From theatre to 'Soorarai Pottru': 'Che' Krishnakumar on his new-found fame

Meet Krishnakumar Balasubramanian, the Chennai-based theatre artiste who plays Suriya’s loyal friend, Che, in ‘Soorarai Pottru’

If the relentless Maara (played by Suriya) and a fiesty Bommi (Aparna Balamurali) have been the talk of the town for the past week, courtesy Soorarai Pottru, Maara’s dependable accomplice Captain Chaitanya Rao aka Che, too, has been turning heads.

Is it the character’s cocky demeanour, the uniform, the crew cut or the actor that is responsible? It is hard to say. Perhaps, it is a combination of them all.

Judging by the reaction on Instagram, Krishnakumar Balasubramanian aka KK who played Captain Che has made a powerful impression. From a 1,000-odd followers, the Chennai-based theatre practitioner and actor leapt to a 65.7K (and counting) in the span of a week. Praise, comments and Twitter love letters have also been steadily pouring in; not to mention a host of active, dedicated fan pages.

KK credits the love and recognition to the Soorarai Pottru team . “I believe that when there is a script in place, most of the work is already done for the actor and you just go with the flow,” he says, adding that it has been an overwhelming week for him: “crazy is the word,” he says.

Familiar to Chennai’s theatre fraternity as The Little Theatre’s artistic director, Soorarai Pottru has been KK’s first outing in film after a 10-year hiatus, (His debut film Kadhalagi released in 2010 and tanked at the box office).

Funnily enough, his role in Soorarai Pottru was the consequence of a new hairstyle. In 2019, while in Thailand for a Muay Thai training course, he posted videos of his fresh ‘crew cut’ on social media. When she saw them Poornima Ramaswamy, the costume designer of the film, felt he fit the bill for Che. This led him to audition for the role and in turn meet Sudha Kongara, the director.

Krishnakumar Balasubramanian  | Photo Credit: special arrangement

“I met Sudha and we hit it off really well. She was just wonderful to talk to and she had no qualms about talking about the script. And, of course, Irudhi Suttru (Kongara’s debut movie) is a lovely, progressive film that I loved watching,” says the 34-year-old.

Che, as a character, was well-defined before it reached him, says KK. “The director was very clear about what she wanted. I was told this guy is an alpha male, a ladies’ man, a topper who is damn good at what he does… but all that matters to him is his friends. The idea of how this man communicates with Maara was very clear to me: ‘on an equal footing’ sort of a situation,” he says.

In the moment

KK says the highlight of working with Suriya is that, “the man just gives you so much [to work with].” The scene where Maara and Che get into a verbal fight, shoving and pushing at each other, is testament to this. “Funny thing about that scene though, is that every time I walked off angrily to sit on the bike, it just refused to start,” he adds, laughing.

In one instance, after a particularly intense scene, when KK and Vivek Prasanna (who played the character Seby) were joking around, Suriya rebuked them. They were admittedly terrified. But, it was all an act. “Suriya laughed and asked if he scared us. The next minute, he called us for a cup of coffee.”

The time on set was coloured by light-hearted moments like these, he says. In scenes where Suriya is in focus while KK and Vivek are in the backdrop, inside jokes were the norm. “But, while dubbing we realised that the mic had caught most of our nonsense,” he laughs. “When the vibe on set is such, it’s easy for actors to improvise. Having said that, imagine Nedumaaran’s female version… that’s Sudha; a stickler for detail, she made sure she got what she wanted.”

More than a decade in theatre, in roles that include direction, lighting, scripting and teaching, has fine-tuned KK’s performances. He calls it an “intensely productive” time. “I am not really dependent on the film industry to make my bread and butter,” he says, adding “I really enjoy theatre.” And, his takeaway from cinema that he feels could be incorporated in theatre, is its spontaneity. “The skill set of being able to gather your emotions with no continuity [as it is in film], will prove adventageous to non-linear theatre.”

As and when good scripts come his way, he won’t hesitate to venture into cinema, he adds. “But, nothing is in the pipeline as yet.” Meanwhile, KK who is also a certified hospital clown says he intends to continue working with children via The Little Theatre. “Some of my biggest teachers have actually been children. They don’t have any disguises. If you work with a child, you really understand the craft.”

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