‘I wouldn’t have done Sardar a few years ago’: Karthi

Karthi talks about his latest release and the challenges of playing a role that involved multiple makeovers
Tamil actor Karthi
Tamil actor Karthi

Spy thrillers have always been an irreplaceable part of cinematic history, and yet, it has remained fairly under-explored in recent Tamil cinema. Karthi believes that his recent release Sardar is changing that.

Directed by PS Mithran, the film stars Karthi in dual roles while Raashii Khanna and Rajisha Vijayan play the female leads.

“We don’t usually make films centred around spies and even when we do, we cannot seem to avoid the heavy influence of western cinema. We aimed to change that with Sardar,” says Karthi who was apparently impressed with the director’s vision for this film.

“Mithran wanted to explore how someone born here, someone with relatable life experiences would do things as a spy. The motivations of the spy and the case he’s working on thrilled me. These aspects ultimately made me choose the project.”

Karthi plays an ex-RAW agent named Chandrabose (codename: Sardar), and also his son, a police officer named Vijayaprakash. Apart from playing dual roles, the actor has had to sport a variety of looks in the film, some involving the spy (Sardar) disguises. Karthi calls his experience with several makeovers “a strenuous task” which also involved other intricacies.

“I’m not accustomed to changing many looks in my films. The most I’ve transformed was for Kashmora. But for Sardar, the script demanded all those getups. We tried our best to approach the transformations from a level beyond just the usage of prosthetics. For example, what would a stage actor do to transform himself? What would such a person think when he becomes a spy? We mulled over several concepts before designing various looks. I think these aspects differentiate Sardar from other films of the genre.”

The ‘father’ look demanded the most out of him, Karthi shares. “It was definitely the toughest to pull off. He’s a 60-year-old man; so, we wanted him to look and move like an old man. But he’s also a trained field operative, so he has to be physically adept while fighting.” The Ponniyin Selvan actor says that a lot of discussions went into designing the look.

“We realised that it wasn’t just about slapping on prosthetics. I told our makeup artist Pattanam Rasheed sir that I had to look convincingly old. Rasheed sir painstakingly drew all the features on my face every day for two to three hours to get the desired look.”

Talking about the second role in the film where he plays a police officer named Vijayaprakash, Karthi remembers his initial hesitation about playing a cop again, “I have previously played a police officer in Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru and Siruthai. I asked Mithran if there was a way to do the film without playing dual roles but the script demanded it. We made efforts to ensure that my role as a cop in the film did not have familiar shades from my previous characters.”

A racy narrative and a globe-trotting story have always been the central allure of spy thrillers, and Sardar is no exception. Karthi says, “The film takes us through multiple locations in a short span of time. The story never demanded more than two days of shooting at a particular location. For two days of shoot, we had to travel to places such as Azerbaijan and Manali, and for a small sequence, we had to recreate Bangladesh. Such was the scale of the film.”

As he taps into memories of travelling for the shoot, Karthi recalls the hard work that has gone into making Sardar. “Director Mithran worked for two years on the script. There was meticulous thought and effort put into every department. From Kathir sir’s art department to George C Williams’ cinematography department, all of us worked towards making our audience feel proud about having a well-made spy thriller from our very own industry.”

Sardar reunites Karthi with composer GV Prakash Kumar after 2015’s Komban. What makes this film’s album extra special for Karthi is the fact that he has lent his voice for a song titled ‘Yaerumayileri’. “I lost my throat trying to sing in that high pitch,” says a smiling Karthi.

“Even before we started filming, GV came up with a piece for the theme music that felt very international, and that set a standard for the film. Even though Sardar is a grounded spy-thriller, the music enhances the grandeur of the film. We shot a lot of scenes with the theme music playing in the background.”

Karthi beams with respect and reverence while talking about his co-stars, Rajisha Vijayan and Raashii Khanna. Talking about Raashii, he says, “She has fun on the sets but gets serious whenever there is a tough scene. Sometimes, even when the director approves a take, she would ask to redo it. Caring deeply about your performance like that is vital for an actor and ensures longevity.”

Rajisha Vijayan, who appears in the flashback portions, seems to have impressed the actor with her acting prowess, “She is an intuitive actor. Even though she has limited scenes in the film, she prepared for her role for six months. There was a scene where she had to get emotional, and even before we started rolling the camera she already had tears in her eyes. She prepares well in order to register a strong performance onscreen.”

At a time when early internet reactions have become habitual, the suspense aspect of a thriller film has lost its potency thanks to spoilers reaching the audience before they get a chance to see the film. But Karthi is unfettered.

“The most interesting aspects about Sardar do not hinge upon a revelation that can be ruined by a spoiler,” says the actor who feels that the audience will unravel something new on every multiple viewing, thanks to the way Mithran has constructed the story.

“I never thought I would do a spy-thriller. I wouldn’t have done Sardar a few years ago. After gathering years of experience, I am now confident that I can bear the weight of such a complex film.”

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