'I took inspiration from Appa-Anna's relationship for Viruman'
...says Karthi, who is back to rural films with Muthaiya's Viruman
Karthi is known for taking inspiration from his life for the characters he plays on screen. For Sulthan, he used his experience as the founder of Uzhavan foundation, an NGO to nurture farming and farmers. This time around, for Viruman, Karthi incorporated his observations on the relationship his brother Suriya had with their father Sivakumar. "My character has major rifts with his father and they both see each other as the villain. But in real life, appa became a friend to me once I crossed 10th grade and I used to talk to him about my insecurities and inhibitions openly. And for all my self-doubts, he had only one answer, 'Ellam meesai valarndhu periya aal aana seri aidum da!'" he shares adding, "The one who had a relatively cold relationship with appa during youth was anna. They hardly spoke with each other. I guess seeing them helped me a lot in playing a son who has frequent squabbles with his father."
However, Karthi is quick to clarify that the blame for the distance in their relationship cannot be put on either of them. "Appa was busily shooting for films when we were in our teens, so it took us some time to understand each other. But in this generation, relationship dynamics have changed massively. My daughter sits on my head and plays with me like a peer."
Interestingly, all rural entertainers of Karthi are based on families and the fallouts between them. The actor spent all his school holidays in his father's native place and he feels that these experiences enable him to bring out the villager in him. "I had a lot of cousins in our native and one akka was so dear to me that I used to sleep in her lap. This came in handy while shooting for Kadaikutty Singam. I recreated the same rapport with my co-stars. This isn't something you learn from a script or a director. I believe in incorporating a couple of personal elements into a character helps me to completely own it," he says.
When Viruman was announced it made a lot of heads turn, mainly because of the marriage of the contrasting ideologies of the production house and the filmmaker. While Suriya and his 2D productions have strongly opposed casteism in their films, Muthaiah's previous film Devarattam was tagged as a 'jaadhi padam' by its own producer Gnanavel Raja. Once again, Karthi clarifies that there is zero caste glorification in Viruman. "Our film doesn't glorify or degrade any caste. It is a rooted rural film made with a lot of love and warmth. If people are going to question and examine the background of the idols and temples shown in the film, none of the filmmakers would be able to make a project true to our culture," he says. Karthi goes on to recall the hurdles Komban, his previous film with Muthaiah, faced during its release. "There were groups rioting against Komban, fearing that it is a casteist piece of work. But once it got released, none of these concerns were true. I believe it will be the same with Viruman too."
Karthi shares that making a rural film in a contemporary setting is a tightrope walk. "Villages have evolved and people there are as updated as the ones from major cities. So it is crucial that a rural film captures this evolution without marring the novelty of the land and its people." He reveals that director Ameer had this concern and that's why he made Paruthiveeran in a period setting. "Ameer wanted to make a good old rural drama, so he made sure that none of the modern advancements like cellphones or towers was captured in the frame."
The actor states that these rural films are the backbone of small theatres. "When Kadaikutty Singam got released a lot of theatre owners thanked us, as it brought the families back to the cinema. Though everyone has started to binge-watch English and Korean series on OTT, we still have a large amount of audience who get excited by these village-based family films."
Karthi confesses that he is a huge fan of the genre and this is fuelled by his longing for a joint family. "We still live together as one big family. My daughter Umayal has an aunt's place to go to when she wishes. I believe these relationships are the biggest pillars of support. As long as there are people yearning for these rooted emotions, rural films will thrive."