The Prithviraj versus Mohanlal Debate

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.

8 thoughts on “The Prithviraj versus Mohanlal Debate

  1. Atleast our directors and producers dont think Prithviraj has average acting skills otherwise he wouldnt continue to be favorite among top directors like Lal Jose and Ranjith. And with very average acting skills, it wouldnt be easy for him to get Projects outside kerala like Mozhi( with Jyothika and Prakash Raj) , Raavanan( with Maniratnam) , Aurangzeb( with Yashraj) and Happy New Year ( with ShahRukh Khan)But agreed Mohanlal is definitely a better actor , for that matter perhaps the best Kerala has ever produced.

  2. 'Average' is a relative term. It depends on the population of reference. I literally grew up with Malayalam movies. So my reference base is that population of actors- not just Mohan Lal, but anybody and everybody of that era- Mammootty, Sreenivasan, Jayaram, Thilakan, Oduvil Unnikrishnan, Nedumudi Venu, Murali, Jagathi…the list is endless. Exposure to that calibre of acting naturally raises our expectations and we tend to expect a lot more out of Prithvi- since we are considering him in the backdrop of malayalam artists of the past. It is in this regard that I label him as average because he does not share their range of versatility.Secondly, your mention of directors rating him as topmost. There are 2 reasons for this. One, movies today are targeted on commercial success and are hence formula-based. 'What would lure the masses?' goes behind the making of a movie, much more than the passion for making a film. And Prithvi is no doubt the perfect formula for the commercial success of a film. His good looks, his boyish charm, the richness of his voice and the modulations of his tone, the powerful delivery of his dialogues, the intellectual air he carries about him- these would easily appeal to the masses. And yet, this is not what defines an actor.There is a second reason. Prithvi easily passes for an elite cosmopolitan malayalee youth (for which role I can think of none else). This was his character in Nandanam, where he had to essentially enact himself. Navya's character was the tough one, and the soul of the movie. Directors are wise in that they give him roles where he can be himself. And this he does with perfection and grace.Movies today lack depth in their characters. And thus, it is hard to rate talent based on the commercial success of these movies. I quite doubt if Prithvi would have come anywhere close to actors of that era in enacting characters such as the ones in kireedam, Bharatham, Mukundetta Sumithra Villikkunnu, Thazhvaram, Golanthara vartha, Moonam pakkam, Valayam, Sargam, Chakoram….the list is again endless. I remember Prithvi mentioning in his interview that Lal never once congratulated him for any of his performances. I felt sorry, but then how could he? From the standards of our glorious past, it is a little difficult to think of his performances as anything but average…atleast at this point in time. All the same, my best wishes to him for his evolution as a true actor!I must emphasize that this is purely my perspective. I completely respect your sentiments on the issue.Cheers!

  3. This morning i got up early by chance and since some time was left to go to my office , i strted watching mohanlals "pavithram"..Then this doubt raised in my mind…would prithviraj be able to deliver a performance such as lal did in this movie…then i happened to see this blog which cleared my doubt entirely…what you said is entirely true…..

  4. Thanks a ton for the note, reju….I strongly believe that 'Prithviraj' is a passing phase in the industry….but Mohanlal and the rest from that era transcend time….

  5. thats so much for debates :Peven Sachin has to retire…already people are talking about Kohlies and Dhawans though they wont last half the years Sachin did in international cricket!!life is like that… everyone gets his/her due credit :)did i give my best when i was called, maybe thats the only question i need to ask… oops…stopping here after a long gap…and a debate

  6. Pingback: The Prithviraj versus Mohanlal Debate – Vidya Chathoth

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