India’s Karthi Talks ‘Japan,’ ‘Kaithi 2,’ Global Plans and Teaming With Brother Suriya (EXCLUSIVE)

Indian star Karthik Sivakumar, known by his screen name Karthi, is bullish about upcoming release “Japan,” his 25th film.

The film is due to release in November during the Deepavali holiday frame in Tamil, Telugu and a few other languages. “It’s a crime thriller, it’s got a manhunt to it. But apart from that, the writing and characters in the film are so well-rooted, and at the same time, it’s got a lot of flamboyance – it’s a very unique combination,” Karthi told Variety.

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The film, from prolific south Indian studio Dream Warrior Pictures, is directed by Raju Murugan. “Being so grounded and yet having the flamboyance and the cockiness of this character is what got me hooked to the project, and the keenness to work with Raju Murugan – I’ve liked his earlier two films ‘Cuckoo’ and ‘Joker’ and his understanding of local community, the culture here, it’s so beautiful,” Karthi said.

The actor was particularly struck by “Vattiyum Muthalum,” a collection of articles by Murugan where he reflects upon life, romance, friendship and alcoholism and also how his take on life influenced a crime subject like “Japan.” “It [“Japan”] has the potential to be showcased to an international audience, that’s why I wanted Ravi Varman [cinematographer on the “Ponniyin Selvan” films] to be the DoP, his vision would change the project is what I believed. And I think that’s what we have achieved. It’s got a very local flavor, but presented internationally.”

Karthi’s father Sivakumar was a popular leading man in the Tamil-language film industry in the 1970s and 1980s and his brother Suriya is one of the current top stars. Sivakumar used to regale his family with behind-the-scenes stories of the film industry over dinner, which the young Karthi found “magical.”

“But Dad always pushed us away from films, he didn’t want us to do anything with films. He said, ‘get educated, study well, get your degrees, we should always be well-educated,” Karthi said. As a result, Karthi is an engineer by training with degrees from India and the U.S. Suring his time in the U.S., while excelling in graphic design, Karthi figured that he wanted to be in a creative profession and took courses in filmmaking. After returning to India, he assisted leading filmmaker Mani Ratnam.

“I wanted something challenging every time. And films provided the opportunity. And shifting to acting was by chance. Dad convinced me and said, ‘You can become a director even at 60, but for acting there is an age.’ So, I thought it’s an opportunity to learn cinema by being an actor,” Karthi said.

Karthi debuted as a leading man with Ameer Sultan’s “Paruthiveeran” in 2007, which was a critical and commercial success. It played at the Berlinale, where it won a Netpac award, and at home in India, Karthi won the Filmfare best actor award. The film earned a rave review in Variety, with Karthi singled out for praise.

The actor went on to star in hits “Paiyaa” (2010), “Naan Mahaan Alla” (2010), “Siruthai” (2011), “Madras” (2014), “Thozha” (2016), “Theeran Adhigaaram Ondru” (2017) and “Kadaikutty Singam” (2018). One of his landmark films is Lokesh Kanagaraj’s hit “Kaithi” (2019). A sequel is on the cards. “We’ve already planned for it,” Karthi said, adding that a timeline is being worked upon.

Karthi – “Ponniyin Selvan: 1”

Karthi is also one of the leads in Mani Ratnam’s “Ponniyin Selvan” parts one and two, which were amongst the biggest Indian hits of 2022 and 2023 respectively. The historical epic is based on a popular work of Tamil literature. Karthi essayed the role of chieftain Vallavaraiyan Vandiyadevan. “The most exciting character for many people was Vandiyadevan. When I have to carry it on screen was actually a huge responsibility – beyond the excitement, it was the responsibility and fear of knowing how am I going to justify it,” Karthi said. The actor used the pandemic-induced break in the production to conduct extensive research into the 10th century, where the books and film are set.

“After a point, I think I was taking too much into me and Mani-sir said there is already something natural, in you, just let it go, and it’s coming out well. That gave me a lot of ease out to carry forward the role,” Karthi said. “Ponniyin Selvan: 1” received six nominations, one of the highest ever hauls achieved by a South Asian title, at the Asian Film Awards and the films have been widely watched worldwide on Prime Video.

The actor is now ready to spread his wings. “In India we are very emotional, we react to things that happen in our life, whereas in other cultures, they have their own way of reacting – I would really want to explore that opportunity where you work in another culture, where the understanding of life and relationships are very different and people just cast you for the face, not for the star who you are,” Karthi said. Discussions are on with international agents.

A long-standing desire of fans has been to see Sivakumar, Suriya and Karthi together on screen. “People are excited to bring us all together. Dad now is very clear – he’s not very keen to come in front of the camera. But my brother and myself, we are very keen that we should find a good story and do it,” Karthi said. “Very rarely are brothers in the same industry. And we really want to do one good film together for sure. Earlier, I was scared. Now we both certain, we have to do one.”

Next up for Karthi is an untitled “fantasy action entertainer” from Nalan Kumarasamy (“Soodhu Kavvum”), for which 50% of the shoot is complete; and an untitled “personal, coming of age” film by C. Prem Kumar (“96”), where he stars alongside Arvind Swami.

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