Prakash Raj turned 56 on Friday. The moment we hear his name, his career as a villain in his career over three decades comes to mind. Which is his best performance as a villain? There is no simple answer to that question. Think back to his performance in the 1995 film Aasai, in which he played the role of Major Madhavan, an army officer. It must have been the wicked character of the time that the Tamil film industry produced. Major Madhavan pretends to be a noble and selfless man, but behind that façade, he is a carnal creature who is willing to go to any lengths to satisfy his evil desires. There is a lack of remorse in the scene where he murders his wife, that stuff is a nightmare.
Oh wait, about his role in director Balachander’s Kalki. A lying, characterless, philanthropist who abuses his wife without guilt? Or in Antapuram with a hot-faced, extremely violent, feudal lord – Narasimha? Transgender brothel-keeper in Appu? And we can’t forget his most recent performance as Janakiraman in director Vetrimaran’s Oror Iravu in the Netflix anthology Paava Kadhigal, can we now? Prakash effortlessly takes care of an unreasonably grown man from a soft-spoken and seeming father who kills his pregnant daughter for the pride of his caste.
Sai Pallavi and Prakash Raj in Oye Irawu. Forget that he is not only known for subtle acting, he is also the most commercially successful villain the South Indian film industry has produced so far. He has acted in all four South Indian languages as well as Hindi. He can be realistic and flamboyant at the same time. Who can forget Muthu Pandi from Gilli. Or Gauri Shankar at heart? At the end of the heart you cannot help but watch his reaction when he discovers the truth about his wife’s “distant relatives”. Then there are Pokiri, Sivakasi, Ayya, Businessman and more?
It would also be a gross injustice to classify Prakash Raj as just a villain. While he is a supporter, he can also tickle your funny bone. Think of his performance in the commercial potboiler, especially in the scenes where he asks the hero to save his life. These climactic scenes have become a staple in the goofy entertainment that he performs in Telugu cinema. If you see such scenes even for the 100th time, you still get their acting.
And he is the lead comedian in Mojhi. Keep in mind, the film also had Brahmanandam and yet Prakash stole the show as a jovial person named Vij, who makes you smile and sometimes laugh with his antics. He is not only one of the greatest movie villains of all time, but also a brilliant comedian. And he is just barely scratching the surface of his talent.
He has a lot to offer as an artist and storyteller.
Apart from wickedness and humor, he can also make you feel a sorrow of other emotions. He can inspire you as Tamizhselvan in Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar. He can show you how to be a good father and Abhayam comes to Naanum with a mid-life crisis. At the same time, he can ridicule you and once praise him as a father in Bommarillu. He can make you feel the pain of a father, who is concerned about the dignity and safety of his daughter in Parugu. He can also show you how O Kadhal can be a better husband in Kanmani.
Some may call it a premature comment but we will roll out our necks and say – Prakash Raj is a legend.