When somebody is on their deathbed, especially an older person, we see them for who they are now: a person battling pain, struggling to live. But have you ever thought about what goes on in their mind? “We are not aware of what they want or what gives them happiness. But in Thalaikoothal, director Jayaprakash Radhakrishnan has written about the thought process of a human being whose life is about to end. I think no one would have thought about this perspective. That is why I wanted to be part of this film,” says Kathir.
Thalaikoothal refers to the traditional practice of involuntary euthanasia conducted by families of the elderly. At the centre of this film is Pazhani (Samuthirakani), who looks after his comatose father, Muthu, and is coerced by his relatives to conduct senicide. But the film also has another layer to it, away from Pazhani’s grim realities — Jayaprakash also uses flashbacks and dream sequences in the film, showing us a younger Muthu, detailing his married life.
“I was approached to play the role of Pazhani, now played by Samuthirakani sir,” tells Kathir. But the character arc of young Muthu and the concept of reminiscing memories moved him. “Sometimes, we might notice a smile on kids or the elderly when they are asleep. We might not know the reason behind their smile, but it always makes us wonder,” he says as he takes us through a personal incident that made him take up the film. Kathir first read the script of Thalaikoothal around three years back. A few days after reading the script, he had gone to meet his great-grandmother, who was then on her deathbed. “She was not able to see or react when we were talking. But after some time, when I looked at her, she suddenly smiled. That smile and that moment created a spark.” That is when the whole script played in his mind, and he immediately called the director to tell him that he wanted to play Muthu, no matter when the film would be made.
As we begin talking about memories, the adventurer in him comes out. He says, “When we keep working, we don’t have time for other memories. Memories of routine life are different from our travel moments. I like backpacking and travelling alone. Whenever I plan my acting schedule, I ensure that I travel for at least 30 days a year, no matter what happens. It is not tough to find 30 days in a year. Where there is a will, there is a way.”
In Thalaikoothal, while the main story is set in the present, Kathir’s sequences are set a few decades into the past. “It is like a period film. I have also tried something new with my look. I like trying different looks,” says Kathir, adding, “Maybe I will try different looks and do more period films if I get the right stories in the future. Let’s see, ipo thaana aarambichirukom (we are just getting started).”
Be it with Thalikoothal, Pariyerum Perumal (2018), or Suzhal (2022), Kathir seems to know his way around playing characters in rooted worlds. “What draws me towards such films is the essence of life. The life and emotions behind these characters intrigue me.” But having done so many innocent roles, Kathir wants to break out of the box. “I want to play a rugged role or act in a gangster film.”
The crime thriller Suzhal also marked Kathir’s entry into the OTT arena, but he hasn’t signed another streaming project yet. “Talks are going on, but I am waiting for a good script. When I have acted in a series like Suzhal, the idea is to do something as good as it is for my next. I think there might be a sequel to Suzhal. Let’s wait for the official announcement from Amazon.”
Ten years ago, when Kathir signed his first film Madha Yaanai Koottam (2013), he wasn’t very keen on doing films. Instead, he was interested in starting a business. He tells us that he entered the industry because of his father. “My father was always passionate about cinema and wanted to do something in it. I thought I would do it for him. So, I did my first film for him. But who can really say no to acting? As an actor, every day is a new life, and I get to do new things. It is an exciting space to be in, so I am now doing it for myself.” Over the years, many people have asked him why he has done fewer films or not made more commercial choices. But a decade into films, Kathir is happy with his choices.“I enjoy what I am doing, and I am content where I am.”