When I first saw Prithviraj on the sets of Nandanam, I was completely bowled over by his personality- elite, handsome, confident and assertive. It was his individuality and extroversion that captured my attention- something amiss in Malayalam cinema. He was a fresh face on the screen, perhaps giving voice to the youth of a new generation.
And then I heard all these squabbles over Prithviraj versus Mohan Lal.
Mohan Lal is an image that is deep rooted in my mind. To me, he represents the numerous versatile characters he has enacted over a span of several years- characters that are engraved in my mind for somewhere, they belong in the emotional realms of my mind. They are characters that represent fragments of familiarity, comfort and reassurance. They are characters in whom one discovers the ingredients of humanity that one constantly seeks in real life.
I do think it is baseless to ‘compare’ these two personalities. It would be more mature on our part to give Prithvi his due merit and restrict ourselves to constructive criticism on his performance.
However, such a squabble did set me thinking on these two personalities and the differences in them. I watched Prithvi’s interview shortly after his marriage and was impressed by the clarity of his thoughts and the ease/courage with which he put across his thoughts. The conservative malayalee will brand his individuality as ‘attitude’ or ‘arrogance’.
But then I ask myself-
I love him as an individual…do I love him as an actor?
Nandanam was a masterpiece by Ranjith. And the truth is that I was too much in love with the movie to contemplate on Prithvi’s proficiency as an actor. As subsequent movies unfolded, I found his acting lacked a ‘dropping of the self ‘- the ability to ‘feel’ a situation and give in to the feeling. He seemed to ‘think out’ a situation, rather than ‘feel’ it. In fact, there are a good many young actors in some Malayalam serials who outdo his performance any day- I always wonder why they don’t make it to movies. Prithvi is good at roles that demand assertiveness. But that is not what defines an actor. An actor is one who can effortlessly shed his own personality and get into the soul and spirit of the character in the movie- who can become one with the character and internalize the character and situation. It is in this regard that Mohan Lal and Prithvi differ. Lal is the product of a different era- he is the sum total of years of grooming and moulding by harsher personal and professional circumstances (the harshness that transforms events into experiences), a slow rise to fame that encompassed acting across a broad range of characters and situations, and of course, ingenious mentors. Perhaps, if writers and directors such as Bharathan, Padmarajan, MT, Lohithadas did not form the voices on which the foundation of Malayalam cinema rested, Mohan Lal may not have been so fortunate. Also, Lal’s personality is more contained; he ‘contains’ his emotions. He is not impulsive and assertive. It is these contained emotions that define an artist for they seep into the artist’s unconscious as emotions that could never be expressed and were contained in silence, and it is these emotions that are liberated in the artist’s art. Prithvi comes across as a character moulded by circumstances that were more conducive to free expression ( the fundamental reason why older artists are often richer when compared to the artists of today who have collected fewer experiences in the course of their lives). An assertive individual often dissipates emotions with impulsivity; he lacks the ability to contain emotions. Such individuals are unable to act from the contained emotions in their unconscious. To be a fine actor, one must have allowed oneself to feel and experience the range and depth of emotions that one wants to portray on screen. One must have in one’s mind the silence and solitude to allow these emotions to attain depth- to allow them to percolate and to mature. Prithvi’s personality lacks this silence and solitude of mind that is vital in shaping an artist. I think he would make a brilliant journalist.
When we think of Lal, all his characters come to our minds. There is very little we know about the individual, Mohan Lal. We know him and remember him as the sum total of all the characters he has brilliantly enacted; Lal is that raw. On the other hand, when we think of Prithvi, it is his own personality that comes to our minds- the individual ‘Prithviraj’, whose personality has spilled into all his characters. This is the primary difference between these two personalities that I love in entirely different ways.
It is true that Lal and Mammootty bring down their standards when they play characters that are absurd and superficial, but as Lal himself has put it-‘I am what the film makers make of me. Lal is not one person; he is the work output of numerous people who have stood backstage and gone into his making’.
I think the entire film industry needs a serious revision and redefining of standards. I can only wish that someone would somehow turn the key and we could go back to the golden era of the 90s when movies set standards for life.