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Nagarjuna is almost like a brother: Karthi

The film might be themed on friendship, but brotherly love ruled the sets of ‘Thozha’, says Karthi

It isn’t every day that you get to cycle in your co-star’s studio. That’s what Karthi did during the shooting of Thozha (Oopiri in Telugu), in Annapurna Studios. There was just one issue; the speed breakers. When Nagarjuna learnt about this, he had the bumps levelled…in a day. “Nag sir said I was like a brother to him, but I felt more like a king,” Karthi says.

Another time, when shooting in Paris, people walked up once they realised the crew was remaking the beloved French film The Intouchables. “Everyone was so friendly, because of their connect with the film. We got permissions easily.” Thozha was all about such experiences, says Karthi. Excerpts from an interview:

Going by the trailer, you seem to have had great fun making the film.

Yes. We travelled, worked with a multi-cultural team… Making a bilingual is tedious, but despite that, we had a great time.

Director Vamshi P. has said that you were almost like an assistant director. Did you live out your direction dreams?

No (laughs). It was not a testing ground. It so happened that only the cameraman and I were Tamils. I had to ensure that the actors were giving the right expressions. Vamshi told me that if there was an issue, he’d question me.

It was also your first Telugu film. How did you cope?

After Tamil, where I just glance through a three-page dialogue sheet, it was like going back to school. I was learning the lines by rote well in advance. We would can two scenes a day, and since it is a bilingual, it was double the work. I would badger the assistants to give me the dialogues at least a day in advance. But, I missed out on all the fun the others had. The night before and the day of the shoot were tense. But this challenge was what tempted me to take up the film.

You’re also getting back on screen with Tamannaah after a while.

True, but the way she’s cast in this film is interesting. She’s not slotted in the South Indian mould. She carries the attitude of an independent woman earning a lot of money, who thinks she’s too good for me!

The two of you go back a long way…

We started our careers around the same time, and our films together (Paiyaa and Siruthai) have done well. We take the liberty of telling each other the truth, be it about repetitive expressions or the need for improvisation. That’s important, because we rarely get to hear genuine feedback.

How was it with Nagarjuna? You seem to share good chemistry…

I’d never met him, though I’m a huge fan of Idhayathai Thirudathe and Shiva. This was a great chance to know him. He’s someone who believes in staying happy and stress-free. He’s unaffected by all the hype; he’s been that way for years. There’s an endearing lightness about him. I respect him and we share a comfort zone. That comes through in the film. He’s almost like a brother, because there’s no competition of any kind. Because he plays a quadriplegic, all his acting was restricted to facial expressions. That called for a lot of ability and self-control.

The film has you all gung-ho, unlike the reluctant speaker you are in real life.

This film is all about performance. I wondered why it even came to me! Every scene is about behaviour, and though one of the characters is on a wheelchair, the film is hilarious. It is a blessing to do a film where you get to showcase varied emotions, and where you go through a learning curve.

Had you watched The Intouchables before?

A day before the narration, and I loved the contrast of the characters. I like what we’ve done in Thozha. My character handles someone who’s unwell, but he’s terribly insensitive; he’s raw. And then, the character goes through a transformation, becomes refined.

2015 has been a year of growth for you in many ways. The Nadigar Sangam elections, your work during the floods…

The biggest takeaway from the floods was getting a chance to react like a normal person, and interact with regular people. All my education came in handy. After years, I was into complicated calculations while handling relief material. It felt good that I not just chipped in financially, but invested my time too.

So, has work-life balance suffered?

The Sangam is taking up time, yes, but it’s nice to see our work bear fruit. We are trying to do our best for those in the industry. Of course, I feel guilty I don’t spend as much time at home. The last six months have been hectic. But, I try to make up. My daughter likes being read to. She never tires of Dippy Diplodocus. Invariably, I’m half-asleep as I read, but Dippy and Peppa Pig are my dose of normalcy.

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