Please tell us about yourself

He sits back in a half-sleeved beige shirt and jeans at his office in Chennai. There is leftover boyishness in the way his lips curl into a half smile, but his deep-set eyes hint at stories that are way too mature and complex for a 22-year-old. Karthick Naren is no ordinary 22-year-old.

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The young man from Coimbatore is flush with the success of his first feature, the Tamil film Dhuruvangal Pathinaaru or D-16 (Sixteen Extremes). As the film crosses 75 days at the box office, he could well claim to be among the youngest filmmakers in the Tamil industry, if not in the country, to have a blockbuster under his belt.

The sheen of Naren’s success is not just about the Rs 10 crore that it has collected as theatrical rights. It is as much — if not more — about the ingenuity of the story and clever filmmaking. The film — a police procedural that follows a murder in a Coimbatore high-rise one rainsoaked night — is like a Japanese thriller that takes off from the scene of the crime. It efficiently pieces together the jigsaw, leaving bits and pieces of information along the way for the viewers.The film demands their constant attention, lest they miss a detail or two.

How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

Naren, however, did not know how his own journey would end when he dropped out of the third year of mechanical engineering course at Kumaraguru College of Technology in his home town to assist a firsttime filmmaker — Deeraj Vaidy. He left Coimbatore for Chennai in 2015. He recalls that doubt-wracked journey: “I was sceptical about moving to Chennai as everyone warned me about people who followed their big-screen dreams only to end up as failures. Initially, I didn’t even want to pursue filmmaking as a career, which is why I joined college. But after I started working on my short films, I thought, however difficult this could be, I am going to make movies,” Naren told ET Magazine. He has made five short films, with a couple of them, including the latest Pradhi, showcasing his love for thrillers.

Indian film industry has storied debuts of youngsters, from Raj Kapoor making Aag when he was 24 to Aditya Chopra directing Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge at the same age, but most of them had the bulwark of a film family background. Not Naren.
His father MNG Mani is a consultant for a few NGOs and his mother Sharatha is a chemistry professor at Avinashilingam University. “My family is not remotely connected to the film industry. My decisions might not have been easy for them, yet they let me follow my passion,” says Naren.

What was the turning point?

After assisting Vaidy for a while, Naren decided to go on his own. “I had a script in hand, but my initial experience was quite bitter. Eventually, after a series of rejections, my father sensed something was wrong and said he would fund the project,” recalls Naren about the film that cost Rs 2.9 crore. “My family is not rich, my father had to borrow from his friends. But I think he invested in me rather than in my film.”

The next challenge was to find an actor for the lead role. “The protagonist, the cop Deepak, is around 50 years old, so we didn’t have many people in mind.” Finally, he approached actor Rahman, who was a teen idol in Malayalam cinema in the 1980s and is married to music director AR Rahman’s sister-in-law. “He breathed life into the character.”

Tell us about your first film and the experience

Rahman plays a police officer investigating a series of murders that shakes up a neighbourhood. Naren deftly weaves mundane, everyday events into the narrative. In the beginning of the film, an older, visibly slower Rahman, with just one leg, is making a phone call against the scenic backdrop of Ooty. What could have been a long boring phone conversation is made interesting, with quick intercuts of flashback montages from a crime scene. Rahman brilliantly underplays the scene, casually munching on a sandwich, pausing to recollect, while his friend is on the other end of the phone. “In most parts of the movie, I made the camera travel with the subject. You will see these long shots when Rahman visits a park or enters an apartment where the crime takes place. I wanted to let the audience take in the topography and discover little details about the place, along with the character,” says Naren.

D-16 was shot in 28 days in Chennai, Coimbatore and Ooty. Promoting the film was a challenge. So Naren approached a few people in the industry. “Director Gautham Menon released the first poster. Actor Madhavan and composer AR Rahman too tweeted a poster and the trailer and that helped us gain some attention,” says Naren. The film, once it hit the screens, was lapped up by the audience. In no time, its screens went up from 95 to 160.

What are your future plans?

An industry that was unwelcoming now buzzes with excitement at the mention of D-16. Naren, a self-confessed fan of directors Mani Ratnam and Menon, says offers have started pouring in. Menon had said, “It’s a new-age film made with finesse. I’m surprised to see that at 22, Karthick is sorted as an individual. I envy the fact that he’s got bound scripts in hand already.¨ Menon will produce Naren’s next suspense thriller Naragasooran.”I would like to make a thriller trilogy with the same theme and backdrop. Naragasooran will not bear any resemblance to D-16. It will be a multilingual with the cast drawn from Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam industries. It will be the second instalment of my trilogy,¡¨ says Naren, even as Kollywood wonders what the young man has up his sleeve.