Though Ponniyin Selvan is about Arulmozhi Varman aka Raja Raja Cholan, if you ask who is the protagonist of the novel series, any reader of the books would say it is Vanarkula Thilagam Vallavarayan Vanthiyathevan. He is easily the favourite character from the book. No wonder from Sivaji Ganesan to MGR to Kamal Haasan to Rajinikanth, all top stars of Tamil wanted to play the character. And the most coveted role finally went to actor Karthi. In a recent media interaction, the actor answered questions about playing Vallavarayan Vanthiyathevan. He also made some insightful observations about why it is tough to recreate Vanthiyathevan from the books in Mani Ratnam‘s Ponniyin Selvan.
Excerpts from the interview:
Tell us about the challenge of playing Vanthiyathevan.
If you have read the books, you know Kalki has written the thoughts of Vanthiyathevan. He would keep talking to himself. You can’t show that in the film. So, to bring out what was going on in his mind on screen was a challenge. Also, a lot of things happen in the story. So, whenever you shoot a scene, the actors should remember everything that happened before. To carry that baggage was hard.
What did you learn from Vanthiyathevan?
If you notice, Vanthiyathevan will not think before getting into a mess. He will only think after getting himself into a problem, and he will come out of it too. I learnt that it is counterproductive to think about a problem with a lot of anxiety. Instead, when you calmly think about it, you can solve it.
After the Baahubali series, Telugu cinema garnered international fame. Do you think after Ponniyin Selvan, the same would happen with Tamil cinema?
I hope it gets international acclaim. Mani sir has his unique sensibility. His films and scenes still stand apart from the rest. And, this is a historical fiction that’s being done by someone like him. From showing a palace to the fight scenes, there’s his touch in all of them. He has shot the film in real locations as much as possible. You know how similar films are shot here. It is unnecessary to have such pressure about the financial aspects of the film. We leave it to people who are concerned about that. We have done our best. This generation has achieved something that the people before us couldn’t. So, this film is an achievement in itself.
In our old historical films like Sivaji Ganesan’s Raja Raja Cholan, characters would speak in pure Tamil, but in this film, everyone seems to be talking like ordinary people.
In the olden days, actors came from drama or stage backgrounds. So, their acting was reflective of that art form. However, Mani sir wanted us to speak as naturally as possible. We wanted to be real people with normal emotions. Imagine if these characters lived once upon a time, we wanted to do what they would have done.
Your experience of working with horses.
Ravi and I would keep telling each other, “If not for anything, people would come at least for seeing horses and elephants on screen.” Films featuring real animals have become rare these days. We see several western films featuring horse scenes, and I would feel why we don’t have such films here. The hard part was getting acclimatized to several horses. Initially, I thought if I trained one horse, it would be enough. But we couldn’t take the same horse everywhere. So, I had to train with several horses. Horses can rotate their ears 360 degrees. If the ears are not towards the person sitting on it, then it means the animal is not respecting you. So, we kept talking to them. Also, horses are herd animals. They are good when they are with other horses and not fond of being alone. So, it needs someone trustworthy to go along. Mani sir used to say he wanted to shoot a horse running at full speed, I think he realised all such wishes with this film.