Actor Jai speaks about hitting a purple patch in his career and future projects

Actor Jai had a dream debut at 16 when he played Vijay’s kid brother in Bhagavathy and followed it up with the rollicking Chennai 28. Then, there was a lull, with films that did nothing to his career. Sasi Kumar then gave him the superhit Subramaniapuram. Three years later, in Engeyum Eppodhum, he struck a chord as the shy Kadhiresan. Director Atlee tapped into Jai’s soft side again in the super hit Raja Rani, which is still going strong in theatres. With just a word and a look in the climax, Jai as Surya walked away with all the audience sympathy.

Jai currently has five films in various stages of production. “I’m delighted about the response to Raja Rani. When Atlee narrated the script, he said that if I nailed the character, I would earn applause,” he says. “I tried hard to get into the skin of Surya. Every scene went close to 10 takes. But, I wanted to give them enough choices,” he adds.

Jai says that while Kadhiresan and Surya might appear to be boy-men, he was impressed by the fact that Surya finally grew up into a man. “I knew the climax would work, but was surprised that it worked so well. If the actions (including the ring scene) had changed even slightly, I would have looked like a villain,” he says.

When a lead man plays a shy character, you need good writing to ensure he does not turn into a comedian, says Jai, with the wisdom brought on by the flops thanks to bad scripts. “That’s why Engeyum Eppodhum worked. My character was almost modelled on the lines of Rajini Sir in the first half of Annamalai.”

After doing a spate of films where he played the typical hero, full of bravado, did Jai know he had a softie inside him? “Not really,” he laughs. “I’d done action (Subramaniapuram), love (Kanimozhi) and many masala films. I wanted to see if I could do this kind of character. Luckily, it clicked.”

Though he’s in a happy space now, Jai can’t help but remember the dark days. “I was disappointed and angry with myself. Fame came very easily, but I could not sustain it. I knew I could do well, but did not know how to go about it. I had no family or friends to guide me. Even after five flops in a row, it was just me who had to sit down and decide on a sixth project.” He continues: “There was a time when I did films only because I did not want a long gap between releases. I realised my mistake, and after Engeyum…, I decided to wait. That’s why this two-year gap.”

He took the time to introspect. Jai has always worked only with debut directors (he’s repeated directors just once in his career, for Goa, with Venkat Prabhu), and decided he would stick to that, but opt for movies made by big banners such as Fox Star, Aascar and Photon Kathas. “Banners are important. You can act well, but only banners can ensure people see your work,” he says.

Jai has been shooting almost simultaneously for five films. But, given a choice, he’d like to do one film at a time. “I like to maintain continuity. It’s easy to immerse yourself in a character when you don’t have to worry about reaching another set on time,” he says.

Once Jai finishes his current projects (by December this year), he’s planning to take a break to indulge in a childhood passion — racing. “I’ve been fond of racing since I was 14. I hold a national car racing licence. Ajith sir is a huge inspiration. He proved that actors can also race. Since 16, I’ve been living in and out of studios. I want to take three months off to live the life I’ve always wanted to.”

Upcoming movies

Naveena Saraswathi Sabatham

Director: K. Chandru

Jai teams up with VTV Ganesh, Sathyan and Rajkumar for this laugh riot. “It’s a lovely film that speaks about how the young must lead their lives,” says Jai.

Vadacurry

Director: Saravana Rajan

Jai is paired with Swathi again, six years after Subramaniapuram. “We have both matured so much as actors. People still remember our ‘Kangal Irandaal’. Yuvan Shankar Raja is working on tunes that will be as memorable. There is love and comedy in the first half and action in the second,” he says.

Thirumanam Ennum Nikkah

Director: Anees

Nazriya Nazim and Jai star in this Hindu-Muslim love story. “It has been shot with a lot of sensitivity.”

Tamilchelvanum Thaniyaar Anjalum

Director: Prem Sai

Yami Gautam stars with Jai in this film produced by Gautam Vasudev Menon. Providing the actor company are VTV Ganesh and Santhanam, with whom Jai teams up after Vamanan.

Vettai Mannan

Director: Nelson

“I’ve shot for half the film. STR and I are waiting for combined dates to complete the film.”