Prathap Pothan – the teacher with the Guitar

The enduring image of an unconventional hero in Tamil cinema of the early 80s – if one were to slot him as one – was Prathap strumming the Guitar during a school picnic trip in one of the best school romance movies – ‘Panneer Pushpangal’

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Pratap Pothan and Shobha – En Iniya Pon Nilavae in Moodu Pani                                                            Image Courtesy – Tamil Rasigai

He comes across as a cool and mature person who guides couple of teenagers through a phase of turbulent adolescence. He went on to do far more quirkier roles as well but this one was a popular and defining image for him

Prathap appeared in the supporting cast of many popular Tamil films – Varamai Niram Sigappu (Kamal-Sridevi pic), Penmani Aval Kanmani (Visu all the way), Azhiyadha Kolangal (Balu Mahendra’s story is the real character), Kudumbam Oru Kadambam (part of an ensemble cast) come readily to mind. He did not mind even playing quirky characters but typically was the one to make you to laugh or at least smile at his antics.

He got a chance to play full-fledged lead roles in two popular Tamil movies though – ‘Panneer Pushpangal’ and Balu Mahendra ‘Moodu Pani’. The stories are in great contrast but Prathap is quite entertaining both as a hero as well as a villain. It seems a pity that he did not get to do many more lead roles given the versatility shown by him.

Panneer Pushpangal – (Fragrant Flowers)

Set in the picturesque Ooty it is the tale of a blooming romance between two teenagers that sees them rebel and run away from their school. Sanity prevails as Prathap, in the role of their school teacher, ensures that they come to terms with reality and return to school.

Prathap is perfect in the image of a cool and caring teacher – he makes it look as an attractive vocation. He understands his pupils well and is able to handle divergent personalities. The episode depicting that the girl is infatuated with him and the boy is jealous of their relationship is well depicted. Ilaiyaraaja music including the  number –‘Kodai kaala kaatre …’ is an added plus in the movie.

Moodu Pani – (The Mist)

Prathap was a good choice for the movie by Balu Mahendra as he was relatively new and had not played villain characters. So the thriller element was accentuated – indeed the director is able to retain a sneaking sympathy for his character till the very end though he commits gory acts. It was a very different approach compared to the ruthless Sigappu Rojakkal featuring Kamal Haasan.

Balu Mahendra’s evocative cinematography speaks for itself and Shobha’s talent is well utilized in depicting the vulnerabilities of a young girl. The music is again by Ilaiyaraaja who comes up with lovely music for an apt number in the Ooty locale – ‘Yen Iniya Pon Nilavae …’. Only herein Prathap is so different in character although he continues to strum the guitar.

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