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On July 15 morning as I was browsing my Facebook pages, I stopped dead at condolence posts on actor-cum-director Pratap Pothen.  Though neither directly associated with him, nor his passionate fan, I felt my chest puffing with sorrow for a while the way we do at the death of a good man. The heavy moment felt like the shot of a youth playing guitar and singing the line, “en iniya pon nilaavae’ (my sweet golden moon) in the dead of night in front of a girl (Shoba) in the cool air of the night.

Pratap Pothen on the celluloid delivering Tamil lines weirdly and carrying himself awkwardly is a sharp contrast with Pratap Pothen in real life. In several films, he played the character of a cranky and eccentric man. It is a mystery if he relished playing those roles.

Pratap Pothen was a multi-faceted personality – actor, director, producer and writer. He loved direction most, though. He was happier with direction for he believed it to be an art of story-telling. He made his directorial debut in Tamil film “Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai’ (Again a love story) and got the Indira Gandhi Award for the Best Debutant Director.  The film revolves around mentally challenged lovers (played by Pratap Pothen and Radhika, his first wife) put up in an asylum.

The novel that he often said was very dear to him was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Bicycle Thieves was the most influential film for him

Films such as Moodupani (Mist), Varumaiyin Niram Chikappu (The colour of poverty is red), Nenjathai Killaathae (Don’t pinch the heart) showed him acting naturally — underplaying but effective. Did the traits of characters he portrayed on the celluloid rub off on his real personality?  Or, his real-time characteristics got reflected in his portrayals?  It is not clear which is correct or whether both are right.  Yet it seems there’s an underlying connection between the two.

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In the public consciousness, Pratap Pothen was an eccentric man. He portrayed a range of “off” roles in movies  — from characters with quirks to downright psychos. In reality, he was a man who lived his life the way he wanted to, not caring about the conventional norms of good and bad. The one major concern he had was about not troubling others. His career being highly chequered, he felt neither elated at success nor depressed at failure. He took both in his stride.

Born into a politician’s family in Tiruvananthapuram, Pratap Pothen had two males and two females as his siblings.  At age five, he was admitted in Lawrence School in Udhagamandalm. It was a boarding school where rules of discipline and morality were quite strict.  So, no surprise, he felt extremely relieved after schooling. The end of the phase felt like freedom for him.  Not being given parental love in childhood must have had a bearing on him. At age 15 he lost his father. A kind of enmity permeated the father-son relationship because of the father’s political career. His successful Malayalam film Daisy, starring Kamal Haasan, was autobiographical in nature, reconstructing his school life.

Though his father was a politician, he was not interested in that field. At heart he was a communist, he once said, drawing a contrast to his father, a rich businessman. His marriage with Radhika ended in divorce. His subsequent marriage too ended in a fiasco but give him his dear daughter. He openly said, “I’m hardly of the good husband stuff.”

The bitter experiences he had in life mellowed him to a large extent. He was never ambitious. He had never set goals in his career, nor worked frenetically to achieve them either. Life did let him down but on several occasions he declared himself a lucky man. He acted in certain good directors’ films.  In Malayalam, he acted in the film Thakara directed by Bharathan, which went down well with the audience. It was this film remade as Aavarampoo in Tamil which fetched actor Nasser name and fame.  Before Thakara, director Balu Mahendra had cast Pratap Pothen in Azhiyaatha Kolangal.

Poster of Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kadhai directed by Pratap Pothen

He directed, in all, 12 films, each different from the other. The Tamil films he directed – Meendum Oru Kaadhal Kathai, Jeeva, Vettri Vizha, My Dear Marthandan, Aathma, Seevalaperi Pandi, Lucky Man, – and his Malayalam films – Rithupetham, Daisy and Oru Yatra Mozhi – do not seem to be the ventures of a single director because of the massive differences among them.  But it remains a mystery why such creative versatility remained under-praised and under-honoured.

When his directorial venture and Kamal-starrer Vettri Vizha became a blockbuster, the glory did not go to his head like heady wine. He openly admitted the film was an adaptation of the novel, The Bourne Identity.  That film made records in audio sales, becoming the first film to win the Platinum Disc.

Pratap Pothen directed not only feature films but also ad films. Initially in his career, he worked as a copy writer in an ad company.  He staged plays while studying in Madras Christian College.  It was through stage dramas that he got an entry into the tinsel town. His elder brother Hari Pothan was a film producer, who, however, did not help him don the mantle of an actor.

As Kamal Haasan said in his condolence message on Twitter, Pratap Pothen was a serious literary reader. During breaks at shooting, he used to read books. The novel that he often said was very dear to him was Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude. Bicycle Thieves was the most influential film for him.

Pratap Pothen died in his sleep, peacefully, like a flower falling down without pain or like the sun setting — naturally, like his acting

No wonder, such a man of disarming frankness, creative energy, keen versatility, refined tastes  and sophistication, who always called a spade a spade, was seen as a slightly crazy, eccentric and clownish by the film industry. The dream factory is often carried away by awe-inspiring, if mediocre, personalities who knew how to stride the stage like a colossus.

A still from the movie Moodupani

As Pratap Pothen’s life itself reads like an interesting tale, his friends wanted him to write an autobiographic novel. Besides, he himself had a wish to make a good comic film. Unfortunately, both wishes remained unfulfilled.

Most people would recall Pratap Pothen with a smile. He left good memories.

Pratap Pothen died in his sleep, peacefully, like a flower falling down without pain or like the sun setting — naturally, like his acting. Yet it was a bolt out of the blue to those close to him, who were in touch with him even a day before the tragedy. It is quite ironic that on the day before his death, he uploaded a post about death on his Facebook handle. That post has gone viral on social media.

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