Interview with Karthi about Kaashmora by Maya Nelluri
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26 October 2016

There is a man; A man among us. He is one of us; Yet apart from us. Before you start clicking away from this page expecting it to be a philosophical discussion, let’s clarify that these words just came to us when we tried to describe the man of the hour – Karthi. He is the quintessential boy-next-door, loveable rogue and heroic saviour, are all rolled into one and served up on screen. Speaking to him you might forget that in front of you is one of the biggest stars of this generation. He has that ease about him, laughing along and even cracking jokes. If the man does take himself seriously, he certainly hides it well. Give it a few minutes and it is easy to see why the world loves and adores him. In this exclusive tête-à-tête you will learn more about Karthi’s private life as well as his aspirations for his upcoming work of art – Kaashmora.

Let’s start with the basics, why Kaashmora? “I accepted this film because it is a fantasy; that means that there is so much scope. Be it camera work, music, costumes, take any aspect, every department has a chance to shine in this film. For me it wasn’t easy to play the three characters, I could not look like myself in any of them. I had to change my appearance but that was just one part of it. I had to also perform accordingly. The challenge was steering away from work that has been popularised by great actors before me like NTR and MGR. I did not want to ape them so it required a lot of rehearsals to pull off. I’m really glad about the end result.” And what about the name itself? Again, why Kaashmora? “The name really appealed to me. When I first heard it I did not know what it meant but it aroused a curiosity in me which was perfect for the kind of film we were doing. It is a multi-genre film which means it is a horror, comedy, action, fantasy. A film like this required a name that stands out. As for the meaning, black magic would be the closest word to associate with it.”

The Transformation
Judging from the trailers, Karthi has undergone some magnificent transformations in the film. “I took more time than the heroines to get ready in this film,” he laughs, “getting into the look of Raj Nayak was very difficult, and so was the third look which is being kept under wraps. As for the prep time for Raj Nayak’s role, it would take three to four hours. It took 30 minutes just for the tattoo to be drawn on to my face every time. Then there was the beard and the costumes. I even had to dance and fight atop a horse. With the third look there were prosthetics involved so that was another ordeal. And if you consider the scenes where two characters were to be on screen at the same time, it meant everyone else had to wait for me to get ready for both roles for one take. At that time Kamal Hassan sir came to mind, how did he do ten roles in one film?” he said sounding in awe, “This was also not a very big budget film but it was a big project so everything had to be rehearsed meticulously to be able to be shot in the given time. We did not have the luxury to shoot for another day.”

But this was a big budget film compared to most, right? Has that put more pressure on him? “It is an entertainer; there is nothing that people will not understand in this film. Also there is an abundance of humour and the 30 minutes of fantasy is something that will wow the audience. So I have to say that I’m very glad with the output. Of course naturally I am concerned about my producer and director and want them to benefit from it. The director spent two years of his life only on this project and the producer trusted both me and the director who is just two films old with such a large undertaking, so it is a big deal.” This kindness and concern he showers resonates in other areas too. When it comes to helping those in need, Karthi has been hands on with many causes. “If I can contribute in any way to those in need, I feel it is important that I do so. Especially when it comes to health or children’s issues. These are issues I feel close to. When I see the plight of others I feel we are so lucky so we should do something for others.”

Family Time
Speaking of luck, we wondered if he considered it lucky to hail from an already successful ‘film family’. “My father always said that because you are my son you will get one chance; if you don’t make it then, you will struggle. Basically it allowed me an entry into the industry but staying here is not easy. It requires a lot of hard work and I have to do work that people respect. There are a lot of expectations and pressure that comes with it.” Was there anything else his father counselled him about? “We were advised to be highly disciplined. He had already set such a high standard; we had to live up to it. He was never worried about making money; to him the craft, content and quality were most important. These values have been grilled into us from a young age. He would always say – Never tell me that you could have done better. You may not be the best but you have to give your best. Thinking about the past or the future does not help. You have to concentrate on what you are doing now.” Without missing a beat he continued, “He would say don’t think about short term goals. He encouraged us to create an identity for ourselves and set our own standards rather than adhering to standards that others set for us. He wanted us to always grow and learn.” Those are certainly some big shoes to fill. But there is another pair in the mix too. What about his superstar brother Suriya? Is there any sibling rivalry there? “He’s much older than me so no definitely not! People approached me with scripts which were unlike what he does so I’m lucky that way. I would not want to do similar work or be compared.” And then he adds his signature witty candour, “I’m thankful to my parents because we don’t look similar. Otherwise we would be constantly compared!”

Being a Father
While we are on the subject of family, how has the experience of becoming a father changed him? “You feel so much more responsible. Realising how dependent a child is on you makes you conscious of everything you do. They also pick up everything you do so even if you are not so good you have pretend to be good,” he jokes. “You also become very generous and conscientious. Even if you never paid much attention to children before, you look at any child and feel like every child is precious. You see things that are wrong in this world like pollution and it really bothers you about the world’s future.” That is truly a wonderful father speaking! What about his role as a husband? “Earlier we used to go on a lot of drives together and spend time but now our daughter is the highest priority for both of us. I think until she grows up everything will be her movie, her holiday, her everything!”

So have there been any ‘her holidays’ recently? “We were in Bali some time ago. Me and Ranjini took off for three hours on a two-wheeler just exploring the city. Our parents were there to look after our daughter so we could do it. There we came across a Green School. It was a real eye opener. It is something everyone should research. The whole school was environment friendly, there was no plastic used and the kids were taught a whole new outlook on life. It was really amazing to witness.”

Acting for Mani Ratnam
Skipping from reminiscing to contemplating, we landed on the film he is currently shooting with the legendary director Mani Ratnam. Speaking of the experience he said, “It is an honour for me to take direction from him as an actor. From being an AD for his film to being the protagonist is a massive thing for me. To be able to discuss the script, emotions, or scenes with him, and for him to consider my opinions, it is surreal for me. For others it may be the director Mani Ratnam but for me it’s my Mani sir! It’s really great to be back on his sets and next to him,” says the clearly smitten Karthi. Since he did start off as an AD, does he have any plans of going back to direction? “Until I have a concrete story, I’m going to be learning. There is so much to learn about filmmaking – how to tell a story, which tools to use, you are constantly learning. Once I have a story, and I know that no other director can do it, then I will direct!”

The Boy-next-door
Getting back to acting, leading men of the South often find themselves fitting into predictable moulds whereas Karthi has always stood out by strategically picking out unique and relatable scripts. How has that affected his relationship with the audience? “When I’m in public like at airports, people come and speak to me; they do not have any reservations. It might be because of the roles I’ve done. I’m grateful to my directors for showing me as the boy-next-door because people feel close to me and relate to me, they don’t see me as a star,” he says. “Especially after Oopiri, Telugu people who did not know me before appreciate me and they have been extremely kind to me. I have to thank Nag sir for accepting me and Vamsi for giving me that role. It was truly an endearing lovable character and one that brought me even closer to people.” Any last words about the film that is all set to release this Diwali? “I’m really looking forward to this Friday. After a long time I’ve got a festival release. Kaashmora has been under production for almost two years so I’m eagerly looking forward to the response from the audience. I hope they will really enjoy it; actually I am sure they will because it is a film that everyone from kids to grannies – all age groups can enjoy.” He signs off with, “I wish you all a very Happy Diwali!”

- Maya Nelluri

vijay jeedigunta

About Maya Nelluri: Writer, Artist, and Make-up & Hair Professional; but first and foremost - Telugu Cinema Addict! Previous work experience includes Styling for films and photo shoots featuring Shriya Saran, Rana, Saina Nehwal, Nani and many more. Also worked as Associate Editor for SouthScope and Copy Editor for Channel 6 among others.
Twitter: @mayanelluri

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