You see a group of young men, confident, imaginative and excited to make their mark in the world. You’d think, with their potential, they have the chances to become someone memorable. You see a young actor on screen, playing the role of the main lead’s friend or sister or brother, and you’d think to yourself that you might possibly get to see more of them in future (Exhibit A: Trisha, Exhibit B: Vijay Sethupathi).
People who listened to AR Rahman’s Roja in 1992 probably thought that the young and new music director had “a very bright future”. You get our drift? It is this very same feeling of “having spotted talent miles ago”, of telling your companion “didn’t I tell you he/she was going to become big?” which actor and director Pratap K Pothen has shared now, possibly inspired by the #10YearsChallenge.
Recalling an episode from his time as a judge on a reality TV show in Tamil in 2009, Pratap posted a photo and captioned it thus, “When I was the Judge in Nale Iyakkunnar in Kalainjar tv, I chose this team including Karthik Subaraj as winners. Hope my decision is not wrong (in the pic bobby Simha, Vijay Sethupathi, Rajesh Murugsan, Alphonse Puthren) in stage petai director Karthik (sic),”
The episode that he is referring to is from the show’s interview with Karthik and his team - and what a phenomenal team it turned out to be! The people in this picture would go on to make blockbusters, win accolades for their acting, and have millions of people humming their tunes.
Gateway to Kollywood
Kalaignar TV’s Naalaya Iyakunar is a reality show for filmmaking aspirants. The show has churned out some of the big talents in the industry right now, including directors Karthik Subbaraj, Nalan Kumarasamy (Soodhu Kavvum), Balaji Mohan (Maari), Alphonse Puthren (Premam), Ramkumar (Ratsasan) and Vijay Kumar (Uriyadi) to name a few.
Petta director Karthik was selected for the show for his short film Kaatchipizhai. This first season was jointly judged by Pratap and writer Madhan.
The friendship shared by these film personalities - directors Karthik Subbaraj and Alphonse Puthren, actors Bobby Simha and Vijay Sethupathi and music director Rajesh Murugesan - is spoken about fondly inside and outside the industry circles, not just by young filmmaking aspirants and struggling actors but any gang of friends, with dreams to make it big. And quite interestingly, very few talents can say they started out together, with very minimal film background.
While Karthik himself did not win the title of the show in 2009, which actually was awarded to Nalan for his short film Nejuku Neethi, Pratap tells us, through his Facebook post, that he had chosen Karthik’s team instead.
What happened after
In the team was another director who would go on to make a Malayalam film that would become unimaginably popular in the south - Alphonse Puthren and his Premam. But before Premam, there was Neram. Everyone would know that Nivin Pauly (the heartthrob from Premam) was the hero of this film, but did you know that the first version was a short film and that it starred Makkal Selvan Vijay Sethupathi? Neram also starred Bobby Simha, another actor who was on the Naalaya Iyakunar show.
The bilingual feature film had Nazriya playing the female lead and released in 2013. This film won him critical acclaim and also did well at the box office. Alphonse then went on to make Premam two years later in 2015 with Nivin in the lead once again. Rajesh Murugesan, the music composer from Naalaya Iyakunar worked with Alphonse in both Neram and Premam, churning out some of the best chartbusters of that time like ‘Pista sumakira’ and everyone’s favourite ‘Malare’. He also worked on the background score for Aviyal, an anthology produced by Karthik Subbaraj.
And there's the brilliant Manikandan, who made the critically acclaimed Kaaka Muttai. He's part of this picture too! Manikandan made his directorial debut with the film in 2015, following the success of his short film Wind. Kaaka Muttai fetched him several awards including National Film Award for Best Children's Film. He then did Aandavan Kattalai with Vijay Sethupathi. His upcoming film Kadaisi Vivasayi too is with Vijay Sethupathi.
Bobby and Vijay Sethupathi have remained Karthik’s constants working with him in films like Pizza, Jigarthanda, Iraivi and Petta.
How the show happened
During the show, Pratap told Karthik, “You have an unusual talent for cinema.”
Karthik, on his part, thanked his team - actors Bobby Simha and Vijay Sethupathi, music director Rajesh, editor Alphonse, and cinematographer Manikandan (Kakka Muttai) - before beginning to explain the story behind his entry into the show.
Karthik, who was in France at that time, came down to India to participate in the show. “I was working in Bengaluru for a software company and they had sent me to France for work. I actually came back on a holiday to participate in the show but eventually I told them that I’m not going back and quit,” he shares.
But how did his family react, ask the judges. “I had told them earlier that by 2010, I was going quit my software job to join the films. My parents were a bit concerned in the beginning but they have always been quite supportive. If I was sure in my decision they asked me to go ahead,” he says on the show.
From Pizza (2012) to the recent Petta, Karthik has shared his journey with his friends. In one interview with The Hindu in 2011, he speaks about working for his friend’s film while he worked on his. “There were two Indian films selected for Bodega Bay, including mine. The other, Wind, was directed by a friend of mine, Manikandan. I was the assistant director of ‘Wind' and also wrote the screenplay. Manikandan, on the other hand, was the cinematographer for Black and White,” he was quoted as saying.
Karthik’s Black and White was a short film starring Bobby Simha who plays a photographer. The story is about a mysterious antique camera he receives from an anonymous sender.
The group has had an interesting journey since, with each being a part of the other’s project.