Karthi on working with Lokesh Kanagaraj in Kaithi: I accept a film because something about it strikes a chord with me
In an interview with Firstpost, actor Karthi talks about a film that is self-admittedly close to his heart: Kaithi.
A red alert has been sounded in anticipation of severe rain in parts of Tamil Nadu, and the wind howls in the distance. Karthi is in Kinathukadavu, near Coimbatore, racing against the clock to finish work on his film Sulthan, co-starring Rashmika Mandanna and directed by Bakkiyaraj Kannan. Incidentally, his Kaithi director, Lokesh Kanagaraj, hails from this locality. Despite the background disturbance, the actor’s voice is a picture of calm while he speaks about a film very close to his heart, and which sees him team up with real-life friend Narain.
By now, everyone knows the USP of Kaithi, rather what makes its skeleton — no songs, no heroine, a film that takes place in the night, over four hours. The actors have spoken about how it’s stylish, engaging, content-based, yet filled with euphoric moments. About how it’s a festival film despite not really falling within that template.
What Karthi, one-time assistant director to Mani Ratnam, focusses on is the body of Kaithi, the screenplay that made him sign on for a film directed by a young man whose previous film was the sleeper hit Maanagaram, much praised for its taut writing, and logic.
“Lokesh has a flair for writing. He knows how to keep the screenplay engaging, current, and how to keep the energy alive. He also knows how to translate writing to the medium of cinema. He knows how to feed the audience, and he knows how to use the creative and technical crew well. He gets the best of us,” says Karthi, in a rare show of effusiveness.
What struck the actor-star the most was that despite being in total control of what he was shooting, Lokesh gave the actors the freedom and space to showcase what they wanted to bring to the table. And, without his knowledge, the BE Mechanical Engineer in Karthi rises to the surface when he goes on to elaborate. “Let me put it this way. When you work with someone as well prepared, you’re an engine that is at its working best. You’re not vague, not relaxed and in another zone. You deliver well, are in your best form… like a well-primed engine.”
Working with relative newcomers is not new to Karthi. In just the past two years, he’s collaborated with H Vinoth in the taut Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru and with Rajath in the underwhelming Dev, besides Lokesh. “They are talented, and when they make the jump from a niche film to one with a bigger budget, they are learning too. They come with an innate ability to understand the importance of time and money. They have the passion to do something new on screen, and it’s a joy to watch that. That process of exploration, discussion, is great. And, when you know they are working so hard, you relax too. You have to focus on just your performance. That’s a luxury we don’t often get.”
These collaborations suit the mindspace Karthi currently occupies. “As a performer, I now accept a film because something about it strikes a chord in me. And, when they respect my work on the sets, when they think an actor’s performance is important for the narration, that is a wonderful feeling. It’s nice to be part of a set where that culture still thrives.”
Narain has in interviews spoken about how Karthi spoke to him to come on board the film. “We are friends in rea life, and I’ve always liked him a lot. I wanted him to do well, and he wanted me to do well. How do I put it… there’s a certain bonding, a certain goodwill towards each other that shows on screen. And, irrespective of how well one is doing or not, when shooting, we enjoyed the scene being performed. That harmony is rare, and it was not just between us, but among all on the sets. That helped us add layers to a scene, engage in creative discussions. It was also an incentive to go back to the sets each day and absorb the positive energy all around.”
Karthi now has a bunch of projects that are eclectic in genre. Following Kadaikutty Singam, which was a massive hit across centres, has he reached a phase where he instinctively knows the project to pick? “I really can’t put a finger on that. What I know is that with the present set of directors, one can have healthy discussions, so you know you’re going on the right track. It’s truly team work. I enjoy that process of going prepared to the sets. For instance, for Kaithi, Lokesh and I worked on my characterisation, the character graph for two days. He had done research on how Dilli should talk. We spoke about how much he could talk, the minute details, so there’s nothing left to chance. It’s liberating for an actor too, because, ultimately, it is the director who has to deliver a film. I’m thankful those I am working with are delivering.”
The actor says that sometimes he takes up a film even when his character is not as challenging, because he feels the film will be enjoyable for the audience. “It might be something I’ve not done before, something I can convert into a challenge for myself, or a film I’d like to watch as an audience. For instance, I knew in my heart that Kadaikutty would work. And, during that climax scene, we were all in that zone where we were pitch-perfect, where we were giving our very best. We actually felt like a family. As an actor, that’s such a wonderful space to be in. It’s almost addictive.”
Kaithi was also physically and emotionally demanding a film for Karthi. At its heart, the film is about a father’s love for his daughter, and Karthi, who loves being known as Umayaal’s appa, tapped into that protectiveness he feels for her. “Real-life emotions sometimes help you play your role better,” says Karthi, who now relaxes to some storytelling by Umayaal. “From the time I was reading to her, we have now reached a stage where she picks a book and decides to tell me a story,” he laughs.
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