Im in the midst of making a bed ready for the next batch of saplings to be planted. Can I call you back a little later?” he says in that unmistakable baritone he’s known for. It’s 5.30pm and Prakash Raj, it appears, is rather busy with farming at his farm house in the outskirts of Hyderabad. An hour later he returns the call and says, “Ah! Let’s continue. I was getting wrapped for the day. There’s so much happening here.” It’s evident that the actor has been both busy and enjoying his time in equal measure on the farm and during the course of the conversation, we get to know that he’s been there since March 11, much ahead of the lockdown. “I am busy celebrating life. My mother, wife, daughters and son everyone is with me and we love every moment. Life has given us this opportunity to reconnect with ourselves and our near and dear ones, so what more could we ask for? Moreover, summers are the best time at the farm. Mangoes are aplenty, there’s pickle to be made, cashews to be harvested, jack fruits to be plucked, fresh bananas, swimming in the pond with the kids, watering our kitchen garden… this lockdown has been a blessing in disguise,” Prakash tells us.
So how did one of the most popular actors of the country take to farming with such passion?
“It probably started about a decade ago. I was straddling a career in multiple languages (he still does) and was so busy with work that I couldn’t find time to indulge in the things I love. But I remember a particular drive to Coorg with one of my daughters and how I was immediately riveted by all the greenery around me. The gurgling streams, the verdant coffee estates, the paddy fields along the way back to Mysore… it all left an indelible impression on me and I came away feeling a deep connection with nature,” recalls Prakash. Before he knew it, the actor had purchased some land in Chennai and Hyderabad and begun exploring his love for nature and farming long before it became a trend to do so. “Being connected to the earth, digging into the soil with your bare hands just sparks something within you. This led to a whole lot of other related activities that I pursued out of personal interest like the ‘Save The Tiger’ campaign in Bandipur, reviving lakes, building sanitation facilities in villages across various States in South India, working for the upliftment of scavengers and other downtrodden through our Prakash Raj foundation; afforestation, building homes for the homeless… I’m trying my best to be of help to society and there’s still so much to be done,” he tells us.
His charitable work continues even amidst the lockdown as the actor has been helping with the cooking and supplying of food for the needy, providing essentials to the poor and even offering shelter to migrant workers in his farm. “The other day, 25 migrant labourers were stranded close to our farm, so I took them in. More have joined us and we now stand at 50 including staff and family. But we are in it together. Since the migrants are from various states, this is a great time for learning their ways and cuisine. I sit with them to learn new dishes and the vegetables all come from the farm which makes it such a satisfying experience,” shares the actor.
A typical day starts at 6.30am when he heads out on the tractor with son Vedaant to watch the sunrise. “We return at 7.30am and have breakfast. Then we are off again to pursue farming and come back for lunch followed by siesta. Evenings we potter about in the garden for a bit and then sit with family and talk into the night followed by dinner,” he narrates. The actor is also spending a lot of time reading. “The voices of P Lankesh, Poornachandra Tejaswi and SL Bhyrappa ring aloud as I revisit their work along with a host of other writers,” states Prakash.
As reports emerge of people undergoing mental issues including depression and mood swings, we ask Prakash about his take on the phenomenon. “I’m reminded of the stories I read of World War 2. The hardships and the trauma faced by civilians during those times. The Great Depression, the 27 years that Nelson Mandela spent in prison. When you look at the life and times of these people, can’t we handle just three months of quarantine, that too which has been imposed for our own good? For those of us who are fortunate to have a roof over our heads and food to eat, it’s a lockdown. What about the ones who are homeless? And we still have time to get depressed? People have asked for my opinion on the government’s work or if I have anything to say about Modi. I tell them that this is a time to work together and that’s how it should be. Be happy, stay positive and use this time to spend the best moments with family. I, for one, have been further humbled by this experience. It’s a time to help ourselves and be of help to others,” he trails off.