He may not be classically good-looking, but there’s something very sweet about Prabhudheva. Even though he has been in the industry for about 25 years, having established himself with over 100 films as a choreographer, 15 as a director and 38 as an actor, he is remarkably down-to-earth. He addresses almost every actor in the industry with a polite ‘sir’ or ‘ma’am’. “It feels nice to be polite,” he says. “You get the same treatment in return.”
Prabhudeva in action at the at the red carpet of the People's Choice awards.
This June, Prabhudheva moved to Mumbai, bag and baggage, leaving behind a failed marriage with Ramlath and a failed relationship with actress Nayanthara. Now perceived as a star director in Bollywood, with successful films like Wanted and Rowdy Rathore behind him and a kit of big films that he has just signed, the choreographer-turned-director has decided to keep his head down and just work.
In a chat with HT Café at Filmistan where he is shooting Ramaiya Vastavaiya, Prabhudheva shares some interesting facets of his life.
Almost all Bollywood stars want to work with you now. Isn’t that great feeling?
There are so many talented people around, but the fact that I am getting to do this means I am blessed. Even though I started my Bollywood stint years ago with Muqabala and Que Sera Sera, I am getting a footing here only now. Nobody from Bollywood called me after the songs got popular back then. I wonder why. I would have loved to come to Mumbai long ago. But I guess everything happens at the right time.
And no, I am not a great director that everyone wants to work with. I have just given a few hit films. Great directors are the ones who have an impressive body of work and have made fine films. There are so many of them in Bollywood.
You are coming back with Salman Khan after Wanted (2009).
Yes, it’ll be another action-packed entertaining film. Whenever Salman sir is ready to start the film, I will do it. I am also doing an ad film with him. Salman sir is a nice person, very cooperative. He thinks and talks from the heart. That’s why he has such phenomenal appeal. Sometimes he may appear little off the mark, but he’s a very genuine and nice guy, very straightforward.
Did you shift base to Mumbai from Chennai because your personal life is shattered and that affected your professional life?
I shifted here because I am doing a lot of Hindi projects. I have already started on Ramaiya Vastavaiya with Shruti Haasan and newcomer Girish Jain, which will be followed by my film with Shahid Kapoor. Then I’m doing Ajay Devgn’s next and Salman sir’s film.
There is a lot of work before a movie begins. I have to be here, for casting, look tests, costumes approval, music sittings, meetings, etc. How could I have managed all this from Chennai? I agree my personal life has been devastated, but it hasn’t affected my professional life in the south. That has been consistently good by God’s grace.
Where do you stay in Mumbai?
I have rented Boney sir’s (Kapoor) old place in Juhu. It’s very generous of him to let me stay there.
With all the big stars wanting to work with you, why did you choose to do your next film with a newcomer like Girish Jain and with Shruti Haasan who hasn’t been able to make a mark in Bollywood?
I don’t choose films, producers choose me. As for this film, the subject demands fresh actors. It’s a feel-good, musical film with a strong backdrop of romance. As for Shruti, she is the daughter of the legendary Kamal Haasan. We look up to him. She’s very hard working.
‘I couldn’t figure out if I was academically challenged or just disinterested!’
Tell us something about your childhood?
I was a very bad student, perhaps the weakest and the worst in the entire school. I dragged myself through my studies till the 11th standard and then I failed. In fact, I was the only student in the college to fail that year. And before I could further tarnish the reputation of my college, I was debarred. Have you heard of anyone failing in class XI? To date I can’t figure out if I was academically disinterested or academically challenged. And then I had no choice left but to assist my dad (Sundaram master) who is a noted choreographer in Tamil movies.
Did you always want to be a choreographer?
No, not at all. You see, I had no choice. Luckily I had learnt Bharatnatyam from my gurujis Dharmaraji and Udipi Lakshminarayanan and I credit my success to them. After I joined dad, I started taking dancing very seriously. And in no time, I became a film choreographer at the age of 15. But your break-dance and other forms of western dance are equally famous.
That’s because of my interest. I picked up the basics especially by watching videos of Michael Jackson. I was in the eighth standard then and MJ videos were a rage. I remember, while rehearsing for my Bharatnatyam dances with my gurujis, I would imitate Michael Jackson’s moves.
What would you have been if you were not an actor/director and choreographer?
I would have been a peon or a traffic policeman. I love the power of a traffic cop, especially when he steers the traffic and hauls up traffic offenders. Anyway, with so much brain and such low qualifications, what job could I get otherwise?
People blame your relationship with Nayanthara for the breakup of your marriage?
That’s very wrong. Why would I or anyone blame an outside factor for something that goes wrong in your personal life? God wanted it this way. I have coped and dealt with all of this and have emerged much stronger, gained experience, maturity, and a mind to understand that all this happens and it’s fine. You have to move on. The high and low times of my life, the happiness, pain and suffering are all my own doing and God wanted it this way. As for the relationship with Nayanthara, it’s a finished matter for a year now. I have forgotten all those things and moved on. I am very much single and too busy to be distracted. I like it this way.
Are you in touch with your wife, Ramlath? It was a love marriage, right?
Yes, it was a love marriage. And I understand that whatever happens is God’s will. No, we don’t talk. But I am in touch with my sons Rishi Raghavendra and Adhith. I talk to them daily. They came down to spend their holidays with me here. We are planning to go to Hong Kong soon.
Do you have a commitment phobia?
Nothing like that. Every relationship has a certain reason to grow or break. And I had mine and I don’t want to wash dirty linen in public.
Do you agree that because the glamour industry is full of good-looking people, temptations can be big here? A close friend of yours said that you want to work with Amitabh Bachchan?
Aiyyo. Who said this? Even if I get a chance to work with him as a director, I don’t know if I will be able direct/instruct him ever. He is a big star for me, he is a legend, and not just in Bollywood. The entire south of India is in awe of him. But if that happens, that’ll be my dream come true and I sincerely hope I don’t collapse with the excitement.
Why haven’t you done a film with Madhuri Dixit after your famous Ke Sera Sera dance?
After that song, I always thought someone would cast Madhuri and me. But that never happened. Somebody should cast us in a song now. Much as I would like to cast both of us in my movies, I know that I cannot approach her with just anything. It has to be something solid and comfortable.
Beautiful people exist in all industries. The IT industry, media, wherever you go, you see beauties around you. So much so that, where I stay in Tamil Nadu, my friends ask me, ‘Mumbai girls are very beautiful, no?’ They find every girl walking down the road beautiful. Let me tell you that one gives in to temptation, or has affairs in all fields. It’s not just the glamour industry. Yes, it exists here, but it also exists outside and I know of it.
Do you agree that relationships in glamour industry are fragile?
I don’t know. I don’t know how my relationships or marriage failed. To date I cannot fathom why. Honestly, how is the Hindi film industry different from the industry in the south, as far as professionalism goes?
Each film has its own market and set-up. I never get into the business side of films. But nowadays, Hindi films are also becoming perfect and professional. I think they adopt excellent marketing strategies. Also, the release date of the film is finalised in the inception stage and they amzingly manage to release on the fixed date. I must say Hindi films are proving to be highly competent and superbly marketed and are on par with Hollywood.
Which do you consider your biggest film so far?
My Tamil film Pokkiri (2006) is my biggest hit so far.
You have worked with Salman Khan and Akshay Kumar, now you are working with Ajay Devgn. Is nothing working out with Shah Rukh Khan?
Who doesn’t want to work with Shah Rukh sir? But I am a director, and I have no specific demands. My job is to work with everyone.
Do you feel Bollywood superstars are pricey and starry in their attitude as compared to the south stars?
I think everyone, including producers, directors and others around a superstar, are comfortable with his or her style and attitude. That’s okay. Nobody complains, at least not in the unit.You have been in films for 25 years.
What is the good and the bad side of the glamour industry?
The good thing is that there is name, fame and money. It’s a dream world, just too beautiful and too good to be true. You get to travel to the most exotic places and meet different people across the world. I don’t see or sense the negative side of things.
But one thing is certain — success is temporary and short-lived here. One must not take success home. One must leave behind the persona on the sets and face reality.
Prabhudeva’s 5 best dancers of Bollywood
Hrithik Roshan: He is a superb dancer. He has excellent and fluid body movements. He could give me good competition.
Ranbir Kapoor: I find him a very able and intelligent dancer. He picks up fast.
Ranvir Singh: He’s a damn good dancer. I like watching him.
Varun Dhawan: Terrific moves and body movements. Superb timing. He has a great future as a dancer.
Shahid Kapoor: He is an extremely fine dancer. He has twinkle toes. If he remains on the slimmer side, he could be competition for me as well.