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Karthi: I can't do only films like Kaithi- Cinema express

Karthi: I can't do only films like Kaithi

The actor talks about his much-awaited Sulthan, which is hitting the screens this week 

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Published: 29th March 2021
Karthi: I can't do only films like Kaithi

After Master, Karthi's Sulthan is Tamil cinema’s biggest theatre release following the lockdown. The actor flashes his signature uninhibited wide smile, but admits to being nervous about reception to his upcoming film. However, he draws hope from the success of films like Master and the more recent Godzilla vs Kong, both films made on a large scale and conceived as crowd-pleasers. “Films aren't just art; they are meant to entertain people too. In our culture, we don't have many places we can visit as a family. It is why for us in the South, festivals or temple visions are such big occasions. Entertainers like Sulthan appeal to a wide demographic as a community experience,” says Karthi, who insists that 'masala' films should be savoured, not analysed. “There’s a popular notion that the educated don’t enjoy these entertainers. I disagree. I studied in the US, but that does not stop me from enjoying films like KGF. If a film manages to transport its audience into its world, it is good enough. Audience mark podardha vida, kai thatta pona nallaa irukkum.”

He admits that following Kaithi, which was both a commercial and critical success, despite not having elements designed to appeal to women and children, there have been calls for him to do a sequel. “People ask me to do more films like Kaithi, but don’t recognise the struggles that go into making a full-blown masala film like Sulthan. I would argue that these are tougher films to make. It is a herculean task and a gamble to make such grand films designed to appeal to everyone.”

It was, in fact, this perceived grandeur in Sulthan that gave the team the confidence to opt for a theatre release, he shares. “We almost signed a deal with Hotstar and Star Vijay, but we felt that small screens would not be able to do justice to the scale of Sulthan. How often do we get to see a film that has as many as 100 artists appearing across the film? It was a huge challenge for director Bakkiyaraj (Kannan) and our DOP, Sathyan Sooryan, to fit all the actors within a wide frame. Sulthan’s grandeur can only be experienced on the big screen.”

It is to be noted that Suriya, Karthi’s brother, opted for an OTT release for his film, Soorarai Pottru, which was also conceived for the theatres. “Only a producer knows what is best for a film. Back then, we did not know when theatres would be allowed to function. Also, we must remember that Soorarai Pottru was shot a couple of years back. The interest for borrowed money keeps accruing each month. The film’s success also determines the future of all those who worked on it. Anna (Suriya) had to make a hard decision, but now, with the vaccines coming in, we are in a better period.”

Director Bakkiyaraj had credited Karthi for many useful inputs that apparently went into shaping this film. The director had also added that it was a wonderful learning experience to work with the actor. Karthi responds with self-deprecatory humour. “I am hardly someone you can dub a cinema dictionary (laughs). The changes I suggest to a film are made as a member of the audience. The scenes we read in a script are only a 2D version of the story. It doesn't necessarily have all the information. However, when it comes to a shot, the background and detailing matter a lot. I helped Bakki get things right by asking a lot of questions about, say, continuity.”

Incidentally, Karthi stepped into cinema with aspirations of becoming a filmmaker and went on to even assist Mani Ratnam. The actor isn’t sure that it’s his strong zone. “Only a good writer can become a good director in our cinema. Mani sir told me this when I stepped into cinema. He asked me to read a lot to prepare myself as a good writer. I was helping him as an AD, and didn't master the art of writing,” he says. “However, working closely with directors and thinking about cinema all the time helps me understand the pulse of the audience. This hardly means that I can make a film by myself.”

However, the lockdown has helped him discover the reader in him, with Karthik reading a lot to prepare for his role, Vandhiyathevan, in Mani Ratnam’s ambitious film, Ponniyin Selvan. “Appa got me access to a lot of rare books, some of which are not even in circulation. Also, I have many friends who are fascinated by history and they helped too by getting me the materials required.” He guarantees that the film will be nothing like anything our cinema has seen so far. “Author Kalki has beautifully described the administration, lifestyle and even the kind of irrigation practised during that time. I was stunned to read about such a sophisticated standard of living almost 1000 years ago. Mani sir's version will capture the essence of the novel, and the screenplay ensures that each of the main characters is given equal importance. I don’t think we even have references for the kind of film Ponniyin Selvan will turn out to be.”

Karthi doesn't have a wishlist of cinema or genres that he wants to work in anymore; he says it keeps changing. “Everything is changing in the modern world. From literature to performances, everything is being redefined. The very meaning of a brilliant performance has changed now. Acting, which was lauded a few years ago, is now thought overacting. The taste and sensibilities of the people is a variable; it is never constant. The biggest challenge of an entertainer today is to fight to stay relevant and constantly undergo reinvention.”

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