How books about Vandiyathevan & Karikalan helped Karthi and Vikram understand characters better

Karthi said at times his obsession with reading the book got him in trouble. "If I raise my voice about anything, the first thing Mani sir would say, 'is this from the book or the script?"
Karthi and Vikram in 'Ponniyin Selvan - 1'. (Screengrab)
Karthi and Vikram in 'Ponniyin Selvan - 1'. (Screengrab)

BENGALURU: On this World Book Day, in a nod to the power of books to transport one to a different era, actor Karthi said books about the time that Vallavarayan Vandiyathevan lived helped him better understand this popular Tamil literary character.

"Not just Kalki's Ponniyin Selvan, I needed to read other books also to get an idea of what Vandiyathevan could have been like," he said.

On Saturday, some actors of Mani Ratnam's multi-starrer, 'Ponniyin Selvan 2' --- Trisha, Vikram, Karthi and Jayam Ravi --- were interacting with the media in Bengaluru after launching the Kannada trailer of the film.

The historical saga is scheduled for an all-India release on April 28.

'Ponniyan Selvan' is an adaptation of the epic of the same name by Kalki.

Books establish a character in leisure, said Karthi, adding that when they are being made into a film, they have to be compressed and repackaged, therefore more knowledge about the character and the time he or she lived in is an advantage to the actor.

"For me the difficulty was, it was a 3,000-odd pages book, which was compressed to 300 pages for a script. For example, Vandiyathevan met Kundavai multiple times before they spoke to each other. But in the movie, they meet only once. All that transpired in the book in those multiple meetings had to be told in that one meeting. So, unless you read the book and take in all that Vandiyathevan carries through, you cannot represent the right Vandiyathevan. I had to go back to the book and not just stick to the script. I used to read the scene from the book once and then the script, before coming for the shoot," said Karthi.

Karthi said at times his obsession with reading the book got him in trouble with the director. "If I raise my voice about anything, the first thing Mani sir would say, 'is this from the book or the script?'. He also used to say, "stop reading the book and stick to the script'," he added.

But Karthi said despite that he kept at it.

He said he somehow felt the need to understand a common man's view at that time, as Vandiyathevan's character travelled through the expanse of Chola kingdom, meeting people.

"There were no accounts of the common man anywhere in history. So, I had to read travelogues and Silappathikaram. For example, in Silappathikaram, which was written in the 4th century, Kovalan and Kannagi travel from Poompuhar to Madurai in search of a livelihood. They cross a river and there's an account there where it says people pray to the river before they cross it, as rivers were the source of life. That one thing stuck to my mind and when we were shooting a river-crossing scene, I told Mani sir about it and he made me pray too. There were a lot of references from the street in poetry as well."

Vikram too agreed that after he read the book it was possible to understand the many layers that made his character Aditya Karikalan. That he was not just a brave warrior but also a vulnerable lover.

"When I was younger, I didn't read the book, but had only heard of Karikalan. For a long time, I believed from what I heard that Karikalan was called that because his leg was burnt. To me, this toughness made him a hero. Later, I came to know that this is not true --- my mother had narrated the story to me then. Now, of course, I have read the book. Once you read the book, you see Karikalan in a different light." 

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The New Indian Express