Jayaram says Nadan, his film reaching theatres on Friday, will change the script for popular theatre and restore its space in the cultural landscape in Kerala.

“Once this film releases, theatre will make a grand comeback; just like radio did,” Jayaram is all praise for Nadan, in which filmmaker Kamal attempts to explore what popular theatre meant to Kerala. As the film hits cinemas on Friday, Jayaram says his lead character, Sargavedi Devadas, is one his best in a career spanning 26 years.

“It was destiny. Kamal was originally planning a project in a military backdrop in Karnataka, and was not too happy with it. When the theme of Nadan came up, he became enthused and immediately called me. I had just come back after attending a function to honour senior theatre personalities and was disturbed by their plight. Age and poverty have caught up with many. Some of them had to be carried to the stage. For a person who grew up worshipping drama and drama artistes in festival venues, I believe Nadan happened for a reason.”

Jayaram has always been seen as the ‘family drama hero’. Over the years, he has received bouquets and brickbats for the kind of roles he has chosen. Does he rate Nadan as a rediscovery of the actor in him? “I would never say that being a ‘family drama hero' is a bad thing. Malayalis, by nature, nurture close bonds with the family. See the movie posters around: any type of movie, be it a family story, action thriller, or comedy masala, the favourite tagline would be ‘families flocking to the theatres’. Coming back to Nadan, it cannot be classified into any particular genre. I am sure it is going to appeal to all sections of people with a liking for art or theatre, irrespective of the generation they belong to,” Jayaram says.

Jayaram has had the rare opportunity of beginning his acting career in a ‘golden era,’ where big names such as Padmarajan and Bharathan were sweeping Malayali audience off their feet with their novel themes and unconventional approaches. He has also been an integral part of many impressive works of ace directors, including Kamal, Sathyan Anthikkad, and Sibi Malayil. “When I look back, I feel that was the biggest fortune. I could work with an entire galaxy of talented artistes and technicians. Prem Nazir, Sheela, Kuthiravattom Pappu, Sukumari, Alummoodan, Sankaradi…the list is long. And in Tamil, I could share screen space with stalwarts such as Gemini Ganeshan, Kamal Hassan, Manorama, Nagesh... When I was little, my mother used to take me to the pooja room and teach me names of the gods we worshipped. I hold those who led me into the world of cinema with the highest respect, along with those gods.”

Jayaram traces his love for the art to his childhood. Legendary writer Malayattoor Ramakrishnan was his father’s cousin. “We all lived in the same house in a joint family, at Perumbavoor. Uncle had always been my hero. Each time he came home from distant lands, he would have donned a new avatar. As sub-collector, as an eminent novelist, as a cartoonist, as a script writer, as a painter …His friends, all luminaries from different walks of life, would get together at home in the evenings. Uncle would ask me to imitate our relatives and friends at such gatherings. Those must have been the moments I started nurturing the dream of becoming a performer,” he reminisces.

Jayaram went on to earn a name as a mimicry artiste and that proved to be a stepping stone to cinema. “I distinctly remember those days and the kind of reception drama actors received. We would be performing at a festival venue, and I would watch in awe as thousands of people applauded the actors getting down from their vans…”

How popular theatre got estranged from the common man and how an entire generation of artistes were pushed into oblivion are still being fathomed by academics and fans. “But I am sure Nadan willbring those days back. Kamal has captured the story of theatre so well, through three generations, right from the days of early musical plays to socio-political dramas to the age of the KPAC and the professional theatre scene today. There are permanent stages for theatre outside Kerala. I am hoping for such an arrangement in our State too. If it happens, I will be among the first to be a part of it,” Jayaram beams.

“I have had very few experiences where the initial interest, the joy of making a film, stays on till the end. Nadan is one such film; I could feel the positive vibes even while I was dubbing for the movie.”

ROLE CALL

As Nadan marks a paradigm shift for an actor who started his career with a ‘boy next door’ image, we ask Jayaram if there was one particular movie where he first broke the mould? “I would say that it was Keli by Bharathan. I felt like I had finally arrived when my character Narayankutty, a physically challenged young man, was liked by all.”

And as someone who is projected as a “true Malayali” by popular cinema and advertisements, how does he define ‘Malayalathanima’, the essence of being a Malayali? He laughs. “It is not about donning a mundu or any traditional clothing. I feel Malayalis have a characteristic simplicity. They try to maintain it in whatever they do and wherever they go. They are close to nature, to the soil, to their roots. Things may be changing, but I am still a villager, and am happy to stay so.”