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Prabhudheva: Filmmakers have finally accepted me as an actor

The actor-choreographer talks about his preference for full-blown commercial entertainers, his acting comeback, and this week's release, Lakshmi

Published: 22nd August 2018

If there is one thing that sets apart Indian cinema from the rest of the world, it is our song and dance routines. And since the late 1980's when a lanky teenager named Prabhudheva made his debut, dance in India has never been the same. Into his thirtieth year in the film industry, Prabhudheva has donned many hats successfully, and on Friday, his acting acumen will be put to test in the Vijay-directorial Lakshmi, a dance film featuring talented young dancers from the country.

"Lakshmi is an extraordinary film," says the National award-winning choreographer in a freewheeling chat about his upcoming projects, his favourite type of films, and of course, Lakshmi

Young kids like Ditya Bhande (star of Lakshmi) are now entering the film industry. As a teenage entrant into cinema yourself, how do you see this phenomenon?

I've been working in the field for too long, right? (sighs) The thing is when I started out, all I knew was dance. However, kids now go to school, and learn swimming, music, sports, etc. So unlike me, these kids are smarter and much more talented, and in a way, I think they are better prepared. They have an impressive clarity of thought. 

This is your second film with director Vijay. What makes your combination work?

Not just two, we are all set to do our third film together (Devi 2). That's the level of comfort I have with him. Considering that the first time I interacted with him was only during Devi, I feel we have come a long way in a very short time.

There seems to be a sudden increase in the number of serious roles you are playing.

I think filmmakers have finally accepted me as an actor. In Mercury, and even in Devi, I played serious roles. I am once again trying something different with Lakshmi. It is an interesting attempt in an altogether different genre; it is a conscious effort to explore new things.

So, is your film, Pon Manickavel, a result of this conscious effort too?

In Pon Manickavel, I play a police officer for the first time. It is a film that goes completely against the tide of my career. I have directed cop stories (Rowdy Rathore, Pokkiri), but this will be more simple and realistic. It's completely unlike my style.

You have almost 5-6 releases this year. The last time this happened was in the early 2000s. 

Did I actually do so many films in the early 2000s? Well, I am not sure how it happened then and I'm not sure why it is happening again. I think it has just worked out that way. Even now I ask my directors why they choose me? Is it because they didn't find any other actor to play the role? They laugh and explain that they feel I can do justice to the character they envisioned. 

How do you separate the actor from the director?

After all these years, I now know what not to do and I feel it is very important. As a director, there are certain nuances that one notes, and when it gets coupled with maturity and experience, it gets easier to separate the actor from the director.

A lot of choreographers seem to be turning directors. What explains this transition?

It is not just dance choreographers; even stunt choreographers and cinematographers have tried their hand at direction. People like Farah Khan or Remo Fernandes are doing some excellent work. They have spent decades in the industry, and this helps them develop a good rapport with the actors. While narrating their scripts, the artistes are already aware of their technical abilities and style of work; so the transition becomes smoother. 

With filmmakers opting for more realism, the number of song-dance routines seems to be reducing. 

To be honest, I am one of those who loves songs, fights, comedy, and action in films. I believe that's what makes a film. If you take the Telugu film industry, even big stars like Chiranjeevi, Allu Arjun, etc stick to these types of films. The audience for such films will always be the majority; not just in the South, but also worldwide. 

Having won National awards for contrasting styles of choreography, have you found a comfort level with any particular style?

For a long time, I didn't realise that every time I choreograph, there were huge expectations. But now, the need to fulfil expectations is in the back of my head. The audience wants to know what unique thing I'm going to do each time. Though I have this in mind, I don't let it affect my work. For me, it is more about the trust the filmmakers have placed in me 

Any project you are particularly excited about?

Charlie Chaplin 2. It is an interesting subject that deals with a simple conceit but also carries a powerful message. It also has the same levels of fun that the original film had, which was a blockbuster hit in every language it was remade in.

It has been a while since you directed a film in Tamil. What's your next directorial?

I actually don't know why there has been a gap in directing a film in Tamil. I think it is high time to do one. What do you say? However, for now, my next project is Salman Khan's Dabbang 3, which is likely to go on floors in January.

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