I don’t have an image trap: Karthi
The actor fields questions about his latest release Dev, his career, and the very nature of contemporary Tamil cinema
There is an easy charm to Karthi's answers. No matter how serious the question, the actor finds a way to lighten the conversation, and often, punctuates it with a laugh or two. However, this doesn’t imply a lack of seriousness, for his answers indicate a thorough understanding of his strengths and weaknesses, and how the industry works.
In this conversation, the actor talks about his need to be challenged, and also his pragmatic approach to experimentation:
The underlying message of Dev seems to be about following one’s heart. You did the same yourself when you entered cinema after studying abroad.
Dev and I… We are quite different actually. He feels money isn't important, but it isn't possible to be like that. That said, there are minor similarities, I guess. While I acknowledge the importance of money, I am not here just for it. I want to make money while doing the cinema I like.
Also, Dev doesn't speak much; I speak a lot! (laughs) But his spirit is interesting. He speaks his mind without doubts and expresses his thoughts clearly. He is mature beyond his years.
You had mentioned recently that it isn't possible to be a director in Tamil cinema unless you can write. However, the culture in other industries is to have the writers and directors be different.
Writers here also aspire to be directors. They aren't content with just writing, but seek the fame and recognition of a director. We should also look at the respect writers get. I am looking to change this. I have bought great stories from first-timers, that needed a director with experience. I have paid significant money and I look at it as a positive influence. For such writers, it gives them a financial boost to pursue more projects. There’s also the credit in the film. The trend here will change when writers get convinced that they can have lucrative careers just by writing.
In Telugu cinema, there are independent writers who now act as consultants. Even if you have a story in place, you can hire them as script doctors and get their inputs. Such avenues help filmmakers to keep making films for a prolonged time, and to come up with diverse stories.
You have never worked more than once with a director.
I work on a maximum of two films a year; so I can't go on an extensive signing spree. I listen to stories intermittently and choose the ones I like. So it takes me at least a year and a half or two before I can collaborate with the same director again. But by then, their career takes a different tangent and moves in another direction. So timing becomes a crucial factor -- both of us should have completed our projects and be ready to start a new one. But I really want to break that pattern and will be working with Pandiaraj on a project soon.
After Theeran Adhigaram Ondru that belonged to a middle-class milieu came Kadaikutty Singam, set in a village. And now, Dev is an urban romance. Is it a conscious decision to maintain this balance?
Avlo conscious-a lam panamudiyathunga! (laughs). It just happened to be that way. But I ensure I never repeat what I do. After Theeran, I got several police scripts. Even though some were good, I didn't accept them. I seek a challenge and desire to explore new things. But if I don't get such scripts, I will have to pick from what I get. I can't sit at home! But thankfully, I am getting diverse scripts. When I heard Dev, my first question to Rajath was whether he thought I could do it. He pointed out that after Paiyya and Naan Mahaan Alla, I hadn’t played characters with as much charm.
Your career also shows the interesting pattern of work with directors, immediately after they have delivered hits with unconventional debuts (Pa Ranjith, H Vinoth, and now, Lokesh Kanagaraj). You seem to be watching the industry quite closely.
From my decisions that went wrong, I realised that I needed to like the director's style when I am working with them. When I work with people whose films I liked, it helps. If I like their style and thoughts, that's half the battle won. It also depends on the stories they bring me.
For the experience they have, they flesh the story to an extent and bring it to me. With my ten-year experience, I give some suggestions that push them even more. It becomes a collaboration, and with the talent they have, they make it bigger.
Are our stories becoming more action-oriented? Even Dev, a romance, has its share of fight sequences.
Dev has no villain. When you have one, action is automatically created. But when you travel, you never know what will happen. There is a possibility of several unpredictable things occurring. Thus, the action here comes from an element of thrill that is a part of the story. It can also act as an ice-breaker to bring two characters closer. It hasn't been forced. And also action sells; please agree! (smiles).
Do you think actors now are pushed into an image trap much earlier than their predecessors? While Rajinikanth and Kamal Haasan got years to explore grey characters, when someone like you opts to do a Kaatru Veliyidai, the reception seems to be mixed.
I don't think I am stuck in such a trap; in fact, I have always tried to break it. I have played unlikeable characters, like the villain in Kashmora. However, there is also a business angle to it. If you don't take the right decisions, the market value for your films will crash. More than the salary cut, you won't be able to do the films you like as a result. There is a balance between art and business here. One can ask, “Neengalam enna cinema panringa?” But we also have to examine what films we like to see and what we are good at – experiments can be only within that scope. Also, Rajini sir and Kamal sir did more than ten films a year. It is tough for us to work on two films a year! In ten years, I have only done 16-17 films. When this is the case, how much do you think we can experiment within this? Back then, cinema was the main source of entertainment. Today, it isn't so. So it is important to engage carefully with the audience.
Tell us about your future projects...
There's the film with Lokesh. After that, I have a film with Bakkiyaraj Kannan of Remo fame, and also a Tamil film with Jeethu Joseph. Apart from this, projects with Pandiaraj and Mithran are also in different stages of discussion.