Prabhudeva on playing cop for the first time with Pon Manickavel, lack of dance songs in Tamil cinema
Prabhudeva, who has directed several cop films, including Salman Khan's Dabangg 3 and Radhe, will soon have first outing as a cop on screen with Pon Manickavel: 'I wanted to essay the character in a particular manner, as someone casual'
The posters and social media hashtags say Pon Manickavel is Prabhudeva’s 50th film, but the choreographer-actor-director does not delight over such milestones. “I don’t really get excited about these numbers. Once I decide to act, these numbers will happen. I’ve not actively sought them, so yes, Pon Manickavel is special, but not because it is my 50th film,” he says, every other line sprinkled with a ‘ji’.
The usually reticent artiste finally opened up, after a long wait for a ‘yes’ for a phone interview. He’s directed cop films, including Salman Khan-starrer Dabangg 3 and Radhe, but AC Mugil Chellappan’s Pon Manickavel is his first outing as a cop on screen. But, as always, Prabhudeva the actor, director and award-winning choreographer work in separate compartments. “I never interfere in anyone else’s department. Maintaining that distance is very important. Rarely, if I feel something is not okay, I might call the associate director and tell him that this is what I feel. Please tell the director. If he agrees, okay. If not, I’ll do what the director says,” explains Prabhudeva.
Quite like Prabhudeva’s choreography which is fluid and graceful, a conversation with him does not follow a structure too. It can veer from music and dance to his parents who live on a farm to his children. Whatever he speaks about his children, there’s a certain level of aachiryam (amazement) at how life has come to be. “My elder one has entered college. It seems like a miracle. This is a child I carried, he’s grown so much. This. when even I feel quite young at heart,” he laughs.
The trappings of stardom have never really mattered to Prabhudeva. He once famously spoke about how all he needed was the floor to sleep on. “True-ji. Even in London, I will happily sleep on the floor. What’s the big deal? I grew up that way and continue to live a life like that. I might be an actor, director or choreographer from a certain time to a certain time of the day. During that time, people might take extra care of me. After that, it’s just me. Like you do your work and go home, like a carpenter finishes his work, like a policeman wraps up work for the day, I do the same. Why should that be a big deal?” he wonders.
Everyone has struggled to understand how someone who is shy to a fault can be so exuberant on screen? What happens when the camera is turned on? “Money. Don’t be shocked, but money speaks. When we are children, we all grow up wanting to make money and live a good life. When we grow up, we avoid using the word money. It sounds almost bad. But, this is about money — not mine, but someone else’s. That person has paid for my time, for me to do this thing. I have to be responsible and do justice to it. I have to do right by the producer. Once I commit to something…” Salman Khan dialogue? I ask. “Illa ji, Pokkiri dialogue,” he quips.
One thing Prabhudeva the actor is very conscious about is another person’s time and another person’s dream. “A director probably got a chance to direct after some years. In that dream of his, he’s given me a part, I don’t have the right to spoil that dream of his. I have to ensure it is a happy dream,” he says.
This is why for the first two-three days, he would call the director to ask if he’s happy with the performance. “Then I take a break from calling. Again, towards the end, I’ll call the director to ask if he’s happy. That is important.”
Something similar happened for Pon Manickavel. “I wanted to essay the character in a particular manner. We have seen many cops, and I wanted to play this character as someone casual. I attempted something and showed it to the director, who okayed it. And so, we maintained that look and gait,” shares Prabhudeva.
In 2019, ‘Rowdy Baby’ from Maari 2, choreographed by Prabhudeva went viral and continues to draw new fans. Does he ever feel some of his earlier work deserves as much love? “Illa ji, that is wrong. I’m grateful for what I have. We had television and cable TV. Now we’ve grown to see the Internet. Imagine those before us, who did such good work and were never known. Our plight is better than theirs, right,” he asks.
He feels the same about certain composers and writer-directors, especially Bhagyaraj. “Enna talent and writing ji. He wrote such a wide range of films, and we need to celebrate him more,” he says.
For someone who has choreographed thousands of songs, Prabhudeva is concerned at the lack of dancing songs in Tamil films. “We focus more on montage songs. There are very few dances, solo or otherwise,” he points out. “Without opportunities for dancing, how will new talent come up?”
For long, Prabhudeva has mentioned that his dance teachers Dharmaraj Master and Udupi Lakshman are like his gods. Has he actively mentored any students? “Not really. However, while choreographing, I give it my all. If someone is dancing well in the back row, they’ll find themselves in the front. I encourage all my dancers. I might be strict if they don't do something right. I will put them through the paces, but I will always encourage them. How they use the time with me is up to them. So many from my team are now good dancers and some are dance masters too. They now tell me that the training regiment here helped them do well, and that makes me very happy.”
Would he rate anyone as a good dancer? “I don’t like to do that. I can choreograph a dance for anyone who is interested. They can be untrained, but I will train them. I hate lethargy. If you’re not interested in the song, the camera will capture it.”
For over three decades, Prabhudeva has had a ringside seat to the happenings of the film industry — from reel films to digital. How does he see this change? “See, this is like growing tall. You don’t always realise that you’re growing tall. One day, your clothes will fall short and you’ll see a different view from that increased height. This is like that too. I am the same person, but once every few years, we hold the hands of a new technology and move forward. And also realise that what we are seeing is different from what we saw some years ago. Growth should be like that, it should happen without our active participation,” he says.
Pon Manickavel is streaming on Disney+ Hotstar.
Subha J Rao is a consultant writer and editor based out of Mangaluru, Karnataka. There, she keeps alive her love for cinema across languages. You can find her on Twitter @subhajrao.
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