With those words, an unexpected journey for the lead pair in the director’s much-awaited Kadal began. They had carefully remained just names till now. In their first interviews, Gautham Karthik and Thulasi Nair talk about how the opportunity came about, the experience, future plans, and how they’ve led normal lives, despite having actors in the family
'It's still sinking in'
Cinema would have been a natural choice of profession given that Gautham’s grandfather Muthu Raman and father Karthik were successful actors. But the lanky and curly haired actor making his debut in Mani Ratnam’s Kadal says the chance to act came when he least expected it. Gautham spent his growing years at a boarding school in Udhagamandalam and was pursuing his graduation in Psychology, English and Media Studies at Christ University, Bangalore, when his father called to say that Mani Ratnam wanted to meet him. “I was aware of openings for assistant directors, and thought he was calling me for that post. I met Mani sir a few times, and each time he told me a little bit of the story. One day he said he wanted me to audition. I asked him, ‘For which role sir?’ and he said ‘the lead role’. I was like ‘wow, let me give it a try’. He liked my work, and I was on board,” says Gautham.
Gautham says he’s led a regular life, away from the industry and the media glare. In college, he and his friends formed a band, composed and jammed together. “Recently, we had to disband the group. I was the lead guitarist and back-up vocalist. It gets tough to jam even if one member is missing,” he says.
Life changed after he became part of the Kadal team. There was a strict embargo on making public appearances, and he had to remove his photographs from social networking forums. After making his first public appearance in Hyderabad recently, the youngster is excited. “It’s still sinking in. I can’t describe how it feels to be in front of the camera, living someone else’s life each moment,” he smiles.
Kadal was hardly a picnic, he says. “I wanted to give it my best. Mani sir would be on the sets at 3 a.m. I would be there by 4 a.m. and he would push us to do the best,” says Gautham. Prior to shooting, he went through a workshop conducted by Kalairani. “She didn’t actually teach us but made us express different emotions and understand what the director wanted.” Kadal involved shooting in water for a long time. “Dad used to tell me that I’ve been a water baby all my life. That came in handy,” laughs Gautham.
There are more offers, but Gautham wants to wait till Kadal’s release. In school, he has been part of stage plays, but never thought he’d become a professional actor one day. “I haven’t thought of taking up an acting course. I feel it’s best to learn on the job,” he says.
'It came out of the blue'
Thulasi Nair is all of 15, studying in Class X and preparing for her board exams. Like any youngster of her age, she chalks out her time between studies and hanging out with her friends once a week. When she is not buried in her curriculum, she plays basketball and reads fiction. What sets this girl apart is she will soon make her debut in Kadal. “I am very studious, and it came out of the blue when mom told me that Mani sir wanted to meet me,” says Thulasi. “Since my mom (actor Radha) and sister (Karthika) are into movies, I thought maybe I should also try it out.” She went through a series of pre-production workshops conducted by Kalairani before the schedule. Though born and brought up in Mumbai, Thulasi is fluent in Tamil and can speak a smattering of Telugu. “My parents are strict; they made me promise that I will find time to study. So after shooting, I would go and take tuitions over Skype,” she says.
Thulasi has watched her mom’s movies as a child but re-watched some of them after she started acting. “I watched her first film Alaigal Oyvathillai at least 10 times and was in awe of the chemistry she shared with Karthik,” says Thulasi. She says both her mom and sister stepped back since she was in the able care of Mani Ratnam. “They only told me to be brave in front of the camera.”Thulasi is already working on her second film Yaan, directed by cinematographer Ravi K. Chandran, but insists education is her priority. “I am good at studies, and know that education is indispensable. I want to become an entrepreneur like my dad. I think I have it in me to become a businesswoman,” she says.
Talk to her about cinema, and she grins widely, “I am a huge fan of Vijay and Suriya.”