Prithviraj Sukumaran on His Role in Salaar, Starring Prabhas, Directed by K.G.F. Filmmaker Prashanth Neel (EXCLUSIVE)

South Indian cinema A-lister Prithviraj Sukumaran is an integral part of the cast of “Salaar,” starring Prabhas (the Baahubali franchise) and directed by Prashanth Neel (the K.G.F. franchise).

Though he was approached for the role more than 18 months ago, Sukumaran nearly could not do the film because he was busy with Jordan and Algeria shoots for Blessy’s pandemic-delayed magnum opus “Aadu Jeevitham.” As luck would have it, “Salaar” was also delayed and the dates finally aligned. Sukumaran began shooting for the film in September.

“There are multiple reasons why ‘Salaar’ would be a no-brainer for anybody to say yes to – it’s a Prashanth Neel film, a Hombale Films [the K.G.F. franchise] production and it is Prabhas’ film,” Sukumaran told Variety. “It is Prabhas’ return to mainstream mass commercial cinema after a while. His films post ‘Saaho’ have been slightly away from the mass action genre.”

While Sukumaran is not at liberty to divulge much detail, he says a lot of ‘Salaar’ revolves around Prabhas and his own character, named Vardharaja Mannaar.

“The crux of the story is very much between Prabhas’ character and mine,” says Sukumaran. “I deem it a privilege that somebody like Prashanth Neel post ‘K.G.F: Chapter 2’ [the third highest grossing film in the history of Indian cinema] thought it was worth waiting for me to be able to join the film. And I’m glad I made that decision to finally say yes to it, because having shot for a few days, I think it might just be one of those epic cinematic experiences. So, I’m really looking forward to ‘Salaar’ as much as an actor, as I’m as a film lover.”

Sukumaran, a lead actor with more than 120 credits, primarily operates in the Malayalam-language cinema industry, based in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Barring a blip in the early 2000s, the industry is known for its consistently excellent output. Sukumaran is at the forefront of it with his production and distribution company Prithviraj Productions, which he runs with his wife Supriya Menon.

“Malayalam cinema does not put together ‘projects’ – we only make films. We did go through a phase in the early 2000s, where we put together projects,” says Sukumaran, adding that during that time producers would attach an actor, then a director and after that look for a subject that suited their respective strengths rather than a film being born organically from the minds of writers and directors.

“We don’t have as much money as the other industries, we don’t have as much scope as the other industries. We don’t have as much audience as the other industries. So the only way we can compete in the larger scheme of things, is to come up with original and new and good and interesting content,” said Sukumaran. “That realization dawned upon us and I believe that is one of the driving forces behind Malayalam cinema going through a new so-called renaissance.”

One of the prime examples of this brave new content dates back to 2013 when Sukumaran agreed to play a gay character in “Mumbai Police,” an unconventional choice for a mainstream star of Indian cinema. Sukumaran says that the director Rosshan Andrrews and the Bobby-Sanjay writing team “gingerly” approached him with this pivotal twist in the neo-noir film’s plot.

“When I did ‘Mumbai Police,’ as an actor I made a giant leap of faith, and I trusted the audience in Kerala. And my trust in them paid off,” says Sukumaran. ” ‘Mumbai Police’ as a film is only significant because it happened back then. And it happened with who people would perceive to be a relatively big star and because it went against the popular narrative of how a gay man should be in cinema. All these put together is what made that film so shockingly original back then.”

Sukumaran has a raft of projects coming up in various capacities. As an actor, “Salaar” is due a Sept. 28, 2023 release, while “Aadu Jeevitham” is in post and aiming for a major film festival slot in 2023. Drama “Gold” by Alphonse Puthren (“Premam”) is due in the next few months and Shaji Kailas’ crime thriller “Kaapa,” a film put together to raise funds for the Writers’ Union of Kerala, has just wrapped. Drama “Vilayath Budha,” the unrealized dream of late writer-director Sachy (“Driving Licence,” “Ayyappanum Koshiyum”), will start next.

The actor debuted in Bollywood with “Aiyyaa” (2012) and also had roles in “Aurangzeb” (2013) and “Naam Shabana” (2017). He is returning to the industry in 2023 with a project that has been greenlit but not announced yet.

“L2: Empuraan,” the sequel to Sukumaran’s directorial debut “Lucifer” (2019), has been written and will commence mid-2023.

As a producer, “Selfiee,” a remake of Sukumaran’s “Driving License,” starring Akshay Kumar, is due a Feb. 2023 release, and as a distributor, the Malayalam dub of Rishab Shetty’s Kannada-language hit “Kantara,” will release next week. In the streaming space, a series on biscuit baron Rajan Pillai, starring and to be directed by Sukumaran, is in the bible preparation stage.

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