Karthik Kumar
Interviewer : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar | Camera : Balaji | Text : Jyothsna Bhavanishankar
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Karthik Kumar or Evam Karthik as he is popularly called is making inroads into Tamil cinema with his varied portrayals of characters. Straddling the twin horses of theatre and cinema, this talented actor is currently working in an important role in Gautham Menon’s production venture Veppam directed by newcomer Anjana. Visibly excited about Veppam, Karthik Kumar talks to Senior Editor Jyothsna Bhavanishankar. Over to Karthik.
A brief intro

I was going down my memory lane a couple of days back wondering about the various things I had done and what exactly I wanted to become in my life. As far as my earliest memory could take me to, I can recall that I had an avid interest to act. As a part of my art journey, I wanted to become an actor and move the audience through my performance. It is fifteen years since I began this journey. I started work in theatre and continue to do now. It has been an interesting journey so far even in cinema. My first identity is an actor, then an entrepreneur. I started a theatre movement called Evam. My life is going on these two tracks now and I am enjoying it.

About Evam

Evam is a theatre movement, taking theatre to the youth. Our group is the one which has introduced that special theatrical experience of watching plays live on stage to the current generation. We are responsible for bringing a lot of young people into theatre. Not only that, we also do many theatre workshops in art colleges, engineering colleges across Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and also in places where there is no cultural movement hitherto. We do theatre workshops, entrepreneurship workshops. We bring out the dreams from the youngsters and empower them to reach their goals. That’s what Evam stands for.

Evam is a theatre movement,

taking theatre to the youth

What made you try cinema?

I wouldn’t say I tried cinema. Cinema is always there in an artist’s mind because it gives him (her) a wider reach. When I first received a call from Madras Talkies for an audition, I knew my journey had begun. PC sir and Mani sir did a screen test on me and I got a small role in Alai Payudhe which was followed by a lead role in PC sir’s film (Vaanam Vasappadum). The subsequent two years witnessed me in stereotypical roles of a rich boy, America return etc. However I have grabbed good opportunities that came my way in the last two years and have proved. I have done negative characters, roles with grey shades, comedy roles, subdued ones and so on. The current film that I am working in is Veppam where I am doing the role of a slum boy. As an artist, I am eager to bring out all the facets of my performance and want to showcase my new reflections to the audience.

Cinema is completely a

director’s medium

Differences between theatre and cinema

As an actor, it is a direct contact with the audience in theatre shows. To imbibe the energy of the 1000 odd audience and to give it back is what happens in theatre plays. It is a direct relationship between the artist and the audience. Literally, there is nothing separating the audience from the artist. In cinema, you are playing to just one audience and it is imperative that you need to satisfy this one audience, the director. Once the film is released and when the plaudits start arriving, the credit goes to the director. At the end of the day, you are playing to the camera, to the director who is the captain. Cinema is completely a director’s medium, 100%.

Which one satisfies you the most- theatre or cinema?

As a creator and as an entrepreneur, stage has been a very very satisfying medium. The special appeal that the theatre enjoyed during the 1930s, 40s of M R Radha troupe, Boys company and later Cho’s Thuglaq, started waning away in the 70s, 80s and 90s. And that’s when our troupe injected new energy to the theatre. As an entrepreneur, theatre has given me lot of recognition. However in cinema, the one to one relationship between the director and the artist is the most special, be it with a stalwart like Mani sir or with a debutant like Anjana. An actor is only working for the director and as an actor I really enjoy my work in cinema.

Does theatre experience help in cinema?

For an artist, theatre experience is akin to an education centre. Stage is the only preparation area for an artist. Once when you land in cinema, there is no training as such for acting. You straight away stand in front of the camera, you will be given your dialogues an hour before the shot and you end up spending your time in understanding and memorizing your lines. You do not have time to think about the emotions and the reactions associated with it. Acting begins the

Acting begins the moment you

start reacting

moment you start reacting to the character which stands in front of you and it is mostly reacting to the other character in the frame. In cinema, there is no training as such. Take for an instance a fabulous actor like Suriya; it took 12 films for him to get that maturity. Till the time he got a director like Bala, he was in the process of being molded. If Suriya had started with theatre, his first film would have been Nanda. He is undoubtedly a talented artist but the talent gets polished only with constant practice. Theatre is the only format for an actor for training.

How do you balance theatre and cinema?

It is like how Nagesh did a film called Sarvar Sundaram and also a play by the same name when he was at the peak of his career. It is always a give and take relationship. One needs to do both. A point of weariness sets in when I do three films and not a single play. I miss the audience’s interaction and the energy levels. So there is always a play and a film going on simultaneously in my life. I don’t do more than 2 films in a year. But I would very definitely do a play for it takes 8 months to do a play and same is the case with a film too. If this combination is not there, I feel there is some kind of void in my life.

How did you get Veppam?

Director Anjana had a very special script. She did not directly ask me if I would do her film. But I asked her if I could do this role when the narration was on. Nobody has given me such a role till now, a highly ambitious slum boy who wants to make it real big in life. He is an orphan running a mechanic shop. If I had been slotted within a specific frame which generally happens in film industry, I would not have got this role. It is a very special thing to have got such a character. She had confidence in me and was sure that I would prepare for it. I had lost 4-5 kilos to look leaner and a wee bit under nourished.

What genre is Veppam?

Veppam is action and drama. It is about three boys, their relationship, love and betrayal. They get involved in erroneous activities. Veppam is about whether they mend their ways or get pulled in deeply into the quagmire.

How was it working with Anjana?

Although it is a debut directorial film for Anjana, the film was within her and she had nurtured it for quite a long time. It is almost like a dream to her and she knows the film completely. In Veppam unit, there are 5 assistant directors and 4-5 lead actors. But nobody knows the film in its entirety. They only know their track and a little bit more. That’s all! Anjana knows the film even before she went on floors although she registered it only recently. But she has already made it in her mind; only the shooting is going on now.

What stage is Veppam in now?

90% of the shooting is complete. We are going to shoot songs next month. And September, October would be post production work and Veppam will hit the screens by November or December.

You have tried different roles. Which is very difficult to portray?

Well, to be honest, to portray the romantic chocolate boy role in Tamil cinema is highly difficult for me. Siddharth and Jeyam Ravi do it in a very cute, charming way. In my very first movie with PC sir, Vaanam Vasappadum, I had the role of a lover boy and it was difficult. It is a different genre by itself. I find it tough to perform the sweet, casual, romantic charming roles. I can do the dramatic, intense, powerful, negative, emotional and comedy genres. Comedy is my second nature as that’s what we do mostly on stage in our plays. We make the audience laugh which is after all such a noble thing to do. It is very difficult for me to be a lover boy.

Mani sir is the reason for my

cinematic journey

Which director you would give everything to work for?

Undoubtedly Mani sir! I am always available for him whenever he calls me even for a small role. Mani sir is the reason for my cinematic journey. And next Kamal Hassan as the director because Kamal is the most underrated director today in Tamil cinema. Nobody can make a film like Virumandi. In the current scenario, Gautham’s works are very appreciable. And Ameer’s Paruthi Veeran is exceptionally special. Among the new rung of directors, I like Pannerselvam of Renigunta, Suseendiran, Samudirakani, and Sasikumar who deliver exciting films. And of course Anjana Ali Khan! I am going to be there in her next four-five films in whatever film she makes.

How was it working with Dhanush?

Dhanush is 4-5 years younger than me but the variety of roles that he has done is remarkable. He has done comedy, satire, grey shades and so much more. Working with him was like a good give and take relationship. Sometimes it was competitive which is healthy for actors and sometimes there will be sparks in the set which were good as we were trying to be one step ahead of the other. It was very special working with Dhanush.

Selva’s rawness came out only in


And Selva! The script of Yaaradi Nee Mohini was Selvaraghavan’s who had directed its Telugu version Aadavari Maatalaku Arthale Verule which was changed to suit the Telugu sensibilities and Venkatesh’s audience. Jawahar who remade this in Tamil had Selva’s original script and hence Selva’s rawness came out only in YNM. Jawahar did a fabulous job and so did cameraman Siddharth. It was nice working with the team. My role was distinct and significant in a small segment. Till a particular point in the film, there was no importance to that character. I was waiting for my portion to be shot eagerly which was the crucial portion of the film. Selva had narrated my part which was not there in the Telugu version. YNM was an important film in my career and offers that came my way after that were very good.

I have been appreciated as an


How do you feel when a film you worked hard does not fare well?

To be very honest, I have not had a run away hit in my career. A Subramaniapuram for Jai or an Unnale Unnale for Vinay is yet to happen to me. But I am still in the industry and this is my 7th year. In my 7th year, it is good that I continue to do good roles and get to work with very good people. I have worked with Priyadarshan sir (as a producer), Vijay, Selvaraghavan, Madhumitha, Jana Kumaravel and now Gautham’s production. I
have not worked with anybody in the industry who does not have some stature. I have been appreciated as an actor and hence my job is to perform well and not worry about the financials. It is the producer’s domain. When a film is not a hit, an actor gets some more chances and he would come up trumps sooner or later. As an actor my only duty is towards the director. For the producer, I need to render an efficient and quality work in a professional manner without any troubles. I am not married to the fortunes of my film but the fortunes of the film are married to me. I am sure I am going to have a Subramaniapuram or an Unnale Unnale very soon in Veppam.

Compare the working styles of different directors you have worked with

More importantly I have worked with a lot of first time directors- Kumaravel’s first film Ninaithale Inikkum, Priya’s first-Kanda Naal Mudal, Anjana’s first–Veppam, Madhu’s second Kola Kolaya Mundrikka, Vijay’s second Poi Solla Porom, Jawahar’s first YNM. What attracts me to the first time directors is the speed, the fiery passion in them to prove and their different high energy levels. The energy that you see in Kamal now is different from that of Madhu’s or Priya’s in their first film. So when you are working with such directors who are so desperate and keen to churn out their best, there would be sparks. When they say some thing, you have to take them seriously as they have seen this film in their mind a hundred times. All these directors have that special something. I am currently shooting with Anjana who is very special. You will see a lot of Anjana in the next ten years.

You will see a lot of Anjana in

the next ten years

Women directors are definitely

more sensitive

You seem to have done 30% of your films with women directors. How did this happen?

I don’t know how this happened. Yes, I have not only worked with Priya, Madhu, Anjana; I have also worked with Revathy, Janaki Viswanathan in short films, have done a couple of features with Nandini; have worked with Rajshree Ojha of Aisha in Hindi. It only goes on to show that women directors are coming in plenty to films. Women directors are definitely more sensitive; definitely have a lot more fire in their belly. When male directors do well, it just passes off as another good work. However when women directors do well, they get that extra attention. I think they are fighting for that attention. I can personally tell from Anjana’s experience that she can’t wait for this film (Veppam) to come out.

About the current trend in Kollywood

I think the power is coming back to directors. In the 80s, there was always a film in theatres from prolific directors like Balu Mahendra, Bharathi Raja, Balachander and Mani Ratnam. In the 90s it was a producer and star dominated scenario. In the early 2000, films went by the name of the actor but now it has changed. All the heroes including me are nothing if there is no strong director now. Names like Lingusamy, Murugadoss, and Vijay are much stronger than any actor who is just a ball of clay waiting to get

Directors first, producers next

and then actors

molded in the hands of the director who has the power in him to sculpt it beautifully. Around 6-7 years back, all the directors were turning into hero due to frustration because control was not in their hands. Now all the directors are getting their chance, getting their dues. Stars themselves are approaching directors like Suseendiran or Vijay to make a good film using them. Now Venkat Prabhu is working with Ajith and Nagarjuna. It is a director’s era now and that’s the way it should always be. Directors first, producers next and then actors.

How do you want to be known as after a few years?

I like the respect that Prakash Raj or Raghuvaran get as actors today. In every film, there is a role for them and the day they come on the sets, it becomes special. They always bring charisma into their role. There is no role that Raghuvaran has not done; he has done hero, villain, father, don, politician and so much more. It is very rare to have such a career. Perhaps Raghuvaran did not do as many comedy roles as he could have done. If he was there today, he would have done that too. I want to be known as someone who has done that range. I am interested in working with everyone. I want to work with Vikram, Ajith, and Vijay. I know I can bring out something special in every project that I am in. I don’t want to be a solo hero and desire for my cut outs all over. I know I am going to be around for another 20 years easily and am looking forward to my journey as an actor. I don’t want a huge box office initial in my name or a rasigar mandram and such stuff. I want many fans who will keep me special in their hearts. That’s good enough!

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