AFTER putting on hold his career as a doctor, actor Prasanna Puwanarajah finds himself back in the job – only this time it’s on TV and film.
Puwanarajah studied medicine at Oxford University for six years and worked as a junior doctor in hospitals around London. After taking an unpaid sabbatical in 2007 for a year, he found himself extending the break and is now an award-winning director and actor in the West End.
The 33-year-old is one of the stars of Sky’s real-time medical drama Critical which was released on BBC Worldwide DVD on Monday (25). It appears, however, that his medical background is coming into use as he is increasingly bagging roles as hospital doctors and physicians.
“The smell of the talcum powder left on your hands when you take off medical gloves… it means the gloves are gone. Those are very tactile, sensory things that remind you of a previous life,” Puwanarajah told Eastern Eye.
Critical is set in a major trauma centre, a unit which used to treat critically ill patients. Each hour-long episode is based on one patient and the battle to save their life. In the series, Puwanarajah plays Dr Ramakrishna Chandramohan, an anaesthetic registrar and a “ladies man” who likes to “work hard, play hard”.
“I’m proud of the show because it doesn’t always portray people as saintly. It portrays people as real. I was at great pains to not necessarily make decisions about the character that would mean audiences would always like him,” he said.
“I think there are deeper truths to working in highpressure situations. They don’t actually bring out the best in us.” Puwanarajah admitted that though he did understand medical terminology better than his co-stars, they became just as good as him in being “doctors”.
“I suppose there’s a familiarity with some of the bits of kit and reading the script, the terminology is a bit more straightforward. But over time, a few scripts in, everyone was getting up to scratch. All the other actors were professionals doing periodic research. We did boot camp a couple of weeks at St George’s Trauma unit in London. They were an incredible team. They paired us all with healthcare professionals doing the jobs our characters were doing.”
He said his former medical colleagues found the drama more authentic than they expected it to be. “For example, someone eating a chocolate bar, these little bits and pieces are the sort of things you might not imagine people do in trauma medicine, but actually if you talk to people who do it, it’s a wholly recognisable thing. Those things give the show a human detail.”
Puwanarajah’s first role as an actor was as a terrorist in the 2006 ABC TV series, The Path to 9/11, before he moved on to roles in classical plays with the Royal Shakespeare Company and the National Theatre. Currently, he is an associate director of HighTide and on the board for the National Youth Theatre.
“I write and direct; it’s all different ways of exploring people, exploring life, asking questions. I’ve done two theatre pieces after finishing Critical last October, neither have anything to do with medicine. One was set in the Mogul empire and the other set in polling station in Lambeth. It’s just the journey of an actor.”