise to see him with a paunch in his OTT platform debut, Thiravam, in which he plays a scientist who claims to have invented herbal fuel. "I had to put on weight for the role,” he explains. “I still had to use a body bag, but I needed to grow weight near the lower abdomen area to look convincing. I have a thoppai now (laughs)."
The challenge of playing Ravi Prakasam (RP) was what convinced him to okay the web-series. "There was potential to show a complete changeover. A scientist doesn't usually have a fit body or cares about looking well-groomed; they are more concerned about their research than about their appearance,” he says. “I didn't treat this web-series any different from a feature film. Apart from making a difference with my appearance, I also wanted to improvise with my behaviour. I'm glad that those who have watched the series are appreciating these minute details."
There have been comparisons made to his character from a film made a decade ago, Sadhu Miranda. "To be honest, I was a bit disappointed with myself that I gave room for comparisons with a previous film of mine. I guess I should have worked harder to avoid that resemblance, but I’m glad that even after all these years, Sadhu Miranda is still remembered."
Prasanna drew inspiration for this portrayal from his own social circle. "I had a chemistry teacher with a heavy belly. I learned how to carry myself, how to wear spectacles, from him. I also brought in improvisations like clenching fist when in deep thought or under stress. We wanted to show him as an eccentric character. Also, as we weren't doing a biopic on Ramar Pillai, we were careful not to be too loyal about the body language."
Zee5's last series, Auto Shankar, humanised a gangster. Thiravam, now, shows a man thought to be a charlatan, as a doting father and a potential genius. "We didn't do research about Ramar Pillai because we didn’t want to portray him. Thiravam is a fictional story of what would happen if a scientist were to invent herbal petrol. The invention would topple economies and world leaders; it would create many issues for the inventor. This is not a biopic. We don’t know about Ramar Pillai or whether he actually invented the fuel."
This is also the first time Prasanna plays an older character. "If it were a film, I may have had second thoughts, but I really enjoyed doing this for the web-series. Often, I wonder how Rajini sir and Kamal sir, in their early 30s, did older roles so convincingly. I wanted to do the same." Does he believe that Tamil cinema doesn’t give him such challenging roles? "Films are for the mass audience who comprise people from different backgrounds, with differing tastes. The film industry also supports experimental content but it hasn't been happening on a bigger scale. Web-series has the advantage of catering to a different segment, aware of OTT content."
Prasanna doesn’t think such a story could have been made for the big screen. "We would have had to add commercial elements. There would have been songs, dance and lengthier comedy scenes. The dynamics would have changed completely." And such changes, he believes, would have drawn unwarranted criticism. "We faced something similar for Anjathey. They said the runtime was so long that those who caught the night show had troubles getting buses; that ladies wouldn't prefer coming to the film. Oru filmmaker bus timings mind-la vechu padam panna mudiyuma? (laughs)."
The actor, who is making his Malayalam debut with Prithviraj's Brother's Day, has a promising line-up for the big screen. "Apart from some impending surprise announcements, there is Thupparivaalan 2 happening this year," says Prasanna, who recently caught up with the team of Kanda Naal Mudhal. When asked if a sequel is brewing, he adds, "There's an idea but we are still processing it. We don't have a script yet but discussions are on."
Prasanna considers OTT platforms to be running alongside the film industry. "We are at a time when films struggle to get theatres, and it has become hard to attract audiences. The industry has a lot of issues, and in such an atmosphere, these platforms offer new solutions."