Crafting characters across mediums

From the stage to the screen, Krishnakumar Balasubramanian has charted an artistic path
Crafting characters across mediums

CHENNAI: The air hung heavy with the metallic scent of blood and the mournful cries of the dying. Chariots lay overturned and splintered, their golden adornments tarnished and wheels half-buried in the blood-soaked earth. The clang of swords and the twang of bowstrings had faded, replaced by the soft, almost reverent rustle of the wind through the scattered remnants of the mighty army. We see Krishna in his mighty avatar, voicing out his advice for the confused and raging Arjuna.

This scene from Nag Ashwin’s latest movie Kalki 2898 AD was exceptionally special for the audience and also for artiste Krishnakumar Balasubramanian (KK), artistic director of The Little Theatre. In the role of Krishna, KK becomes part of the post-apocalyptic dystopian world created by the director. While his face might not have been revealed in the movie, people who have worked with this theatre artiste — who has dabbled in acting and direction, and has also trained over 600 actors — are elated to watch him on the big screen. “When a lot of people ask me how am I okay with my face not being shown, I tell them that it really comes down to the vision of the director,” says KK.

Having transitioned from the stage to the screen with films like Soorarai Pottru, Maaran, etc., KK talks about being part of the latest release, Kalki 2898 AD, and his upcoming release Sarfira, the Hindi remake of Soorarai Pottru.

Into the dystopian world

During the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2021, KK received a call from Nag Ashwin. “He said he is making Kalki 2898 AD and was really excited about that one character that he wanted to shoot in silhouette. His vision was clear: he wanted Krishna’s character to exude an earthy, dark-skinned presence, maintaining a mysterious allure by never fully revealing his face,” shares KK.

Shooting the film was not an easy task. KK recounts a particularly challenging night shoot where he had to endure freezing temperatures. The set, a combination of physical constructs and CGI, featured a massive elephant amid a war-torn landscape, creating a surreal experience. KK says, “I am a huge fan of the dystopian future and post-apocalyptic genre and when I heard that they are merging mythology with a dystopian future, I was very excited to see how the world is going to pan out. It was a different experience working in front of the green screen but most of the moments were shot and crafted physically rather than created in VFX.”

The artiste’s philosophy is deeply rooted in the collaborative nature of filmmaking. “Direction helps you become a better actor,” he asserts. “Direction and acting, they feed off of each other. It’s all about switching off and letting the process unfold naturally.” This approach has not only honed his acting skills but also enriched his understanding of the art of storytelling.

Just before the release of Kalki, KK was neck-deep in the rehearsals for The Little Festival, an annual theatre event by The Little Theatre. Juggling various passions, KK says, “The trickiest part is balancing act of theatre and films. When you are shooting a film, you really don’t know how long a film is going to be. Even if they tell you six months, you will end up shooting four or five months after that again. Luckily, I have a solid team that I can rely on with The Little Theater. And it’s only because of my team that I’m able to do this juggling act.”

Touch down, Bollywood

KK is now gearing up for the release of his next big ticket, Sarfira, where he dons the same role as in the original but has worked with a new team. Sharing his experience working in a Bollywood movie, he says, “One of the strongest points about this movie is that Sudha Kongara is directing the movie. And usually when a director gets a second shot at making a film, it means that the film gets better by retaining its essence. But obviously, the nuances change because the characters are from different places and things like that. With Sarfira, I understood how I can work on a bigger set.”

While Soorarai Pottru had an OTT release, Sarfira will hit the screens. After wading through the challenges of releasing films on OTT platforms during the pandemic, KK remains optimistic about the future of cinema. “Even though Soorarai Pottru was received really well and won so many awards, people missed out the theatre experience. Now, people get to experience what they have missed out. I truly feel that these films will get the experience they deserve,” he says.

Though he is fielding several movie offers, his heart lies in theatre. Talking about the transition from theatre to films, the actor expresses that it presents unique challenges and opportunities. “Both the mediums are very different, and so is the approach to each role.” Despite these differences, he finds the experience enriching. “Theatre being my background truly helps me improvise. It’s always a fun challenge.”

As a key figure in The Little Theatre, KK continues to invest his time and energy into the stage. “Theatre has given me everything. It’s something people in Chennai always look forward to, and I’m always going to be invested in it.” KK is also excited about his future projects. “I do have a couple of projects coming up there, but unfortunately, I’m not allowed to disclose them yet till the producers put out some information,” he concludes.

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