‘It’s like you’re in a Rolls-Royce…’

…says Karthi, as he describes the feeling of being in a Mani Ratnam film. He talks to vishal menon about Kaatru Veliyidai and the ‘magic’ that unfurls between ‘action’ and ‘cut’

What dominated Karthi’s long discussions as a youngster, watching films in Sathyam theatre, wasn’t how Mission: Impossible’s thrilling heist sequence was shot or how the writers of The Usual Suspects arrived at such a twist. What mattered to him were the whys. “Why do these films, even in our limited understanding of the setting, create such an impact on us? Why does it affect us like not many other films do? What’s that magic?”

His career itself has revolved around understanding what this ‘magic’ is made up of and this quest has led him to the sets of Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai, where, as he puts it, ‘there’s beauty even in the background movement’. “You sense that everything is in harmony. Scenes flow like water… there’s a rhythm for every moment, every character.”

Even scenes he didn’t understand at first became crystal clear when he watched it on screen. “Mani sir once asked me to pause for a few seconds in the middle of a dialogue. I didn’t get it then, but I later realised that he’d wanted that pause to insert the background score.”

Yet, he says, it’s the freedom to improvise that makes the difference. Karthi’s character in the film, though thoroughly researched, was arrived at after long discussions between the actor and the director. “Isn’t that why we’re called artistes? If an actor can’t contribute to the creation, isn’t he just a labourer executing instructions?”

As he sees it, these discussions are as much about what to leave out as they are about what to include. This exclusion could even be Karthi’s trademark smile, the one that helped him achieve his stardom. “Every time that smile crept in, he would stop me. It might seem like a small thing, but it has made a big difference. I almost look like a different person.”

Does this porcess require absolute control over every little expression? “You make a mental note before every scene on what you have to do. But that alone doesn’t cut it. It’s like playing a note… you know what to play but you also need to let go. The magic lies in letting go.”

So when everyone on the sets is given that space to ‘let go’, the results are there for all to see. “That gives you a high. Usually, directors get a scene and their thoughts are limited to chopping them into pieces to shoot. This is so much more. You keep driving your regular car and then you drive a Rolls Royce. It’s that kind of a difference.”

Mani Ratnam and Karthi on the sets of 'Kaatru Veliyidai'

Mani Ratnam and Karthi on the sets of 'Kaatru Veliyidai'  


An old assistant to Mani Ratnam (he assisted him in Aaytha Ezhuthu), Karthi feels it’s great that a film with him has happened when he’s experienced enough to hold a conversation. “It’s a pleasure to have a director who thinks for you and who makes you think too,” he says, “Kaatru Veliyidai is not like the usual film where you can predict exactly how a scene is going to pan out the moment you reach the sets.”

Yet, one wonders why he chooses to sign those films that don’t challenge him. “When Siruthai became a hit, there was suddenly a lot at stake. A lot of people were telling me what to do and what not to. But at some point, you realise that’s not the way to go. Good or bad, you need to be making your own choices.”

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Printable version | Apr 8, 2020 4:46:44 AM |

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