Karthika is the new Devasena
The actress talks about playing iconic role from the Baahubali francise in the colossal TV series Aarambh that goes on air this weekend
Karthika shot the initial episodes of Aarambh in Gujarat. She spent the first few days on location feeding bananas to an elephant. No, she is no PETA activist, but was merely trying to coax the animal into letting her stand on its trunk for a stunt sequence. "I wouldn't say it was all fun, because no matter how well-trained the elephant is, at the end of the day it's still an animal. It was easy practising in shorts, but stepping on her trunk in my princess costume for the shot was a hundred times tougher. But she turned out to be a good elephant and everything went well," laughs the actress who is making her small screen debut with Aarambh, the mega series directed by Bollywood filmmaker Goldie Behl.
She plays Devasena, a warrior princess, in the historical fantasy penned by K V Vijayendra Prasad, the scenarist of the Baahubali franchise. "But the similarities stop there. Devasana in Baahubali is part of a male dominated kingdom, but my Devasena belongs to a matriarchal society, a queendom. The queen is the ruler and when she dies the throne goes to the princess, not the prince," she explains. Playing this character meant a lot of hard training for Karthika. "If it's a movie, your action sequences will be over in a few weeks. But here I am doing it every other day and the effort involved is another level. I had to go through long sessions of harness training, horse riding and sword fighting," she adds.
Aarambh is built on the historic clash between two civilisations – the Aryan and Dravidian empires. Paired opposite Karthika is Rajneesh Duggal, who plays Varun Dev, the Aryan prince and her prime rival in the series. Karthika says it's impossible to compare Aarambh with any other period drama currently on television in terms of magnitude and novelty. "The canvas is much, much bigger. And it's a story you have never heard, the characters are not taken from history or mythology. Aarambh is a complete fictional world, you will not read about its characters in any book."
The series was originally conceived as a movie, but since the script was so vast the makers opted for a series. "They were not ready to sacrifice the script, but everything about it is cinematic. It's basically a big movie which you will get to see in parts," she says. While Roja star Madhoo is making her small screen debut with the series, veteran actress Tanju appears in another key role as a priestess. "Most of our cast are Bollywood actors making their TV debut. As the series progresses we will be getting more stars on board," says Karthika. As an actress who has only been a part of South Indian cinema, she says she has no idea how the director found her. "Since it's a Dravidian princess, he wanted a South actress I guess."
Devasena is leagues apart from conventional princess roles as she wears her armour and wields her weapon like a seasoned soldier. Karthika says since there was no point of reference, she had the freedom to interpret Devasena the way she wanted. "She is a warrior princess, so she cannot wear all the finery usually worn by royalty. My costumes were designed in a way to keep me comfortable while doing high voltage stunts. So far I had just once chance to look like a traditional princess, the coronation ceremony in which I appear all decked up in a pink outfit," she says.
Aarambh will be aired on television from June 24.