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Karthi: Viruman is not a casteist film

Karthi has not one but three films – Viruman, Sardar, and Ponniyin Selvan 1 – releasing this year, and he says it feels like semester exams as he has a release every three months from now. Yet, the Kaithi actor was in a light-hearted mood when we caught up for a conversation about his upcoming movie Viruman, which is hitting theatres on August 12. Apart from Viruman, Karthi got candid about his equation with his father Sivakumar, brother Suriya, and playing Vendiyadevan in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan.

Excerpts from the interview:

What’s the reason for choosing Viruman?

Whenever I meet theatre owners and distributors, they ask me to make more films set in villages. When Kadaikutty Singam (another rural film) was released, some single screen owners in villages told me that they were about to close shop due to loss, but the film rescued them by bringing family audiences back to theatres. I also noticed the dearth of rural films in recent years. That’s one of the reasons to choose the film.

What’s the USP of Viruman?

Director Muthaiya had told me one line about the film after our first collaboration, Komban. It was about a father and son who don’t get along. When I heard the story again after years, it was more nuanced. I fell for the climax portion and the message it bears about parenting. As a father, I am learning more every day about children. Experts tell me not to scold children by standing over them. Instead, it’s better to kneel and talk to them because we look like LIC building to them and that terrifies them. These things are told subtly in Viruman. Also, Viruman’s role was similar to Paruthiveeran’s (2007). It has the same josh.

How was it working with Muthaiya?

When former Tamil Nadu CM Kalaingar saw Paruthiveeran, he remarked, “It was like traveling through a village.” It is a huge validation from him. Director Ameer handled the film very well. Currently, I believe Muthaiya is the right person to make such films about villages. He wishes to make movies about cities, but we plead with him not to (laughs) – there’s no one to tell these stories.

The film is produced by your brother Suriya’s 2D Entertainment. Were you able to get the remuneration on time?

If I don’t get paid, I don’t go to shooting. Simple (laugh). Other producers might raise the complaint in public. With 2D, they don’t have a choice. He (Suriya) can only escalate the issue to our father. I will be like ‘Yes, go ahead.’ On a serious note, 2D is highly professional and they pay everyone promptly.

Viruman is about an estranged father and his son. Were you able to draw inspiration from your relationship with your dad Sivakumar?

The dad-son relationship was different back then. Dad was a busy actor, and I would hardly see him. Seldom he took me to outdoor shooting. Whenever he is getting ready for the shoot, no one should be around him. There was a lot of fear for fathers back then. Now, my daughter wakes me up by sitting on my head. Things have changed. However, my equation with my father was smooth. My brother (Suriya) and dad used to have some tension going on. I exploited it for my benefit (laughs). Dad was like a friend to me.

Aditi Shankar seems to be a bundle of energy.

She is uncontrollable (laughs). Rashmika Mandanna creates a ruckus on the sets. Aditi will give her competition. I was reminded of Priyamani from Paruthiveeran seeing Aditi as a village woman. However, when I asked Shankar sir if Aditi knows village life, he said, “She doesn’t even know what a village is.” Yet, she did her homework for the character. She knows Tamil, which is another advantage. It’s sometimes hard to act with actresses who don’t know the language because they are constantly given dialogue prompts. And I am like who am I romancing now? The actress or the prompter?

Muthaiya’s films have been criticised for exalting caste pride. On the other hand, 2D is known for its anti-casteist stand. What do you have to say about Viruman in this context?

All I can say is that Viruman is not a casteist film. Even with Komban, there was a lot of criticism and a court case stalling the film. However, the same people, who had issues with Komban, loved it when they saw the film. If a filmmaker wants to make a movie about a temple, it is termed casteist. Then no one can make films about any culture. Even in Viruman, there is a festival song about the village’s God. One can only make films about his culture.

Tell us about playing Vanthiyathevan in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan.

It’s challenging because people are extremely possessive of this character. His depiction in the film is being put under a lot of scrutiny. Questions are raised even about the rings and costumes he wears in the poster and promos. That just tells a lot about the love they have for the novel. Despite knowing the story, fans are eager to watch the film. Playing Vanthiyathevan is hard because he is a hopeless flirt. He talks to different women, and he says different things to each one of them. He is also the only person in the novel who gets to talk to people from all walks of life. He interacts with Sundara Cholar and he also has a hearty time with a foot soldier.

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