“I found the work [in my previous job] monotonous. That was when I thought I should do something more”
Some critics compared his debut role in ‘Paruthiveeran’ to that of Sivaji Ganesan’s in ‘Parasakthi’. The actor, with a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from the State University of New York, says it was no surprise that he was drawn to films. Being noted actor Sivakumar’s son and actor Suriya’s brother only meant that he faced a great challenge – that of meeting a benchmark. Karthi Sivakumar, basking in Paruthiveeran’s success, shares his experiences with Meera Srinivasan.
Attired in jeans and a striped T-shirt, he walked in quietly, with a pleasant smile. He spoke casually.
“I watched a lot of Jackie Chan and Bruce Lee films for inspiration, and used their strokes on my little sister,” he chuckles. Karthi’s childhood was marked by endless hours of play with the neighbourhood friends, and, of course, pillow fights with his sister. After his initial schooling at Padma Seshadri he went to St. Bede’s and later pursued engineering. But, all through, he was completely clued in to films. “From my father’s ‘Rosapoo Ravikkaikari’ to my other all-time favourites like ‘Billa’, ‘Nayagan’, ‘Agni Natchatram’ and ‘Devar Magan’, there are several films I’ve watched a number of times. I know the dialogues by heart.”
After graduation and a brief stint at an engineering consulting firm in Chennai, Karthi began considering higher studies abroad. “I was earning about Rs. 5,000 [a month] and found the work monotonous. That was when I thought I should do something more.” Though a student in New York, he also audited lectures offered as part of a film studies course there. Working part-time for a design firm there helped him identify his flair for visual design. “I put in a lot of time and effort there. I remember, our janitor was once shocked to find someone at office till as late as 4 a.m.” After his return to India, he was sure that the creative space was where he belonged. He assisted director Mani Ratnam in ‘Ayudha Ezhuthu’, after contributing to the post production work of its Hindi version, ‘Yuva’.
Watching technicians like Ravi K. Chandran and Sabu Cyril left him even more fascinated of the medium. When ‘Paruthiveeran’ happened he knew he was not taking a total risk. “Anna (Suriya) was totally convinced with director Ameer’s script. But, I knew I was in for a lot of hard work.” He attributes the success of the film to its director’s dedication and involvement. “He helped me in every aspect, including body language and dialect, to make sure I played the character nonchalantly.” The day the film hit theatres, Karthi sat inside Albert Theatre to watch the movie with the audience. After a pin-drop silence during the 20-minute climax, the audience stood up and applauded. “I had tears rolling down my cheeks.” In his next film ‘Ayirathil Oruvan’ for Selvaraghavan, he plays a city dude. “For the first time, I will wear trousers on screen,” he laughs.
Speaking of his family that backs him, he says, “I have seen how hard my brother worked to get to where he is today. My father is someone who leads by example, without imposing his ideas on us. He makes sure we are down to earth and simple.”