Prasanna Sujit: Working with Priyadarshan sir is like going to school
The state award-winning dance choreographer looks back on his career so far, working with Mohanlal, and directors Priyadarshan and Joshiy
Prasanna Sujit recently won his third Kerala State award for his dance choreography in Priyadarshan’s upcoming epic, Marakkar. However, he feels that it is better to discuss his work — a particular sequence involving Mohanlal, Keerthy Suresh, Manju Warrier, and others — after the film’s release.
Like everyone else, he has high hopes for Marakkar. “Given the large budget, the number of investors, and the kind of effort involved, it’s a film meant for the theatre experience,” he says.
He calls Marakkar Priyadarshan’s biggest film after Kaalapani. “It’s much more humungous in terms of quality,” he continues. “There are films like Baahubali and Padmaavat, which had the advantage of a massive budget. Our industry, however, has certain constraints. But what Priyan sir pulled off within those is unbelievable.”
It was Priyadarshan’s Kakkakuyil that gave Prasanna his big break. It was followed by another successful work, in Lal Jose’s Meesha Madhavan. “I wasn’t a recognisable name before these films came my way,” he says.
Kakkakuyil was not his first Priyadarshan film, though. There was an unreleased Hindi film called Kashmakash, and Prasanna expected the label of an ‘unlucky choreographer’. Fortunately, Priyadarshan had him in mind for more.
Asked what is it like to work in a Priyadarshan film and he says it’s like “going to school” and that there is a “constant upgrading of one’s software” happening. “Priyan sir always asks me to come with a clear mind. He doesn’t want you to complicate things. He wants you to think only after coming to the location. So I only rehearse if a signature step is needed. The rest, I plan once we rig the camera and everything. He gives clear reasons for everything and gives ample freedom to express your ideas.”
Prasanna calls directors Priyadarshan, Lal Jose, and Joshiy his pillars of support. Though Prasanna started his career in the film format, he believes his strong base helped him in the transition to the digital format. “The basic foundations don’t change even when technology does,” he says, adding that the communication process between the choreographer, cinematographer, and other technicians happens mostly on the set.
Dance choreography, Prasanna explains, is not just about dancing. “One also has to understand editing, lens, camera perspective, and so on. At the start of my career, when I did multiple films with Dileep chettan, I used to design the songs. For the Chilamboli Kaatte song (from CID Moosa), I wanted a particular look. The same goes for Runway. There was a great rapport with the cinematographer and art director because we all know each other so well.”
Prasanna, who hails from a family of well-known dance choreographers, is not of the opinion that every choreographer should be well-versed in all dance forms. “Things are changing with each generation. At one point, it was important to know classical dance. That’s not the case anymore. One shouldn’t impose a style on somebody. Take hip-hop culture, for example. Half the people may not get it. So there is no point in trying to impose it on someone who doesn’t get that kind of body language.”
Drawing further attention to the fact that there is more to dance choreography than just dancing, he explains, “It’s about knowing how to do the steps and where to cut the shot. One has to handle all kinds of songs — duets, slapstick comedy, montage, and so on. A choreographer essentially becomes a director for five minutes. So he/she has to think like one. When one has to execute something within a certain timeline, one has to be precise with the shot division, shot length, and everything.”
He cites the marriage song in Joshiy’s last film Porinju Mariam Jose as an example. “Since the film had a 90s setting, we couldn’t think of techniques like zooming or ramping. We had to shift gears and think differently. Joshiy sir wanted a two to three-shot approach, so we had to stage everything accordingly.”
He also believes that a choreographer should have a good understanding of an actor’s body language, and says he doesn’t prefer crossing lines when it comes to an actor’s physique. “I ensure that the actors don’t look bad on screen,” he says. “Everyone has a different body language. I observe the actors and give them steps that suit them. That’s the job of a choreographer.”
Asked if choreographers get better recognition now than they did before, he thinks social media has improved things to a certain extent. But he has noticed that despite doing a hugely popular song like Jimikki Kammal, there are people who still don’t know that Prasanna is the man behind it.
The Naran effect
Prasanna credits Mohanlal and Joshiy for giving him the confidence to take risks while working on the duo’s 2005 film Naran. While designing the Velmuruka song, he was concerned about audiences comparing it to a similarly celebratory song done by Mohanlal in Narasimham.
“I found myself in a fix,” recalls Prasanna. “I told both Joshiy sir and Lal sir that we should approach it differently since the main character is not this larger-than-life figure who suddenly starts doing certain steps. It was a fast song with lively choreography, and I went with a more organic approach. But both of them were okay with it. It was very risky because it was my call. I mean, Antony (Perumbavoor) chettan had invested so much in the song, and Lal sir had put so much effort into it. Also, it was so hot outside. I was worried, but I decided to give it a shot regardless. Thankfully, it not only worked but also became a big hit. Had it bombed, people would have lost their trust in me. That song held up only because of Lal sir.”