Kathir: I am drawn to sensible films that have something to say
In this conversation, Kathir talks about balancing big budget projects with offbeat cinema, and the films that he would like to do
Kathir agreed to act in a film because his father wanted him to. The idea was to give it a shot, and if it were to fail, go back to business aspirations and studies. But the reception Madhayaanai Koottam received made him realise that he was here to stay. "Pressure was building, and I had no idea how I was going to pick a script." He hadn't heard a single story until then. "I used to listen to at least three stories per day. At the end of it, they all merged in my head to form a single narrative," he says with a laugh. But the freshness of Kirumi caught his eye. "Many people had doubts about me playing a married guy, but it didn't affect me. Each project had to be different." In a short span, the actor has a plethora of roles to his credit in films like Sigai, Kirumi, Sathru or Pariyerum Perumal. In this chat, he talks about his career and why he wants his films to be "sensible".
From Madhayaanai Koottam to Jada, you seem to opt for earthy characters—even your urbane ones are very rooted.
It is probably because I connect to those characters well. I am a bit like that in real life, but that's not to say I won't play stylish characters. Maybe not the America Mappillai, I guess (laughs). It is all about wanting to experiment. Sigai, for example, was purely an experiment. All that I need is for the role to be sensible and interesting. I place content first, before my look.
Perhaps to your surprise, films like Vikram Vedha and Bigil have given you quite a bit of mileage. You have, impressively, made people feel that you could have been used more in those films.
At the end of the day, it was a conscious choice. Vikram Vedha is Sethu na and Maddy sir's film. Bigil is Vijay sir's film. I was just a part of these films. You have a rough idea of what's going to be there. There have been cases where there have been scenes added and some portions that have been left out on the edit table. But it definitely gives a boost. I know people who watched Kirumi after Vikram Vedha, and Madhayaanai Koottam after Bigil. I feel these films have brought attention to my previous films. And of course, it is easier to reach a wider audience.
Such films are experiences. What you can't learn in a classroom, you learn on these sets. After I worked with Sethu na, the way I approached a scene changed. After working with Vijay sir, you see how creates that magic with his actions or body language. I may not be able to recreate the same effect, but you understand what goes into it. This you get to experience only when you see them shoot. Atlee, for example, plays music when he shoots emotional sequences. That adds something to the performance.
You shot for Jada first and trained in football for a month. The difference between Jada and Bigil is that the earlier had unchoreographed sports sequences, while the latter is more constructed. That sounds tough, especially with just a month of practice.
It was. We didn't have CG for Jada. The matches were also not choreographed. The goal is there and only the course to that goal is made visible to the camera. You add skills like dribbling into it. So when I shot for Bigil after this, it was a little easier. I was able to sense the course of the ball and what I had to do with it. Bigil was made to match international standards, thus it was perfectly structured. Jada, however, is about 'sevens'. Neenga goal adikkanum, avlodhaan. It isn't about the rules, but more about betting and gambling.
You have always maintained that you want to be part of cinema that people enjoy. How do you judge this pulse? Is it just based on the audience's response?
You can't judge what the people like. I think like the audience when I listen to a story and see if it works for me. So, I pick them in the hope that the audience finds it interesting as well. I found Sigai interesting because it was new to me. If you give a new toy to someone, they will get excited. You'll know whether the masses like it or not post-release. But there's the curiosity to check out what we have offered new. That's the hook for me and also the audience.
Several people ask me 'commercial padathuku poiteengala nu'. I don't believe in such labels. Whatever sells is commercial. It is just about adding entertaining elements for the audience, without disturbing the core of the film. I am also learning with each day. The results of Jada and Sarbath will decide the projects I choose next.
Talking about results, you said before release that you were confident about the film, but were nervous about how your character would be received.
I am very happy. People comment 'cup mukkiyam kathir-u', on my posts about Jada. (smiles) I had a lot in the film, whether it is the emotional portions or the girls giving me the cup at the end. Vikram Vedha gave me something I didn't expect. With Bigil, I had an idea and I got that.
Pariyerum Perumal, your breakout film, spoke a lot about the politics of life. And Jada seems to handle it too. Are you drawn to such scripts?
Jada isn't based on one community. It talks about sportsmanship and politics in sports. Every film has politics in it, it just manifests in different ways. That's what creates friction in the story, which has several reasons behind it. When you are a sportsman, there's even politics between a good player and a decent player. All of these are problems of the people; so when films address these, I feel more responsible. Sure, it has to be entertaining. But I am happy that the film is trying to say something.
We have all grown watching a certain kind of hero, the larger-than-life, mass hero. Are you interested in trying to become one?
Right now, I don't have any plans. It needs time. Maybe after 10 films? (smiles) I like Vikram Vedha's school of mass, which is simple, subtle yet and yet, effective. I would choose a film of that kind.
In one of your earlier interviews, you noted that you haven't faced a big failure yet, and you're bracing for the blow. It indicated a lot of self-awareness.
Many liked Kirumi, but it didn't have a stereotypical ending. A few people felt that could have been changed, but I took the mixed reviews as a positive sign. It sparks a discussion about realism, and thus, stays in memory. You won't forget the film easily. Madhayaanai Koottam also faced the same thing. People ask me about even today, and I smile when they do. I feel happy that they still remember it. That has what has led me here today.
What was the one important thing you learnt from Vijay?
'Talk less work more'. That's what I learned from Vijay sir. He is silent, but works so hard. You won't even note it unless you consciously observe what he does. Let it be the stunts or the single shots he delivers. It isn't easy at all, to hold an emotional scene and also add some fun to it. I have always been amazed about it.