Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan I, which brings together some of the biggest stars in Tamil cinema, is a culmination of a dream for the industry, says Karthi, who plays Vandiyadevan in the film. “This film has been a dream for Tamil cinema for the past 60-70 years. This is a special moment not only for our generation but also for our collective Tamil society.” In a conversation with Ramya Subramanian, the actor, opens up about how his journey with the film began many years back when Ratnam introduced him to the universe of Kalki’s classic.
“Mani sir has been working on Ponniyin Selvan for many years. So, when I was working with him as an AD years back, he gave me a one-liner and asked me to read it. He asked me how it was and I told him that I couldn’t understand it. In fact, I didn’t even realise that it was the story of Ponniyin Selvan. All I could remember was the character name Vandiyadevan. But for this film, when he approached me and asked if I would play Vandiyadevan, I told him that even if he asks me to play a horse in the movie, I would,” Karthi recalls with a laugh.
Karthi is not a newcomer to the Mani Ratnam school of acting. Before starring in Kaatru Veliyidai (2017), the actor collaborated with Ratnam as an assistant director in the 2000s. Karthi, who calls Kaatru Veliyidai the toughest film in his career, compared Ratnam to the likes of veteran filmmaker K Balanchander, who pushed Rajinikanth and Kamal Hassan to explore various forms and styles in acting.
Karthi further says that the filmmaker ensures originality in films. “For example, we were doing a shot in a cave for Ponniyin Selvan I. The team had placed a light shaft at the top and it looked magical and natural. But sir felt that the setting was similar to some other film, and removed it. So, he even leaves out those things that are beautiful and magical, and looks beyond those for something better,” says Karthi adding that this is also the reason why Ratnam brings out the best in everyone.
The film, which will be released in two parts, went on floors in December 2019 and was wrapped up in May 2021. Karthi, who along with the rest of his cast, had to maintain the same fitness regime for the course of two years, speaks about how physically demanding the process was.
“I took a measured and limited amount of food that was available at home. But since I was lifting heavy weights, I used to get cramps. I couldn’t go to the physio then (due to the pandemic), so I used to rest for a few days and continue to work out. Wherever I used to go, I kept working out. When it comes to this film, we talk a lot about the characters and performance, but it is a very physically demanding film. You have to do a lot of action and do it quickly due to time restrictions. I had to prepare for that. So what I understood from fitness is how much you can push, pull, carry and run. There is no use if you look great but you can’t function. I think this is my takeaway on my fitness for the film.”
Ponniyin Selvan I is slated to hit the big screens on September 30. The periodic epic also stars Vikram, Aishwarya Rai, Trisha, and Jayam Ravi.