Prakash Raj: The greatest movie villain, comedian, character artist and storyteller

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Prakash Raj turns 56 on Friday. The moment we hear his name, his many performances as the villain in his career spanning over three decades come to mind. Which is his best performance in a villainous role? There is no easy answer to that question. Think back to his performance in the 1995 film Aasai, in which he plays a decorated army officer, Major Madhavan. It must be the wickedest character that the Tamil film industry had produced at the time. Major Madhavan pretends to be a noble and selfless-men, but behind that mask, he’s a lustful creature who is willing to go to any extent to indulge his evil desires. His lack of remorse in the scene where he stages his wife’s murder is the stuff nightmares are made of.

Oh wait, what about his role in director Balachander’s Kalki. The lying, chauvinistic, philanderer who mistreats his wife without an iota of guilt? Or the hot-headed, extremely violent, feudal lord – Narasimha in Anthahpuram? The transgender brothel-keeper in Appu? And we can’t forget his most recent performance as Janakiraman in director Vetrimaaran’s Oor Iravu in Netflix anthology Paava Kadhaigal, can we now? Prakash effortlessly transforms from a soft-spoken and seemingly caring father to an unreasonably bigoted man, who nonchalantly kills his pregnant daughter for the sake of his caste pride.

Oor Iravu

Sai Pallavi and Prakash Raj in Oor Iravu.Also, let’s not forget he is not only known for subtle acting, he is also commercially the most successful villain that the south Indian film industry has produced yet. He has acted in all four south Indian languages as well as in Hindi. He can be realistic and flamboyant at the same time. Who can forget Muthu Pandi from Ghilli? Or Gowri Shankar in Dil? You can’t help but crack-up looking at the way he reacts when he finds out the truth about his wife’s “distant relatives” at the end of Dil. Then there are Pokiri, Sivakasi, Ayya, Businessman and more?

It would also be a grave injustice to classify Prakash Raj as just a screen villains. While he is a pro at that, he can also tickle your funny bone. Think of his performances in the commercial potboilers, especially in the scenes where he begs the hero to spare his life. These climactic scenes have become a staple in mindless entertainers he does in Telugu cinema. Even if you see such scenes for the 100th time, his acting still gets you.

And he is the main comedian in Mozhi. Mind you, the film also had Brahmanandam in it and yet Prakash steals the show as a happy-go-lucky guy named Viji, who makes you grin and occasionally burst out laughing with his antics. He is not just one of the all-time greatest movie villains but also a brilliant comedian. And that’s just barely scratching the surface of his talent.

There’s more to him as an artist and storyteller.

Besides wickedness and humour, he can also make you feel a gamut of other emotions. He can leave you inspired as Tamizhselvan in Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar. He can show you how to be a good father and come to terms with the midlife crisis in Abhiyum Naanum. At the same time, he can make you ridicule him and admire him at once as a doting father in Bommarillu. He can make you feel the pain of a father, who’s worried about the dignity and safety of his daughter in Parugu. He can also show you how to be a better husband in O Kadhal Kanmani.

Some may call it a premature comment but we will stick our neck out and say it — Prakash Raj is a legend.

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