Interviewer : Inian & Jyothsna Bhavanishankar | Camera : Balaji | Text : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
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The first thing that strikes when you see Karthi is his instant spontaneity and his genuine warmth. Buoyed by the success of Paiyaa and excited by Naan Mahaan Alla, Karthi took time off from his busy schedule to speak to Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar and Inian.

How do you feel about Paiyaa’s success?

As I had mentioned earlier, Paiyaa was like a new film for me. It was a new experience as I felt I was being introduced as a new face with a new body language and so on. I was anxious how I would be received. However, I did not expect the response to be this huge as it has been lapped by children, women, family audience and all alike. It was very pleasant. Wherever I went, people said that they have seen the film many times and that it was such an enjoyable one without any heavy depressing moments. It gave me a new dimension and demonstrated that I can essay even lighter roles with urban background. Paiyaa has widened my horizons.

Paiyaa has widened my horizons

Characterization of Jeeva is very

interesting in NMA

What is Naan Mahaan Alla all about?

Naan Mahaan Alla is not about a hero but about a middle class boy, his parents, his lover, his first job and the life around him. NMA treks beautifully on an uncinematic course, not crossing the boundaries of realism anywhere. It also shows how one’s life gets affected and altered by others in a big city. The best thing I like about NMA is my character Jeeva, who is extremely positive, loves children and people around him. There will not be any trace of a leader in Jeeva but he will be one among many. He has so much humor in him and one cannot stop his pranks. Characterization of Jeeva is very interesting in NMA. However, his life also changes and NMA is about how he reacts to this change. It is just a slice of his life.

How is NMA different from your earlier films?

I am unable to compare NMA with my earlier works. While in Paiyaa, my looks resembled the real me but in NMA it reflects my actual character and behavior at home, with my family, friends etc. I am not a hero in NMA but an ordinary Paiyaa. Everyone can relate to my role. If Paiyaa was a commercial fantasy ride, NMA is more and more a realistic attempt of cinema. It has romance, comedy and other elements of cinema. NMA will not be dry but hugely entertaining within the realistic formwork.

What made you accept a fairly fresher’s film after having worked with established directors?

Suseendiran surprised me. When I saw Vennila Kabbadi Kuzhu, I understood he is a good film maker. He has extracted quality work from artistes, music department and from every quarter in VKK. As such, VKK was not an easy subject because Kabbadi is not as popular as cricket. But he has proved his mettle in his very first film. When he was narrating the story of NMA, I was laughing throughout the first half. I realized his narration was acutely detailed and had the clarity of a bound script. I knew that there need not be any apprehensions. Same way, there were no extra shots while he was filming; he exactly knew what he wanted. More than that, he put me at ease even while doing serious scenes. It was more of a behavior rather than performance from my side. It was easy working with Suseendiran.

It was easy working with


Any homework for NMA?

We rehearsed for a week for NMA which helped us understand one another. I am there in all the scenes and hence my performance is very critical. Suseendiran should understand how I am going to perform and I should be aware of his expectations. The week we spent in rehearsal was very interesting and the performances were getting better than it appeared on paper. I also used to observe the boys playing in Lloyds Colony. More than anything, it is only the life that I have led as a school boy or a college lad. That’s about it!

Do you have the stubble in the entire film?

No, there are two looks in the film. One with the beard and the other without it. The stubble is when I move around happily and the other look when a change comes into my life.

Do you wear stylish costumes in NMA?

No. As I said, there is no hero or dream scene in the film. It’s the life of a normal middle class boy. I wear half sleeved checked shirts, two shoes and go around in a second-hand bike! It is more of a realistic film.

I am the comedian in NMA

Did your family watch NMA?

Yes, my mom and sister watched it. They could not talk to anyone for fifteen minutes as NMA is not a light film but a slightly hard hitting one. It was impactful. They also appreciated the comedy. I am the comedian in NMA who looks sometimes like Goundamani and sometimes like Senthil. There are two shades. And they also appreciated Suseendiran’s depth of work in screen play and characterization.

Compare the romance in Paiyaa and NMA

In Paiyaa, it is one side love. In NMA the hero directly opens up his love to the heroine, the characterization is as such. And there are many interactions (in NMA) after they have fallen in love with each other. Hence there were some intimate scenes. Our first shot was the kissing scene at the beach and surprisingly Kajal and I were comfortable from the day one. We never had any apprehensions or hesitations and hence the scenes have come out well. Kajal has a good sense of comedy timing. When we were dubbing, we were laughing continuously despite having seen the scenes repeatedly. It is a lot of comedy more than romance.

Our first shot was the kissing

scene at the beach

Kajal Agarwal is an energy


On Kajal Agarwal

Kajal Agarwal is an energy bomb who is always on a high energy level. I was wondering how she is going to perform subtly but she adapted herself very well and very quickly. She has a good screen presence and she is also a top heroine in Telugu. She has a command in front of the camera. Tamannah is very studious but Kajal is casual but delivers perfectly. Tamannah speaks good Tamil and Telugu and Kajal has to improve on this aspect.

How is it that Yuvan scores are special in your films?

(Laughs loudly) I think I am plain lucky. Yuvan has scored in Paruthi Veeran and Paiyaa. Directors Ameer and Lingusamy are musically inclined who extract good songs from their music directors which are always hits. Yuvan is the first PRO of NMA which is an emotional film and not a musical one. He first saw the film and was so impressed that he remixed songs.

Yuvan is the first PRO of NMA

And the orchestration and everything changed afterwards. He has also sung a song in NMA. Yuvan has worked very hard for this film and I am benefited in the process. The script has truly inspired him and when Yuvan is inspired by a script, his work is exemplary. He has worked for 12 days for the second half which hardly has any dialogues. Yuvan is the one who narrates the story in the second half through his music. First half songs are family based. Iragai Pole is the ring tone of everyone these days ever since Yuvan tweeted about it and it is also my favorite number. Pathos song in this film is much demanding and sounds good in Madhu Balakrishnan’s voice. It is for the film that Yuvan has scored and not for me. He has taken the re-recording in the film to a higher level.

About cinematographer Madhie

Paiyaa was the perfect fodder for Madhie’s talent in terms of showing visual opulence in a travelogue. As NMA is a city-based film and there are already many films in this genre, he had to bring some kind of difference in this project and he strove very hard for this. NMA is a performance-oriented film and Madhie’s work forms part of the narration. After he completed the film, he had only this to say, “I should not be seen anywhere as a cameraman because that is the need of the film.” What floored me most was that the same places which appeared romantic and beautiful in the first half had taken on a scary color in the second half. He has woven magic through lens and lighting. The climax will be the highlight of the film. The stunt sequences have been aptly captured by Madhie who has done the right type of work in sync with the script. In no place, he would stand out as the cameraman but has rendered what is right for the subject.

On the kissing scene

When Suseendiran was discussing the film, he told Madhie to decide on the tone but was keen to capture the performances as NMA is a character-based film. Hence most of the shots were close-ups or mid-shots. My first fan is Madhie who gives out the very first reaction to all the comedy scenes behind the camera. In the beach shot, my irritated response towards the sundal boy hampering my kissing the heroine brought in laughter from Madhie who had let the camera slip from his hand. Whenever the camera shakes in a scene, I know Madhie is laughing.

Art director Rajeevan

Rajeevan sir’s work cannot be found out at all because once you know it is the set, then there is no fizz. To give a small example, generally in government quarters, it is a dreary visual. But Rajeevan had painted the wall in blue and gave a real good feel to the house. I don’t want to tell you about other things but whatever you feel things are real in the film, they are only sets. That’s all I can say!

Hero-villain graph in NMA is


Action sequences

The hero-villain graph in NMA is new and that’s why none of us have discussed about it in any of the promotions. In Paiyaa, a commercial film, it was normal for the hero to hit many men but in NMA it is not like that. In NMA, even the actions sequences are realistic and we have shown it as a struggle of the hero. Anal Arasu, the action choreographer has understood this and delivered it right. There would be a story within the fight.

NMA trailer revealed violence. Don’t you think it will have a negative impact on impressionable minds?

We cannot do all the scenes in a pleasant fashion always. We have to deliver what is needed for the story. If I do every film in a very nice way, I would be questioned even for that. The idea is to have the trailer in the specific way is basically to prepare the audience that they are not going to watch Paiyaa again. NMA is not like Paiyaa. It is a realistic hard-hitting film. Keeping this in mind, we had a slight overdose of violence in the trailer alone. It was intentional. And actually, there is only one fight in NMA which is the climax. We want to tell you that as a city dweller you have to protect your happiness. And you have to be careful. The film is in fact based on a real life incident. It tells you to be on the vigil, and protect your loved ones.

NMA is not like Paiyaa

It was comfortable and easy

dancing for NMA

Have you improved your dance steps?

Dance was needed just for one song. It was comfortable and easy dancing for NMA. I think you will see my improvement in NMA and appreciate.

Films from you and Suriya are immediately being lapped by Sun Pictures and Cloud Nine. Your comment

How can I explain? (Guffaws!) It was very interesting to watch the promotional activities of Cloud Nine during Paiyaa. They are fully into it and their think tank is constantly engaged in devising new strategies to promote the film vigorously. It is very surprising to get such a distributor. They asked me during Paiyaa if we could work again. They show a lot of interest. Perhaps it has to do with the way I show my interest too. I have always actively participated in all the promotional activities. Secondly, probably they are confident that I will do good work (laughs again).

How is your nephew Dev?

Oh, he is super, a strong boy. Looks like he will take away our sleep after a while.

Your current project?

I am shooting Siruthai, a remake of Telugu Vikramarkudu. It is shaping up well. For the first time I am teaming up with Santhanam. The shooting spot is lively and I am having fun. It is a mass commercial entertainer with lots of emotions and I do a double role for the first time.

Vikramarkudu was known for its lewd comedy. Are there changes in Siruthai?

Yes, of course, we have made many changes. The film was released four years back and we have altered it to suit our audience.

When is your wedding?

When I get my bride!

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