'We are glad that Bhargav was not shown as deserving sympathy’
Child actor Bhargav is deeply moved by the experience of sharing screen space with the who’s who of film talent in Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal. His mother Chitra, speaks about what the casting means
Kaathuvaakula Rendu Kaadhal (KRK) may not have ticked all the right boxes, but if there is one facet it got right, it is the inclusivity in portraying a child with special needs. Amid a star-studded cast including Nayanthara, Samantha, and Vijay Sethupathi, child actor Bhargav Sundar, who played Kanmani’s (Nayanthara) brother Bhargav Ganguly, made a strong impression.
As I walk into Bhargav's residence, it became clear that the infectious charm isn't just an onscreen thing. After inviting me into the house, and calling for his mother Chitra to give me company, the actor Bhargav simply gave way to the child Bhargav as he retreats to his room to play with his friends.
Diagnosed with Down Syndrome, 12-year-old Bhargav was brought up with an early intervention treatment that allowed him to develop his innate talents. “At about the age of 3-4, we identified some of his talents that could be nourished. We took all efforts to sustain his brain development,” says Bhargav’s mother, Chitra Sundar. One such talent was his imitation skills. “We felt he was able to imitate someone and enact. Many other kids may be capable of this, but when children like Bhargav show such talent, it is heartening,” she adds.
The nurturing of this talent got him a place in the cast of KRK. “They had the character of a boy with Down Syndrome, and the makers approached the Down Syndrome Association of Tamil Nadu, with whom we have a strong association. Bhargav got shortlisted!” the mother recalls. While Bhargav understood that he was cast in the film, he still needed a few days to get accustomed to the shooting routine. “We kept him motivated that all his hard work would result in people watching him on the big screen. He understood.”
Chitra believes that the whole experience of shooting that lasted close to two years helped not only Bhargav but also the KRK crew. “Being a friendly and social child, Bhargav made a personal connection with the considerate and friendly crew. It was also a learning process for crew members who learned how to interact with special children,” says Chitra. Bhargav, who seldom sheds tears, apparently cried on seeing himself on the big screen, recalls Chitra. “While I was investigating the film for any errors, he was elated to see himself. In fact, when watching the film again, he could recognise when his scenes would come in the film,” she says.
Crediting director Vignesh Shivan for fair representation of Bhargav’s condition, Chitra says, “It is commendable that they didn’t opt for a regular child to play a specially abled one. It took a few days to crack the code of communication, but all the artists complemented Bhargav’s performance. I think his performance added extra flavour to the character.” Chitra shares her happiness that Bhargav was not portrayed as deserving sympathy. “All of us were clear that he should not be defined by his disability. The point was to make the community feel inclusive.”
Being part of such a big project has naturally fetched Bhargav a lot of fame. “After the screening, a food delivery agent spotted Bhargav and took a selfie with him. That was when we felt the impact of being part of such a film. We have realised the power of media for people like Bhargav.” Chitra hopes that filmmakers will follow the example set by Vignesh Shivan and cast the differently abled in their films. “From being looked at with sympathy to being admired and respected for who they are, the mindset of people will change,” adds Chitra.
Bhargav’s parents hope that more opportunities come his way. “We are okay for chances that may come kaathuvaakula,” she signs off.