Actor Karthi
Actor Karthi’s Viruman hits the screens on Friday, August 12.

Karthi speaks on Viruman, Ponniyin Selvan, and why he could not do Vikram

Just like a software engineer has to upskill himself, an actor has to constantly learn and update himself, says the versatile actor

Karthi had a dream debut with the blockbuster Paruthiveeran, which also fetched critical acclaim and laurels for the actor. The films that followed —Aayirathil Oruvan, Naan Mahan Alla, Paiyaa, and Siruthai — were not exactly big hits, but Karthi revived his 15-year career with content-driven films with strong stories, and sensible entertainers.

“Like any industry, we have to constantly learn and update ourselves,” Karthi told The Federal in an exclusive interview. “If a software engineer refuses to learn any new programming language, he can’t grow in his field. Similarly, as actors, we have to adapt to the changes that are happening around us.”

Also read: Half-yearly report | Big hits and misses in Southern box office

Karthi, son of veteran actor Sivakumar and brother of Suriya of Jai Bhim and Soorarai Pottru fame, is set for his latest film, Viruman, to launch on Friday, August 12. The film also stars Aditi Shankar, Rajkiran, Prakash Raj, Soori and Karunas.

Conscious effort

Paruthiveeran was a big blockbuster, all thanks to Ameer sir, who gave me a dream debut. Later, people started asking me why I didn’t sign any other (good) film — they were not aware of Aayirathil Oruvan,” recalled Karthi. “Naan Mahan Alla, Paiyaa, and Siruthai were a conscious effort to expand the market.”

“I’ve also seen enough failures. When I sat back and analysed my career, I understood that there was room to reinvent myself. Thankfully, with films like Madras, Komban, Theeran Adhigaram Ondru and Kaithi, I found the other side of me,” said Karthi, quickly summarising his career graph.

Till date, Karthi has an impeccable track record when it comes to rural entertainers. “I enjoy doing rural films because our roots are in villages. Each area has a different lifestyle, culture, and dialect. From an outsider’s point of view, Paruthiveeran and Komban are Madurai-based films but the villages are different and hence, the way people behave in these two parts are different,” he explained.

Rural flicks

“Most city people have their roots in villages, so when we make rural films, they instantly connect with the characters. Another advantage is that I don’t have to worry much about my looks — I don’t even have to comb my hair,” he quipped.

Also read: Nayanthara enters Rs 10-cr club, retains top South actress status

While rural entertainers tell salt-of-the-earth stories, they often earn criticism for glorifying any one particular caste. “When a filmmaker narrates me a story, I only see whether the emotions work out. For example, no one explored the relationship between son-in-law and father-in-law before Komban. I loved that angle in the film. Similarly, Viruman is all about a son who celebrates — and even presents a gold ring to — someone who hits his own dad. When M Muthaiah explained the reason behind the enmity between Viruman and his dad, it was fascinating. If we start nit-picking, we can’t do any films.”

Talking about how closely he follows box-office numbers, Karthi said: “Well, to an extent, I have to follow it to evaluate the business of my films. But I don’t give too much attention to the numbers because it might affect my choice of films. The box-office number is nothing but how many people have seen our films. Rather than numbers, I look for how many people have liked my film — it would eventually lead to footfalls, aka box-office numbers. If it was about the number game, films like Kaithi wouldn’t have happened.”

Lokesh’s cinematic universe

As everyone raves about Kamal Hassan starrer Vikram and director Lokesh’s cinematic universe, it may be recalled that Karthi is the one who gave a big break to the young director with Kaithi.

“I’m glad that Lokesh is expanding the universe. I was thrilled with the way our audiences smartly understand the elements of the universe and enjoy the nuances. Very soon, Kaithi 2 will happen, the universe will only expand further but Lokesh and I are yet to sit for script discussion,” he added.

In Vikram, Suriya played a cameo — a fiery character called Rolex — but Lokesh used Dilli’s (Karthi’s character in Kaithi) voice. When asked why Karthi couldn’t appear in Vikram, the actor said: “Rolex was a pleasant surprise. When Lokesh approached me, I was in (the character) Vandhiyatheven’s getup for (Mani Ratnam’s) Ponniyin Selvan, so, we couldn’t do it.” 

Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus

We can’t finish our chat without asking Karthi about his magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan and his epic character Vandhiyathevan. The film is set for launch on September 30.

Watch: Ponniyin Selvan teaser out

“Ponniyin Selvan is not a fictional tale, it happened in our history although some elements are fictional,” said Karthi. “Most of the characters are real-life people and kings including Vandhiyathevan. The film and all the characters are our pride. As you know, I wasn’t the first choice for Vandhiyathevan, so many actors and icons wanted to play the role but eventually, I got the opportunity.”

“Playing Vandhiyathevan and working with Mani sir again was surreal. I don’t want to limit the film by calling it a pan-India venture; it must travel across the globe just like how the Cholas expanded their kingdom and conquered various parts of the world.”

Karthi also raved about Mani Ratnam’s planning and execution. “Within just 120 days, Mani sir finished shooting for the two parts of Ponniyin Selvan. Only because of him, all the others were on the sets from early morning before sunrise to midnight and the process was repeated till the last day of the shoot. We will talk more about the film in the coming days,” he signed off.

Also read: Ponniyan Selvan | Lyrics are ho-hum, say critics; what kept Vairamuthu out?

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