Gautham Karthik on ‘Pathu Thala,’ ‘August 16, 1947,’ and what actors should hold onto

With back-to-back commitments since the pandemic, Gautham says he is looking forward to going on a long bike ride

March 21, 2023 05:06 pm | Updated 05:28 pm IST

Gautham Karthik, and the actor in a still from ‘Pathu Thala’

Gautham Karthik, and the actor in a still from ‘Pathu Thala’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Ten years ago, actor Gautham Karthik debuted in Mani Ratnam’s Kadal. Life went on, he signed back-to-back films, went on long rides on his Harley Davidson, and in his free time, jammed with a city band called Incarcerated. Cut to 2023, and the newly-married Gautham has back-to-back releases with life now “a bit hectic.” But he has no complaints. “I have wanted to keep running and working for a long time. I feel like everything’s going well now,” he says.

Between 2017 and 2019, Gautham starred in nine films, but as was the case for everyone, the pandemic slowed things down. The pandemic was an opportunity to focus more internally, says the actor. “I looked back at my journey; I have had both hits and flops, and I started analysing what worked, what didn’t, what I need to work on, what I should start avoiding, and so on.”

Gautham has three releases coming up — Pathu Thala, co-starring Silambarasan TR (releasing on March 3), NS Ponkumar’s August 16, 1947 (April 7), and debutant director Dhakshinamoorthy Ramar’s Criminal, which is in post-production. August 16, 1947 is a period film that narrates the tale of how a village in Tamil Nadu, during Indian independence, fought back the colonisers. It is Gautham’s character who anchors the fight. “He is not a freedom fighter. He is more of a person who is inspired through love to overcome his fear, and in doing so, inspires the village,” says Gautham, without revealing much of the plot.

A lot has been spoken about the importance of set design, make-up, and costumes to convey a period film authentically to the audience. But do they help the actor in their performance? “Some actors can perform without any of these and some only with them.I take in everything from my environment, which includes the costume I have on because I have to start believing that I am the character. For instance, in August 16, 1947, once you put on that saaku pai (burlap), veshti, and walk barefoot, your body language and dialogue delivery will change.” Gautam adds that even speaking in a specific slang can affect facial expressions. “I believe that if I take in all of that and transform my character into something, it will look authentic,” he adds.

Gautham in a still from ‘August 16, 1947’

Gautham in a still from ‘August 16, 1947’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Gautham’s upcoming film Pathu Thala is billed as a remake of the 2017 Kannada hit film Mufti but the actor says that he is hesitant to call it a remake. “I don’t think we can compare the two. Mufti is one of my favourite films, and that’s why when director Narthan wanted me to do this, I was quite happy. Narthan sir couldn’t continue with the project and Obeli N Krishna sir came in and he evolved the script into a more Tamil-oriented film,” he says.

Narthan wanted Gautham to play the role that Sriimurali played in the original. “I asked him if I would suit this role because Sriimurali sir’s screen presence was powerful.” But Krishna’s script seems to have further changed the character into something that would fit Gautham. “I don’t think I can do justice to what Sriimurali sir did. His body language and his screen presence are entirely different, but I have brought what I could.” Thanks to Krishna’s changes, however, Gautham says that he could approach it as a new film without the pressures of a remake.

Gautham in a still from ‘Pathu Thala’

Gautham in a still from ‘Pathu Thala’ | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Gautham is not new to multi-hero subjects, from his very first filmto last year’s Yutha Satham. But given how tight a film production is, with every second carrying a price and everything an actor has in hand to focus, can an actor learn from a senior actor, say, Silambarasan in this case? “Let alone senior actors, even a junior actor or a child artist can teach you something,” says Gautham, adding that if one is open to learning, they will always keep improving. “Yes, we need to be attentive to what we are doing, but it’s good to observe how others are performing because that might be something new. That’s a beautiful way to evolve, and a lot of actors do it,” he says.

Gautham is not willing to divulge much about Criminal just yet. However, it is interesting to note how despite choosing each of these scripts based on their merits, at different points in time, all three have their own take on law and injustice. However, Gautham calls this just another coincidence.

For an actor who got into films without any training, Gautham says that he would not ask for a different journey and that everything he learnt, from success and failures, has been valuable. “I do regret not going to dance classes — dance is one of my biggest fears — and stunt training. But there’s always time for me to learn.” He looks at these last 10 years as an experimental journey. “I am still searching for the space I would fit in. As of now, I still have the freedom to try things and see how they go. I think my life’s journey will be that — to keep learning and improving.” He says that he has all goals that any actor will have, but that it is more important to not put himself in a box. “We need to keep reinventing ourselves, and check what’s working and what’s not working.”

Gautham Karthik

Gautham Karthik | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Creative people are more susceptible to spiralling into a mental or emotional pit that is tough to get out of. Gautham has seen his share of ups and down and he believes that there is one thing that all actors should hold onto to save themselves during such times: people who treat them normally. “When you are successful, you will get tag-alongs who cheer for you but will leave you feeling completely lost when you fall. They are toxic, and will ensure you keep spiralling down.” An actor, he says, needs people who will tell it to their face when they go wrong. “And whether you give hits or flops, they will treat you like a normal human being. They will keep you grounded, and they will pull you out of the pit.”

Gautham sold off his Harley Davidson during the pandemic, but now that he has finished much of his backlog, he hopes to get back to riding a bike, “or playing his guitar”. Now, does he carry musical aspirations as well? “No, these are things only for Gautham the human, not Gautham the actor. Gautham the human gets peace of mind by just sitting by himself in a room, playing a few notes, and listening to himself.”

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