After Kaatru Veliyidai, Karthi is back with Theeran Adhigaram Ondru, playing a cop for the second time in his career. From explaining his character in Kaatru Veliyidai to his view on cops in general, Karthi here is at his candid best.
Releasing this week, Theeran Adhigaram Ondru is Karthi’s second outing as a cop after Siruthai (2011), which was a super hit. “Theeran...is a lot different from Siruthai,” he explains. “Siruthai wasn’t a typical cop story. This, however, is about an upright cop. The story is inspired by a real dacoity case handled by the Tamil Nadu police.”
Karthi is excited about playing the cop again, and calls khaki special. “The moment you wear it, you feel a sense of power,” he says. “I’ve a lot of respect for policemen. It’s amazing how far they push themselves for their work. We often make uninformed judgements about police officers. How many of us really know about their lives?”
It’s a cop film, and naturally, emotions run high. “Any film for that matter needs such drama. We don’t want to end up with a film that feels like a documentary,” he laughs. “In Theeran... we have shown how cops work around their limitations. We also talk about the cultural differences between regions.”
The film’s events unfold between 1995 and 2005, and there’s a lot of focus on keeping the film’s characters real. “What were some of the difficulties cops used to face without the technological advancements of today? We found such possibilities quite exciting.”
There’s an interesting shot in the teaser which shows Karthi rising from under the sands in a desert. “We shot those portions in Rajasthan. I was under the sand for two-and-a-half minutes holding my breath. I have never felt more claustrophobic.”
After Siruthai, Karthi was getting a lot of cop roles but he refused to bite, and did Saguni. “The film wasn’t appreciated at the time, but now, when people see it on TV, they tell me they liked it. Even government officials and IAS officers have complimented me saying it’s my best film yet.”
Our conversation veers to Mani Ratnam’s Kaatru Veliyidai (2017), which released to lukewarm responses. Several reviewers were ruthless in their criticisms of Karthi’s performance and the character he played. “Mani Ratnam didn’t make a regular film, and my character wasn’t like his usual heroes. No director could have imagined me like that. Even I couldn’t imagine myself like that! It took me time to understand Varun Chakrapani and his character. Lots of fighter pilots are like that because they go through a lot in life.”
We point out that some even thought Kaatru Veliyidai, perhaps the biggest film of his career, was misogynistic. “Neither Mani Ratnam nor I say that a woman should suffer abuse at the hands of her boyfriend. But personally, I know a lot of strong women who are similar to Leela. Many women messaged me saying that they could relate to the character. Some even hated me for the character I played. Mani would say that there’s a Varun in all of us and that it’s better we accept the truth.”
Life has come full circle for Karthi during the last decade: he’s gone from assisting Mani Ratnam in Aayutha Ezhuthu (2004) to acting in his film. “I was obese then and wasn’t confident about my body. Discipline, perseverance and passion have made me what I am today. Sustenance matters ultimately,” he says.
He thinks of himself as a director’s actor but doesn’t shy away from giving pointers and feedback. “I share a good bond with all the filmmakers I’ve worked with, including Ameer, Selvaraghavan, Pa Ranjith, Gokul and Muthiah. The filmmaker in me rests when I’m acting, but I do give inputs. Actors also know things, okay?” He can’t see himself venturing into production though. “Why should I, when I have Suriya around? (laughs)”