Dinesh Karthik is the captain of Kolkata Knight Riders (KKR) and just before IPL 2020 begins in the UAE, he speaks to Baradwaj Rangan about all things unrelated to cricket. The films he likes, the music that he goes back to time and again, and the one film he watched twice in the theatre and that left him smiling from start to end — the Telugu Bommarillu, starring Siddharth and Genelia. Excerpts from their conversation:
You're speaking to us from Abu Dhabi and we are not going to talk about any cricket at all and we are only going to talk about cinema. When I tell you cinema, what is the first thing that comes to mind? Is it a star, is it a movie?
It is the biggest entertainment in my life. Through all the dark moments, cinema has consistently been the go-to thing in my life.
As a critic, one thing that I constantly keep getting asked is, "What is your favourite movie of all time?" Do you have something like that?
I think I am a little different in terms of personality trait. What I have realised is that I don't have one favourite actor or one favourite movie. I like different actors for different reasons, different movies for different reasons. The flavour of the movie might have resonated with me. A director's movie that I have liked consistently, especially his first few films is Gautham Vasudev Menon — Minnale, Kaakha Kaakha and Vinnaithaandi Varuvaayaa. These are three movies that stuck with me, resonated with me…even his other films like Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu. His last couple of movies are not my favourites, but I have enjoyed a lot of his films.
So, if I were to corner you and say, "Who is the one person you like right now in Tamil cinema," that would be Gautham Menon?
No, I don't think that would be a fair statement from my side. My favourite all-time director would be Raju Hirani, because I think he has understood the commercial aspect of it and the cinematic aspect really well and he strikes that balance really well. That takes an enormous amount of skill to master. If I were a producer, I would go to him to direct a film for me.
If like M. S. Dhoni — The Untold Story, somebody were to make Dinesh Karthik — The Untold Story, would you pick Raju Hirani to direct the movie?
100 per cent. I also think Vetri Maaran is very intense in his storytelling and I am a big fan of his work. I think he would figure depths in me that even I am not aware of, and that is one of his traits, I feel. So, one of these two guys for sure.
Okay. And who would play you?
Interestingly, there is this talk for a while now that an actor named Vikrant Massey resembles me a lot. So, why not!
One of the things that a lot of people talk about 3 idiots is how much they sync with the film and how much it speaks to them. The whole premise of the film is to not get stuck with the mechanical idea of studies, to try and find out your innate talent and pursue that. As a cricketer, you are following your talent and passion. Is there a movie that spoke to you when you were growing up?
A lot of sports movies have inspirational endings and they always give you a feel-good experience. Remember the Titans was something that I really enjoyed. Recently Ben Affleck did The Way Back, where he is an alcoholic coach who has played for the college team. One of my all-time favourite films has to be Chak De! India. I really enjoyed that film. I thought it was well made and it really brought out Shah Rukh Khan the actor.
Were there any low phases in your life, where a movie or song kind of helped you through?
100 per cent. A movie that I will always go to whenever I am low is Rocky. It is a fabulous movie and I thoroughly enjoy it. In any other Sylvester Stallone movie, I can't understand half the things that he is saying but Rocky was special. I think this was where sports movies began to make a mark and a lot of people started believing in those kinds of stories. I am a big fan of the Rocky series, specifically Rocky 3.
Why specifically about that, because they are all underdog stories…
I love the music that keeps playing when he goes to the gym. That music just sits with me. When you are listening to music, you always remember something. I think that is what movies are all about. They should make you remember something, reminisce about something, and that movie really did it.
If there is a movie that you would choose where the protagonist is closest to the kind of person you are…
I think it is Genelia in Bommarillu. In Tamil, the movie was called Santosh Subramaniam. I am a little bit like that. Happy-go-lucky, bubbly, a lot of energy and naive at times. I relate a lot to that character.
You just broke my heart a bit. I thought you were going to say Aamir Khan in Lagaan or someone like that (laughs).
As a personality, I am not someone who is too serious or too tight. I am a pretty easy-going guy. Obviously, when I don the captain's character and I get into those shoes, I think differently and do things differently. But, I want to be true to my personality. Just because I am a leader, I don't want to lose my innate self that is to have fun with life and be that nice person. That is something that I have always believed. The fact that I am a good human being is of paramount importance to me, and the rest of it revolves around that.
Most sports movies have a certain arc to them and one of the big must haves in a sports movie is a very inspiring speech given in the locker room. Is there one that you will pick over all else?
I think it has to be the speech in Independence Day given by the actor (Bill Pullman ) who played the President of the United States. It was a fabulous speech. It gave me goosebumps and made me feel really good.
What about it? Is it the way he inspires people?
The tone that he said it in, the words he used to get the information across and just about what the country meant to him. More importantly, I think it was the dialogue delivery and the tone used that really resonated with me.
When you are home or when it is off-season, do you often go to the movies?
No. I don't go too often. I did go for Kabali with a group of friends on the first day. We do go to the movies but not too often. Having said that, I think a movie that kept me really happy for at least a week after seeing it was Bommarillu. I think Siddharth and Genelia were very good. That film didn't have a fight sequence, and I kept smiling from the start to the end. It is probably one of the handful of films that I have watched in the theatre twice.
Yeah. It was a complete feel-good movie and you come out of it with a high…
When I watch movies over a period of time, there is a trend set. In these kinds of films, it is how the hero and heroine love each other and then there would be a villain to cause a problem, but they will end up to be together. In this film, I was waiting for that villain or that scene where there is a fight but nothing like that happened and throughout the movie there was a smile on my face. I think the director broke a lot of stereotypes in that movie without having a villain, a sad scene, a sad song or a break up.
Do you talk a lot about movies?
I believe I am cricket's Baradwaj Rangan. I keep reviewing movies with my friends and talk about all kinds of nonsense. We have our own debates about who is the best actor and best movie. Movies have played a major role not only in my life; my father is a major movie buff as well.
Are you a big fan of movie songs?
Obviously. When I am sad and low, I listen to Ilaiyaraaja but, otherwise, I always hear AR Rahman. But I am not one of those guys who 'watch' songs. There are cricketers who watch songs but I don't have that habit. I like to listen to good music on good systems.
Name one Ilaiyaraaja song and one AR Rahman song, just to get to know your taste.
With Rahman, it is 'Nenjikulle' and 'Bhoomi Bhoomi'. Both these were sung by Shakthisree Gopalan and I am a huge fan of her singing. My all-time favourite Ilaiyaraaja song is 'Thendral Vanthu' from Avatharam. I have listened to it a million times.
When we talk about Rahman, there are people who say that they prefer this Rahman to that Rahman, and so on. Both songs that you chose were relatively in the later phase of Rahman's career. Do you have favourites from his earlier times?
Yes. I really love 'En Veetu Thottathil' from Gentleman. I feel every music director has a certain sense of sound, and I think that back then, it was a lot different. In Thiruda Thiruda, the background music was unreal and it is one of his best albums and so is Rangeela. I have always wanted to meet him for the work he has done and also for what he did on the Oscar stage. A lot of Indians should look at that and believe in your mother tongue. His small bit from the 'Oscar Sangamam' is one of my favourite bits that I keep listening to.
When you say what he did at the Oscars, you mean Ella Pugazhum Iraivanukke?
Yes. He also spoke in Tamil. I can say this because I travel a lot and I have spoken on stage and to people from all communities, colour and race a miniscule number of times when compared to him. But, to go there and speak in Tamil even for a second shows how much he values Tamil and the kind of person he is. It is very easy to go on that stage and forget the little things that he grew up with. But he didn't forget the fact of where he came from and what stuck with him. It was not only his mother but also his motherland. That really stuck with me as a human being and I became a slightly different person when I spoke on stage after that. I realised that a lot of times when I go to countries, inadvertently, I would subconsciously pick up their accent. It is very easy to get lost there, but to own up to your mother tongue and roots is a hard task, and I really respect him for that.
Have you interacted with SRK a lot? Have you learnt something from him or is more of a friendly kind of thing? Because with Rahman you took a lesson home from something he did. What about Shah Rukh?
The greatest thing that I learnt from him is that he is a leader at heart. For the people of Red Chillies, the amount of love and affection he has for them and how he looks at himself when it comes to them is something special. Being from the KKR team, that is something that I learnt from a person who knows how to lead in tough times. To hear him speak was special. He spoke to me as the captain of KKR and that stuck to me. Interestingly, even before I joined the team, he was my favourite because I believe it is hard to come up in this industry without any Godfather and I had a lot of respect for him.
One of the things common between actors and sportspersons is that your ups and downs play in front of the public eye. Does that aspect come in between you two when you discuss life or something like that?
When it comes to sports I think wins and losses are quicker than when it comes to actors and actresses. Aamir Khan works on films for two years and then after two years if that effort goes to waste like with Thugs of Hindostan, which I don't think did really well, the amount of effort he put in might be the same as in Dangal but the fact that the movie didn't do well puts those two years to waste. Whereas, in cricket, we have a game every few days and there is a chance for faster retribution. But what is common to both is that you deal with failure on a consistent basis. And more often than not, there are losses than success. What it teaches you is similar.
Of all the players you've played with, whom would you say are the craziest movie or music buffs?
This is the easiest question you have asked me. It is R Ashwin. He is a mad guy. He can remember dialogues, and it is unbelievable. He is one of those guys who has immense memory and remembers dialogues by Goundmani and the counters by Senthil and he is unreal. He has an insane amount of knowledge of movies. I always get fascinated because I am the stark opposite of him.