A graduate of SRM University, Kalaiarasan left a successful IT job to chase his acting dreams. He acted in Myshkin’s films Nandalala (2010) and Mugamoodi (2012), before playing a minor role in Pa Ranjith’s directorial debut Attakathi (2012). His breakthrough film was the critically acclaimed Madras (2014), in which he played the role of Anbu. In this interview with Silverscreen.in, Kalai talks about playing a completely fun character in Raja Manthiri, meeting Rajinikanth on the sets of Kabali, and more.
Kalaiarasan likes to begin his mornings with an invigorating game of shuttle. After Madras released though, he signed a slew of films, and now the only shuttling he does is between film locations. Kalai is exhausted. After all, there’s only so many night shoots a man can take. But, underneath all that, there’s genuine joy, “I’ve fought more battles than anyone else to get to live this life. Now, I’m going to enjoy it.”
Lately, he’s been doing a host of serious roles. So when Usha Krishnan approached him with the lead role in Raja Manthiri, Kalai was in the perfect mood to experiment. Raja Manthiri, which releases this Friday, is a romantic comedy. Kalai has some reservations about doing comedy, but, he says, this project felt right, “For Urumeen, I became the worst kind of person possible. I played the kind of guy who’d rather die than lose. I had some misgivings before starting work; it is a very risky role after all. But, I think it was worth it. I got a lot of positive responses. It was a gamble that paid off. And I’m hoping that the same strategy works with Raja Manthiri.”
Kalai says Raja Manthiri is a film that can entertain everyone. It has ‘a decent love story, clean humour, and lovely locations’. Most importantly, it has him sharing screen space with his friend Kaali Venkat. He says, “Kaali and I have been close for some time now. I was essentially crossing several of my comfort zones for this film. It felt right that I should have a friend to guide me through the process.”
The film is a rural comedy, and Kalai plays a wastrel who is transformed by the love of a good woman. It’s a motif as old as time, but Kalai says that the director, Usha Krishnan, has given it the modern treatment. He says, “It is not the kind of story you’d have seen before. It is not inspired by anything. It is just a feel-good film that tries to entertain. I don’t see anything wrong with that. It felt incredibly free to let go like that and play this fun character. There were song-and-dance sequences, stunts, romance, and what not. The whole thing felt like a vacation.”
Kalaiarasan’s friends are perhaps his worst critics, he says proudly, “I am not very famous. But, I am a recognizable face now. Everybody wants to be nice to me now. I guess I am lucky that my friends and family keep me grounded. If I act even a little pricey, they bring me down to earth with pointed comments about my bad acting.”
Their conversations these days often revolves around Kabali and his idol Rajinikanth. Despite sharing a good rapport with the film’s director Pa Ranjith, Kalai was not sure if he would be cast in the film. “When Ranjith anna called to tell me that he’d cast me in Kabali, it took me a while to stop screaming. Of course, then it took a month and a half for scripting to finish, and for production to even begin. It was the longest wait of my life. I was prepared to be in the film in any way I could. Even if it was just as ‘the guy who walks behind the Superstar’ in a scene.”
Once on sets, it took him a while to function properly in front of his co-star. “I was shocked into speechlessness at seeing Rajini Sir up close. I am not a Rajini fan. I am a Rajini veriyan. Great acting nu sonnaru. I actually teared up a little bit. It felt like a lifetime achievement. While doing the photoshoot, he called me by name, and that in itself was a huge thing.”
The whole team, he says, were starstruck for a while, “You have to understand, the team is young and full of Rajini fans. It took a while for the awe to die down. This is the superstar after all. But he was very sweet. He had this super confidence on us, and it made us work better.”
Kalai relies heavily on his close-knit family. His parents, a major source of comfort, have been involved in his career from the start. He says, “I left behind a successful career in IT to act. It is not a decision everyone can stomach. I don’t know how they did it, but they understood my actions and supported me. Most importantly, they ignored societal pressures and let me live my life my way. I mean every word when I say that my family is my strength. If not for my parents and my very, very understanding wife, Priya, I wouldn’t be able to devote this much time to acting.”
Now that he has achieved what he set out to do, it feels almost ‘anti-climactic’ he tells me. “Lately, I’ve been feeling like I should be getting ready for something big that is about to happen. I have decided to keep being optimistic and hope for the best. God has some interesting prospects ahead for me I guess,” he laughs.
His co-star Kaali Venkat says it best, “His name should have clued you in by now. Kalai Arasan. Everyone had better watch out now. Kalai’s star is on the rise.”