Karthi: I wouldn't have done Sardar a few years ago
Karthi talks about his latest release Sardar, the challenges of donning a role that involves multiple makeovers and how they painstakingly worked on those disguises
Spy thrillers have always been an irreplaceable part of cinematic history. The genre, with successful franchises like James Bond and Bourne, has been travelling along with the evolution of cinema through the decades. Surprisingly, the genre has remained largely unexplored in Tamil cinema, at least in the recent past. Karthi firmly believes that his recent release Sardar would change that. Directed by PS Mithran, the film stars Karthi in dual roles while Raashii Khanna and Rajisha Vijayan play the female leads.
“We don’t usually make films centred around spies and even when we do, we cannot seem to avoid the heavy influence of western cinema. We aim to change that with Sardar,” says Karthi who sounds impressed with the director's vision for this film. “Mithran wanted to explore how someone born here, someone with relatable life experiences would do things as a spy. The motivations of the spy and the case he’s working on thrilled me to no end. These aspects impressed me and ultimately made me choose the project."
Karthi plays an ex-RAW agent named Chandrabose (codename Sardar) and also his son, a police officer named Vijayaprakash. Apart from playing dual roles, the actor has to sport a variety of looks in the film, some involving the spy (Sardar) disguises. Karthi calls his experience with the several makeovers "a strenuous task" which also involved other intricacies, “I’m not someone who is accustomed to changing my look for my films. The most I've transformed was for Kashmora. But for Sardar, the script demanded all those getups. We have tried our best to approach the transformations on a level above just the prosthetics. For example, what would a stage actor do to transform himself? What would such a person think when he becomes a spy? We mulled over several concepts before designing the various looks. I think these aspects differentiate Sardar from other films of the genre.”
When asked about which look demanded the most out of him, Karthi instantly goes, “Sardar, the father, was definitely the toughest to pull off. He’s a 60-year-old man so he should look and move like an old man. But he’s also a trained field operative, so he also has to be physically adept while fighting.” The Ponniyin Selvan actor says that a lot of discussions went into designing the look, “We realised that it wasn’t just about slapping on prosthetics. I told our makeup artist Pattanam Rasheed sir that I had to look convincingly old. Rasheed sir painstakingly drew all the features on my face every day for two to three hours to get the desired look.”
Talking about the second role in the film where he plays a police officer named Vijayaprakash, Karthi remembers his initial hesitancy towards playing a cop again, “I had previously played a police officer in Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru and Siruthai. I asked Mithran if there was a way to do the film without playing dual roles but the script demanded it. We made efforts to ensure that my role as a cop in the film did not have familiar shades to my previous characters.”
A racy narrative and a globe-trotting story have always been the central allure of spy thrillers, and Sardar is no exception to that welcome trope. Karthi says, “the film takes us through multiple locations in a short span of time. The story never demanded more than two days of shooting for a particular location. For two days of shoot, we had to travel to places such as Azerbaijan and Manali, and for a small sequence, we had to recreate Bangladesh. Such was the scale of the film.” As he taps into memories of travelling for the shoot, Karthi recalls the hard work that has gone into making Sardar. “Director Mithran worked for two years on the script alone. There was meticulous thought and effort put into every department. From Kathir sir’s art department to George C Williams’ cinematography department, all of us worked towards making our audience feel proud about having a well-made spy thriller from our very own industry.”
Speaking about technicians, Sardar reunites Karthi with composer GV Prakash Kumar after 2015’s Komban. What makes this film's album extra special for Karthi is the fact that he has lent his voice for a song titled 'Yaerumayileri'. “I lost my throat trying to sing in high pitch,” says a smiling Karthi. “Even before we started filming, GV came up with a piece for the theme music that felt very international, and that set a standard for the film. Even though Sardar is a grounded spy-thriller, the music enhances the grandeur of the film. We shot a lot of scenes with the theme music playing in the background.”
Karthi beams with respect and reverence while talking about his female co-stars Rajisha Vijayan and Raashii Khanna. Talking about Raashii, he says, “She has fun on the sets but she gets serious whenever there is a tough scene. Sometimes, even when the director approves a take, she would ask to redo it. Caring deeply about your performance like that is vital for an actor and ensures your longevity.” Rajisha Vijayan, who appears in the flashback portions, seems to have impressed the actor with her acting prowess, “She is a very intuitive actor. Even though she has limited scenes in the film, she prepared for her role for six months. There was a scene where she had to get emotional and even before we started rolling the camera she already had tears in her eyes. She prepares well in order to register a strong performance onscreen.”
In a time when early internet reactions have become habitual, the suspense aspect of a thriller film has lost its potency thanks to spoilers reaching the audience well before they get a chance to see the film. But Karthi is not bothered by spoilers. “The most interesting aspects about Sardar do not hinge upon a reveal that could be ruined by a spoiler. That’s why I’m confident that the film will win even when the suspense is spoiled," says the actor who feels that the audience will unravel something new on every multiple viewing, thanks to the way Mithran has constructed the story. “I never thought I would do a spy-thriller. I wouldn’t have done Sardar a few years ago. After gathering years of experience, I am now finally confident that I could bear the weight of such a complex film,” signs off a determined Karthi.