Prithviraj Sukumaran: Giant films are impossible to shoot right now
The actor-filmmaker opens up shooting his first post-pandemic release Cold Case, directing BroDaddy, acting in Barroz, and more
After the films of Fahadh Faasil and Mohanlal got a direct OTT premiere, many entertained the thought of a Prithviraj film going the same route in the future, considering the actor's openness to such a prospect. The inevitable has finally happened, and it's a cause for celebration for many of his fans who found the year-long wait to see their idol's film nearly unbearable. Many expected Kuruthi to be the first Prithviraj-starrer to release post the pandemic, that too on the big screen. But when the second wave reared its ugly head, Cold Case took its place. Initially intended as a theatrical release, its producers (Anto Joseph, Shameer Muhammed, Jomon T John) opted for an OTT premiere when the reopening of theatres remained a distant possibility.
How did Cold Case become your first post-pandemic film?
When I got back from the Jordan shoot of Aadujeevitham, the whole industry was at a standstill, and a couple of months into me getting back, there were active discussions on ways to restart the film industry. Cold Case was the first script I okayed after I resumed work. We were very particular about working on films whose execution can be possible under strict covid protocols and regulations. Cold Case was one such project. It was the first film that went on floors for all of us with these regulations in place. Fortunately, the shoot went smoothly and efficiently.
Given the uncertainty of the present scenario, do you feel compelled to do more films in a brief amount of time?
It's not about deliberately doing more films. What's been happening in general, not just in the Malayalam industry but in others too, is that we realised we are incapable of pulling off these giant films like, say, Empuraan (Lucifer sequel), which would be impossible to shoot under restricted circumstances. At this moment, it's impossible to do something like a Lucifer where we are shooting across six states and three countries spread across 150 days. So what has happened now is producers, directors, technicians, actors, and writers started migrating towards smaller, contained films.
By this, I don't necessarily mean the canvas, but something we can execute with a limited number of people in a contained environment. So when you start thinking along those lines, the number of shoot days are reduced, and the volume of work goes up. An actor who used to do 2-3 films a year is now finishing a film in 25-30 days. But thanks to platforms like Amazon, we still have a venue where we can exhibit this work. We only had a short time for theatres in Kerala to function, that too with limited capacity. If not for digital platforms, the Malayalam film industry would've really struggled.
You have done plenty of thrillers before. When you approach a new one, how do you avoid repeating something that you have done before?
I think the idea is to be not too complex in your analysis and keep it simple. It's about reading a script and asking yourself if it's something you'd like to see on the big screen. That's where the process ends. I've always maintained that what I do in the film should be secondary. Yes, compared to some of my contemporaries, I may have done more thrillers and cop films than them. But despite that, I found much to be excited about in Cold Case. It is a plot-driven film, not a character-driven one. I had even thought of producing it, but the current producers didn't let me (laughs).
There is a line about logic in the trailer. As an actor, producer and director, do you prefer all your films to be 100 per cent accurate, logically speaking?
You see, when you take a horror film like Ezra, for instance, you obviously can't have everything logical. That's the whole idea when you deal with something that's not scientifically explicable. What's interesting about Cold Case is that there are two tracks in the film, of which one is a police investigation, which, as an actor and filmmaker, I expect to be logically foolproof. I don't want to take the audience for granted. We must explain how we reached each of the inferences.
As for the other track, which involves paranormal activities, it's all about atmosphere -- setting up things that logic cannot explain but taking the viewer to a place and making them believe it is actually happening. It's not a black and white situation. However, I have to say that the investigation in Cold Case is well-researched, thanks to Sreenath V Nath (writer) and Tanu Balak (director). All the forensic inferences and science-based sleuth work in the film are backed strongly by science and meticulous research in conjunction with police and forensic officials.
Have you thought of the possibility of doing in the future, alternatively, one film for OTT and another for the big screen?
One can never do things as per a design. I believe, down the line, it's going to be entirely reliant on the script. Some scripts are not subject to community viewing, whereas others are. In both cases, the schematic differs. When thousand people sit together, they have travelled from their homes to set aside three hours to have fun and leave. They watch something in a different mental space, unlike watching it on any of their devices in their own private space. In the future, it is up to actors, technicians and producers to spot which script is going to make a better OTT or a theatrical release. That co-existence will create a really exciting atmosphere, not just financially for the industry but also creatively for the artistes and technicians.
How was it working with cinematographers Jomon T John and Gireesh Gangadharan? There is confusion about who actually shot the film and how much.
Well, Jomon was supposed to shoot the whole film. But when my dates had to be pushed on account of me testing positive for Covid, he had to stick to a prior commitment, this Rohit Shetty film with Ranveer Singh, called Cirkus. So Jomon started Cold Case; he shot a bit of the film, but then he had to leave, and Gireesh took his place. I've known them both for a long time now. The first film I did with Jomon was Ayaalum Njanum Thammil, and Gireesh was his assistant then. I would say both are among the finest cinematographers in the country.
The idea of you directing a lighthearted film (BroDaddy) is exciting. Is this something that has been on your mind for a while?
I've been thinking that the industry, in general, has been missing happy films. I think Malayalam cinema has made this marked shift towards dark investigative thrillers, murder mysteries, satires and the like. So when I happened to listen to the script of BroDaddy a few months ago, I really enjoyed it. I thought it could be a nice shakeup for me as a filmmaker -- you know, break down all my set filmmaking grammar and all that. It is diametrically opposite of something like Lucifer or Empuraan. Then I casually narrated the script to Lalettan, who laughed a lot while reading it and said we should do it together.
Do you wish you could direct something every year?
Not at all. I was happy to sit back and wait for things to open up and, eventually, the circumstances letting us get on with Empuraan. I'm in no hurry at all. But then I just chanced upon this script and felt that maybe I should do it. That thought came and... it just wouldn't go. So, I thought, why not?
Have you already completed shooting for your portions in Barroz (Mohanlal's 3D directorial debut)? Is it being filmed in 3D?
Not yet. Barroz is being shot in the absolute modern 3D technology right now available in the world.
You announced a virtual production movie last year. What's the status - and do you see more possibilities of the technology in Malayalam cinema in the future?
Not just Malayalam cinema, I think that is definitely a big part of the future as far as filmmaking is concerned. It has already caught on in the West well and truly. India is only beginning to discover and come to terms with virtual production -- not so much the technology, but the cost of the infrastructure. It is not very cheap, at least as we speak today; it's hugely expensive. We have done a few test shoots, and we are confident that we can pull it off. But considering the sheer infrastructure, size of the project, I don't think we can pull it off in the present circumstances. But, yes, that's a film I'm very much looking forward to.