Interview | Movies

I accepted ‘83’ because I could speak in Tamil: Jiiva

Actor Jiiva at the Super Good Films office in Chennai

Actor Jiiva at the Super Good Films office in Chennai   | Photo Credit: K Pichumani

The actor, whose next film is ‘Seeru’, discusses playing cricket for the Ranveer Singh-starrer, how Tamil films are driven by the ‘combination model’ and why he is now learning to play the guitar

Third time is the charm, we say, as Jiiva smiles and clears his throat to answer a query on Seeru, the film by Vels Film International which releases this Friday.

The first two attempts are disrupted when an unmindful assistant sleepwalks into the middle of the frame with a water bottle before the video lighting equipment hits the ‘snooze’ mode.

The actor, though, prefers to see the lighter side of things, and begins: “Seeru is very important for me at this point of time. It has been long since I did an action film with a lot family values,” he says, adding that the story will be along the lines of his previous films like Thenavattu (2008) and Rowthiram (2011).

Lean patch

Jiiva did not have the best of years in 2019 as both his theatrical releases (Kee and Gorilla) bombed at the box office.

In the three previous years, the actor worked four films in total, which, in comparison to his 2016 returns when three of his films released, points to a trend where things may be slowing down for him.

Jiiva in a still from the Raju Murugan film ‘Gypsy’

Jiiva in a still from the Raju Murugan film ‘Gypsy’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

It didn’t help that his films seem to be consistently running into financial disputes before release. Kee was a victim of that, and so is Gypsy — his film with the National Award winning filmmaker Raju Murugan — a project that he banked on to help him navigate out of this tricky career phase.

“I’m kind of used to these financial issues now,” he says, as we remark that Gypsy, whose audio launch was held in May 2019, missed its scheduled release date of January 24 (the production team has yet to confirm a rescheduled date).

“[Gypsy] also had some censor issues, but that was sorted. I did anticipate the [censor] trouble. I used to think that I should be in the USA or Australia, when the film releases,” his remark, punctuated with a smile, offering evidence of the volatile nature of political commentary in Gypsy.

“But I am an actor. I need to complete my films and move on. I guess we should have better infrastructure in place to not stop films [from being released],” he notes.

Bouncing back

Yet things are looking up for him.

The actor is set to make his Bollywood debut in April with the Kabir Khan film, 83. Ranveer Singh headlines a star-studded cast in this film, which documents the 1983 World Cup winning cricket team’s exploits in England.

Though Jiiva, son of producer RB Choudary, can claim a North Indian lineage, he acknowledges the limited grasp he has over the Hindi language. It is what that prevented him from exploring opportunities in other language industries, especially Bollywood.

Jiiva as Kris Srikkanth in Kabir Khan’s ‘83’ starring Ranveer Singh

Jiiva as Kris Srikkanth in Kabir Khan’s ‘83’ starring Ranveer Singh   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“I speak accented Hindi. I’m more happy speaking Tamil. I’ve only done a Malayalam film (Keerthi Chakra in 2006) because my character spoke Tamil. Even 83 (where he plays cricketer Kris Srikkanth), I accepted because I had the liberty of speaking Tamil,” says Jiiva.

For 83, the actor and the rest of the cast had to undergo training sessions in Dharmashala in Himachal Pradesh, which, for someone like Jiiva who claims to have “no exposure” playing the sport other than its street cricket version, was deemed essential by Kabir Khan.

It was all fun and games when the crew practised using nets, but when the time came to face the cinematic equivalent of West Indian bowling legend Joel Garner on camera, the actor was perturbed.

“In the nets we were saved, but once we were outdoors, the ball started to dance,” he says Jiiva, in his inimical style, referring to swinging variations on the cricket ball.

Rigours of cinema

In his line of work, having to go to great lengths to achieve near perfection, solely for the pleasure of the audience, is regarded as a rule of thumb. It can also make the process of film-making cumbersome.

“Look, it is not easy. I don’t wake up in the morning to go make a dabba (colloquial term; meaning irrelevant) film. Try filming a scene and edit it. You will be so tired. For four months I was shooting in the UK (for 83), and when I returned, my son had grown two inches. I’m missing a lot,” he adds.

On the anvil
  • In the works for Jiiva after 83 is Kalathil Santhipom, produced by his home banner Super Good Films, where his co-star is Arulnithi. The shoot for this film is complete. “It is a typical Super Good project; a fun film based on friendship. It is also based on the sport of Kabaddi. I play a laid back character while Arulnithi plays an action role. It will be different from the thriller genre films that Arulnithi is known to make.
  • Another film with Jiiva in the lead and produced by Super Good is also in the pre-production stage.

Having grown up in a household where discussion on films was the primary chatter, Jiiva has an excellent grasp of the inner workings of Tamil cinema including what ails it. He wants more Tamil filmmakers to work on improving sound technology (using sync sound) in their products.

He would also prefer if fresher content comes through (he makes a passing remark on how stories can be filtered out from books).

So why is there a dearth in Tamil filmmakers adapting books into films, as is the norm in Hollywood and, to some extent, in Bollywood?

“Here, producers don’t read books,” Jiiva laughs, adding, “If they had the practice of reading books, they would know the treasure trove of stories available. But there is only the desire to invest in a film after fixing on a favourite combination in their heads. They will say this hero seems lucky and will invest all their money on him, only to find that he has turned into an unlucky hero all of a sudden,” he laughs.

The ‘combination’ fetish stretches beyond the producer’s room.

“Even heroes. First of all actors should start believing in writers. They believe in directors now, and also in their preferred combination of a heroine,” he says.

Such a culture also, in turn, allows for poorer quality filmmakers to enter the system, which is something, as can be expected, Jiiva is not too kicked about.

Jiiva in ‘Seeru’

Jiiva in ‘Seeru’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

“Initially, there was this job of an assistant director, where one would stick to a team for six or seven films. They would learn the work culture in the first film, then the craft of direction, various filmmaking techniques, interacting with the cameraman and then the producer in subsequent films before one becomes mature enough to handle the director’s mantle. It was this experience that made one a better director. It is not enough if you know how to place the camera for a shot. It is important to know how to handle people on the sets,” he adds.

Work-life balance

Jiiva likes to identify with his party animal spirit. “I quietly go and come off. I don’t like to gaze around and stuff. I also go for music festivals to listen to some good DJs like Solomon and Amen,” he says.

This interest in music has also manifested into a desire to learn playing the guitar. Jiiva started his classes while playing the nomad’s role in Gypsy, but has kept at it because he finds life when not shooting to be “pretty boring”, and also because playing a guitar is it a “very therapeutic” experience.

“The guitar was my best friend while shooting in the UK for 83. It felt nice. So I hired a music teacher upon returning. I can play three chords, and now I am learning all the symbols(music registers), and learning about the ‘c’, ‘d’, ‘e’ and ‘f’ families. Don’t ask me to play, though,” he smiles.

The actor has been making films for the last 17 years, and yet only turned 36 last month. He feels “pretty good” growing older. In his words: “When I was in my twenties, I felt like I was in my thirties. Right now, I feel like I am in my twenties.”

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Printable version | Feb 25, 2020 12:13:56 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/i-accepted-83-because-i-could-speak-in-tamil-jiiva/article30733709.ece

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