Prakash Raj slams Narendra Modi: What prompted the apolitical actor's recent outburst

Hemanth Kumar

Oct,03 2017 15:19 39 IST

Prakash Raj, actor and filmmaker, kicked the figurative hornet’s nest on Monday, 2 October, when his speech at the inauguration of the 11th State Meet of the Democratic Youth Federation of India went viral on the internet. Speaking at the event, he lashed out at a section of people, some of whom are being followed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Twitter, who have been ‘celebrating’ the murder of popular journalist Gauri Lankesh. Further, he also slammed Modi for not issuing a statement about Gauri’s death and condemning those who are apparently ‘happy’ with this incident.

“Gauri’s killers may not have been caught yet, but what is more distressing is those who celebrated her death. We may not be able to see Gauri’s killers, but we can see those who have spewed vitriol... People, who our Prime Minister follows, are also among them. We have a Prime Minister who turns a blind eye to this,” Prakash Raj said, during his speech at the event, adding, “I am a renowned actor, do you (Modi) think I will not be able to detect when you are acting? At least show me some respect, considering the fact that I am an actor and I will be able to tell what is the truth and what is acting.”

Prakash Raj. Image courtesy Facebook/@PrakashRajOfficial

Prakash Raj. Image courtesy Facebook/@PrakashRajOfficial

Also read — Prakash Raj maintains stance on Narendra Modi but clarifies he is not returning National Awards

Not surprisingly, the actor’s speech raised a storm in newsrooms, and he was soon trending on social media. Never before has the actor-and-director, who is one of the most popular actors in Telugu and Tamil cinema, been in the news for his political views. In fact, this is one of the rare instances when Prakash Raj has been in the news for a topic beyond the realm of cinema. The only other instance where he lost his cool was in October 2016 when he lashed out at a TV channel for dragging him into the Cauvery water sharing dispute between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu. While promoting his film Idolle Ramayana, when a TV channel anchor asked him about his opinion on the water dispute between the two states, Prakash Raj snapped back saying, “This is a sensitive issue and it has been going on in courts for a long time. Are you trying to create a controversy by dragging me into this? I’m just a filmmaker.”

In his career spanning more than two decades, Prakash Raj has acted in scores of Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Kannada, and even Hindi films. Born and brought up in Bengaluru, Prakash Raj began his acting career with Doordarshan serials in Kannada like Bisilu Kudure (Kannada) and Guddada Bhootha (Tulu and Kannada), which paved the way for him to do numerous supporting roles in Kannada. Later, it was Balachander who introduced him as a lead actor with the film Duet (1994). The film which turned him into a force to reckon with was Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar (1997), which also fetched him a National Award for best supporting actor. The actor had played Tamizhselvan, a character clearly inspired by DMK chief M Karunanidhi. Eventually, Prakash Raj become the most sought after actor for playing negative roles in Telugu and Tamil films including Okkadu, Pokiri etc.

In recent years, Prakash Raj had openly stated that he had gotten bored of “acting in films” since he felt that he wasn’t being challenged enough. This led him to take a long break from taking up acting roles and instead, he began directing films — Dhoni, Ulavacharu Biryani, Mana Oori Ramayanam — and also developing stage plays in Kannada and English. In 2015, he returned to the theatre circuit with an adaptation of a popular play by Girish Karnad. Back then, Prakash Raj had said, “I had promised my guru and mentor, late BV Karanth, that I would achieve something and later come back to theatre. I want to keep my word.” People close to Prakash Raj often talk about how profound his philosophy of life is: “He loves poetry, literature, writing, and collecting books. In fact, it’s his distinct view of life and how he wants to live that makes him so charismatic," a close friend of Prakash Raj said.

That he’s an emotional man is well-documented, and his outbursts of anger, at times in front of the media, are not unheard of. A few years ago, when Sreenu Vaitla dropped him from the cast of Aagadu, alleging that he misbehaved with an assistant director on the sets of the film, it led to a huge spat between them. At a press conference, Prakash Raj went on record to say that someone had been trying to sabotage his career on purpose and recited a poem, “Nannu Rallo Tho Kottaku pattukoni illu kattestha, nannu kalcheyalani nippu pettaku intiki deepam chesukunta..nannu ee industry nunchi pampincheyalani tharamaku, cheraalasina chotu twaraga cheripothu. Daya chesi chepthunna, nannu champalani visham pettaku, mingesi neelakantundhi aipotha (Don’t throw stones at me, I’ll build a house. Don’t try to burn me down, I'll light a lamp with the fire. Don’t try to kick me out of the industry; I’ll reach my destination sooner. Please, don’t try to poison me, I’ll gulp the poison down my throat and become Neelakanta).” When Sreenu Vaitla ended up using the same lines as a dialogue in the film claiming that he felt it was a tribute to him from Prakash Raj, the actor shot back saying, “Sreenu Vaitla is absolutely shameless.” The two have buried the hatchet and moved on since then.

While he has often gotten into trouble due to his supposed high-handedness while dealing with Telugu filmmakers in the past, Prakash Raj has been apolitical in general. In fact, he was praised by the TRS government when he went adopted a village Kondareddipalle in Mahabubnagar district of Telangana. In less than two years, Prakash Raj transformed the village with a lot of developmental works, including a new school building, better roads, water connection, sanitation among other things. The actor also owns a farm house close to this village and he’s known to be spending a lot of time at the farm house where he engages in with organic farming, writing, and bonding with his friends and family members.

While there hasn’t been any instance, so far, where Prakash Raj spoke against the establishment, his latest tirade against the government stems from the fact that he was a close friend of Gauri Lankesh. Explaining his comments that he made at the event, Prakash Raj said, “I didn’t say that I’ll return my National Awards, like everyone is claiming in the media. I have no intention to do that and I feel that I’ve truly earned them. What I’m really angry about is the fact that a section of people are celebrating the death of a journalist and some of these people are being supported by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. As a citizen of this country, I’ve every right to question the government when something is wrong. That’s all I’ve done.”

What Prakash Raj said is no different from what a lot of other journalists, Opposition party members had said in the days following the death of Gauri Lankesh. This has clearly got more to do with how some people are justifying the murder of a journalist, and what makes it worse is that some of them claim to be ‘followed by Modi on Twitter’. There’s certainly no reason why something like this should be encouraged in society. You don’t have to be a Prakash Raj to point it out.