Karunakaran might make people laugh in most of his screen outings, but behind that persona is a thinking, sensitive human being. He’s decent to a fault, and is particular about what he utters on screen.
…Which is why he’s confident even about Hara Hara Mahadevaki, an adult comedy directed by Santhosh P Jayakumar. “It’s my first in this genre. I was supposed to do Bala Saravanan’s role, but eventually ended up playing a character who knows nothing. He earns a rupee or two working a water hand-pump. It’s a space I’ve not been seen in before.”
The actor is fresh from the success of Vivegam, and says that he’s happy with what Santhosh has achieved. “Yes, it’s a niche film meant for those who love this genre. It banks on dialogues to drive home the laughs. And, personally, it was easy to play someone far removed from who I am. It’s actually more difficult to play a character closer to the real you.”
Despite doing a clutch of movies since his debut in Kalakalappu in 2012, Karunakaran says people’s favourites are a few — Uppu Karuvaadu, Jigarthanda, Indru Netru Naalai, Soothu Kavvum… and now, Vivegam. “I’m just very happy with the fact that they like me on screen. I do want to continue taking up roles that linger for long in people’s minds, but it’s not in my hand to design a character. I have to strike a balance and be part of films that are huge commercial successes, too. That will give me the freedom of choice.”
Also, says the actor, in these difficult times for the industry, with fixed ticket prices that are lower than in most other States, it is important for movies to do well and make a profit. “It is disappointing when you are praised, but the movie is not. But, I’m all for flexible pricing for big budget films, at least for the first three days. The price of fruits and vegetables varies every day, so, why not for tickets? All said and done, this is an industry too.”
Karunakaran cites the example of Bengaluru, about 350 kms from Chennai. “The price difference is huge. Tickets there are sold at a premium. Also, in Tamil Nadu, the cost of parking and snacks must come down. We need to get more people into theatres.”
The actor is working on a set of films now, some of which showcase his humorous side. “I’m in a lovely learning phase now. I worked with Priyadarshan Sir (the remake of Malayalam superhit Maheshinte Prathikaaram), and it was like sitting through a class in a different style of acting. It was a great experience. Then, I’m part of Vijay’s next with Prabudheva sir and Aishwarya Rajesh; here, I get to work with two directors. That will help me improve as a performer.”
Up next is Veera, with Kreshna, and Karunakara says that it’s a film with dark humour set in North Chennai. “It has come out very well, and it is the longest I have been seen on screen, till now.
Five years is a short time to analyse one’s career, but Karunakaran attempts it. “When I go back and see some of my works, I find them amateurish. But when shooting for Kalakalappu, Sundar C told me that I had the kind of quality that the late V K Ramasamy had. Personally, I truly like Indru Netru Naalai and Jigarthanda. I feel I did my job well.”
One thing everyone notices about Karunakaran is his eyes. Laughing, he says, “In fact, Vijay sir once told me that at an event. ‘Unga kannu periya plus. Neraya per sollerpaanga, illaya?’ (Your eyes are a big plus; I’m sure many have told you that) I feel Yaamirukka Bayamaen used my eyes well.”
Now that he’s reached a particular position, does Karunakaran step in to write his lines? “No. Most of the time, I go with the vision of the director and writer, and improvise on the sets. I step in only when there’s something that makes fun of a person’s appearance. That’s unacceptable, especially, when the target is a newcomer and whose character has no way of retorting. I’m deeply sensitive and know how it hurts when people taunt you over your appearance. I was once ridiculed saying my mouth was curved to a side. We must understand the excitement with which the families of these new actors will watch their films. They would be really hurt to see a member made fun of this way. The only time I go lax on this is when it is with an equally placed character and when that person has a counter dialogue too.”
The actor says it is important to make people laugh, but not by running down someone. “The situation must bring in the humour.”
I wonder if this mindset comes from the home he was raised in. “Possibly,” he says, “My parents are particular about not hurting others, and raised me that way too.”
Hara Hara Mahadevaki releases today.
The Karunakaran interview is a Silverscreen exclusive.