Malayalam star Jayaram, who will next be seen in Abraham Ozler and Guntur Kaaram, unveils insights into his reinvention, changing industry dynamics and pan-South success
Malayalam star Jayaram is all set to kick off the new year with two huge releases this week – Midhun Manuel Thomas’ Abraham Ozler and Trivikram-Mahesh Babu duo’s Guntur Kaaram. The former Malayalam movie also marks a significant film in the veteran actor’s career as he will be seen in a role, which he hopes would also “convince other new-gen filmmakers to consider him for their movies”.
In a candid interview with OTTplay, Jayaram shares the challenges and triumphs of his reinvention journey, how he fits into the evolving dynamics of Malayalam cinema and his unique journey of adapting to the other South industries at his age and stature.
Abraham Ozler is touted as your comeback Malayalam movie. You have been busy in other industries the past four years; so, what was your reaction when Midhun approached you with this film?
When Dr Randheer Krishnan, who is the scriptwriter of the film, pitched it to Midhun, he thought that it would be best to cast someone who hasn’t done a movie in this genre. I wouldn’t say that I haven’t played such a role before in my career spanning over 30 years; I have done characters with darker shades and investigative stories. But in the recent past, I have not essayed such a role.
So, when Midhun approached me, I was on a hiatus from Malayalam cinema. I wanted to deliberately take a break because the cinema here has changed and you get to know more about how much and what has altered when you watch it from a distance. Otherwise, you will keep running in circles. That wait bore fruit when Ozler came to me. I believe I have done justice to the character.
The team of Abraham Ozler – from its director to the cast of Arjun Ashokan and Anaswara Rajan – are all new people you are collaborating with for the first time. So, how much of that change in Malayalam cinema were you able to notice first-hand with this film?
From the outset of my career, I have made it a point to collaborate with new filmmakers. In the 80s, I worked with directors such as Padmarajan sir, Bharathettan and IV Sasi. By mid 90s, I was part of films helmed by Rafi-Mecartin, Shafi and other debutants, who did their first films with me. So, I always made it a point to understand and analyse the new styles of writing and filmmaking. That way, I could notice that there was a sea change of how things are functioning right now in Malayalam cinema.
There’s this ‘new-gen’ cinema that’s making waves across the country and I wanted to be part of that too. With Ozler, I think I have been able to accomplish that and hopefully, other filmmakers too would notice that I could be considered for such roles in the future.
It’s often the toughest for superstars to reinvent themselves. Do you also feel the same, especially from the work that you had done in the past 10 years vis-à-vis the audience’s perception of your movies?
Yes, I think that applies for everyone. When we were doing Ozler, Midhun kept telling people not to expect another Anjaam Pathiraa, which was his previous blockbuster. Ozler, for that matter, has a different background, artistes and treatment. Similarly, when you work for 35 years, there are a lot of memorable characters that are etched in the minds of the audience. So, it’s a struggle for everyone to break that mould.
I have tried to reinvent several times and this break was entirely for that. I took this decision in 2020 and have only done Sathyaettan’s (Sathyan Anthikad) Makal in between in Malayalam. So, I have done only one movie in the past four movies. If I continued to do movies in Malayalam during this period, maybe I wouldn’t have got Abraham Ozler.
In the past few years, I have watched a lot of Malayalam films, and I don’t want to name anyone, but there are so many new directors, writers, technicians and cinematographers that I want to work with. In Abraham Ozler, I got to work with cinematographer Theni Eswar because of Midhun. They are all brilliant – ‘pulikalaanu’. If I can continue my career with people like that, it will be delightful.
You have been part of some mega projects in Tamil, Kannada and Telugu in the past few years including Ponniyin Selvan: I & II, Radhe Shyam, Ghost and the Mahesh Babu film Guntur Kaaram. How much did working in these films helped you refine your skill?
The kind of respect and acceptance that I get while working in other industries is something that I cherish. It’s entirely the respect that they give to Malayalam cinema; for the work of legends like Mohanlal and Mammootty. We get to know how much they admire our language, movies and stars, only when we work with them. I have been fortunate to do these movies, and this year too, I have a lot of big projects in all three languages with big stars. And it’s not just that, I am also able to do a variety of good characters in these films.
You are teaming up with Trivikram again for Guntur Kaaram after Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, which was an important film for you in Telugu. This is again a ‘mass’ entertainer.
Guntur Kaaam has me in a similar role as Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo that is relatable and emotional. I can’t talk much about the genre of Guntur Kaaram, but I can say that Trivikram as a writer is a magician. He knows exactly the pulse of the audience. More than the films that he has directed, he has scripted superhits. He is also one of the biggest fans of Malayalam cinema. When I worked with him in Ala Vaikunthapurramuloo, he would ask me about all our films including the ones helmed by Sathyan Anthikad.
Now with ‘pan-Indian’ movies, the trend is to cast an actor from another industry to somewhat guarantee that that region’s audience would also watch the film. You have, however, become a staple for Tamil and Telugu – especially with movies like Vijay’s Greatest of All Time and Ram Charan’s Game Changer in your kitty, with filmmakers repeatedly casting you in their films.
It’s extremely difficult to create that kind of space. No matter what we do, even if you turn the world upside down, you won’t be able to create that kind of acceptance. You have to begin from square one in another industry. We have to put in a lot of hard work because it’s a different language and culture, and you have to be like one of them to be accepted.
You have to be like an actor who suits Trivikram’s films, and at the same time, you have to gel into roles that directors like Midhun or Mani Ratnam have in mind. That’s not easy; it’s a blessing that I got to do all of that.
What makes it even more interesting is that it’s easy for actors from another industry to get stereotyped. You have somehow managed to avoid that.
It’s probably because the filmmakers are also aware of what I am capable of. I am getting offers to play the villain, the hero’s father, the protagonist’s friend and others. As an actor, I am happy such different characters are coming my way.
When you were starting out in your career, you would have been passionate about acting and getting to play different roles. Do you get that high even now?
As far as an actor is concerned, it’s always a joy to do a variety of roles. But you also have to take your age into consideration. To keep getting characters based on our age and how we look, and to travel with them as our career progresses is a blessing. I did my first movie when I was 23 years old. I am 59 now; and to have the same level of acceptance at this age is just good fortune.