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Jayam Ravi: ‘Comali’ helps me break an image trap

Jayam Ravi in a still from ‘Comali’

Jayam Ravi in a still from ‘Comali’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

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The actor also spills beans on his involvement in Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus film ‘Ponniyin Selvan’

Jayam Ravi believes in the word ‘entertainment’.

His unwavering trust on this crucial component of commercial Tamil cinema comes through when asked if he would ever consider being part of experimental films. The answer is a firm ‘no’.

“I can’t take that risk. I can’t even distribute such films; it will be a loss for me,” says Ravi, adding for emphasis, “Even if I was to make a documentary film, it has to be entertaining. Otherwise, it is a waste. There is no use to making a film which only I will watch, no matter however useful the subject is.”

Ravi, who turns 39 in September, speaks from experience.

Having made his debut in Jayam (2003) — the film’s critical and commercial success led to him prefixing the title to his name; even otherwise it helps him stand out in an industry where every fifth person you meet could be a Ravi — the actor is now approaching 25 films.

In these 16 years, he has held firm on his belief that film-making is about reaching and touching another person. “It is like how we make food for others to eat. I believe that my films ought to be useful for my audience,” he remarks.

Class clown

Comali, directed by debutant Pradeep Ranganathan, is produced by Ishari K Ganesh and scheduled for release on August 15. Kajal Aggarwal, Samyuktha Hegde and Yogi Babu are his co-stars in the film.

Jayam Ravi with Kajal Aggarwal in a still from ‘Comali’

Jayam Ravi with Kajal Aggarwal in a still from ‘Comali’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

How much of a komali is Jayam Ravi in real life? Big time.

The actor is a bona fide prankster, and admits to playing gags on friends and family from time-to-time. “From climbing a pipeline to enter my house via the backdoor to lighting firecrackers inside my home and in school, I’ve done it all. Nobody in the family would scold me because I was the youngest child, and, in my school, I was the volleyball team captain. They had no way but to adjust to my antics,” Ravi laughs.

Brothers in arms
  • Starting with Jayam, Ravi has worked in six films directed by his brother Mohan Raja, of which five were declared box office hits. A seventh film is in the works — it will be a sequel to the pair’s 2015 hit, Thani Oruvan.
  • The actor has had varying degrees of success when he has collaborated with other directors. Ask him if he reads a pattern, and he says: “The way I see it... there is no one formula to deliver a hit film. So, when our combination works, why not continue doing it? It is a good thing.” Ravi adds that this is one reason why the brothers opt to collaborate frequently despite having stable careers. “And whenever I’ve had a downfall, my brother was always there to give me that lift again. We still make films together because of the confidence our audience have placed in us.”

Under production for a while, Comali has caught the imagination of Tamil cinema audience with its promo stills that feature Ravi in multiple looks — the prominent of which is that of a school boy.

Says Ravi, who had to shed 18 kilograms to appear as a high school student for 15 minutes in the film, “The school portion is actually the USP of Comali. The challenge was how can I do it (lose weight)?”

A trained Bharatanatyam dancer, the bigger problem for Ravi was losing his muscle mass. “I have broad shoulders. It was tough (losing muscle) but I went on a strict diet, and restricted my workouts to cardio for two-and-a-half months. In the end, I managed to drop to 80 kilograms,” he says.

Perspective matters

The film fits into the comedy-satire genre, and Ravi is all praise for his young director.

“He is just 25 years old. But he has such clarity that it is unbelievable. He was the reason why I opted to do this film. I had watched his short film before he had come to narrate the script, and I knew he would be able to give the output,” he says.

It is a concept native to South Indian film industries, of directors earning appreciation from the lead actor of a film in a manner that may raise eyebrows elsewhere.

Jayam Ravi with director Pradeep Ranganathan (R) and Yogi Babu (C) on the set of ‘Comali’

Jayam Ravi with director Pradeep Ranganathan (R) and Yogi Babu (C) on the set of ‘Comali’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

But Ravi is well placed to make the comment, considering he is that odd upper tier Tamil hero who hasn’t shied away from doing films with first timers. In fact, when he is not making a film with his brother Mohan Raja (six out of 25, a seventh film has been confirmed), Ravi seems to not mind offering his services to elevate the career of a debut director.

He feels at ease doing so because “...today, you don’t need to make a film on your own [to learn the craft]. The Internet helps. People are shooting, editing, grading and releasing a film using their mobile phones.”

Image conscious

On the subject of Comali, Ravi adds that the film is important for him because it helps him break an image trap.

Jayam Ravi and Kajal Aggarwal in a still from ‘Comali’

Jayam Ravi and Kajal Aggarwal in a still from ‘Comali’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

In the last four years, Ravi has seen nine of his films release — four of them had him play a cop. “If you get trapped in an image, you end up doing the same thing over and over. I get bored if that’s the case,” he says.

“Assuming I do 50 films in my career, if I remain an action hero in all of it, then the question of ‘why did I become an actor’ emerges. I think that the one who tries everything is an actor. I must prove my capabilities and deliver on my potential,” he adds.

What comes in handy in helping Ravi achieve his objective is a calculated understanding of the type of films that sits well with the Tamil audience. “As far as I know, the audience here look out for two things. Either make me think...,” he pauses, before resuming, “... or make me laugh.”

“Because the audience is already stressed out. The film they watch should either impart a thought in the viewing audience or at least give them the satisfaction of having spent their money on a worthy product.” he adds.

However, miscalculations have happened. Like his 2015 film, Sakalakala Vallavan. “Of course, I did that film. Who is perfect here? The key is what lesson did I learn from doing that film. I shouldn’t be repeating that mistake,” he says.

Into the future

On the career front, it would appear that Ravi is going from strength-to-strength. There is speculation about the actor’s participation in Mani Ratnam’s magnum opus — Ponniyin Selvan.

While actors Vikram and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan have, in previous interviews with The Hindu, confirmed that they will be a part of Ratnam’s project (which is bankrolled by Lyca Productions), Ravi prefers to remain coy. It is worth noting that the actor has been growing his hair out long in recent days.

“I can only say... no comments,” Ravi says, smiling. He goes on to add, “Unless an official thing comes out...” before trailing off, leaving little to guess.

Jayam Ravi and Yogi Babu in a still from ‘Comali’

Jayam Ravi and Yogi Babu in a still from ‘Comali’   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

If confirmed, though, it will be the first time that the actor will be part of a multi-starrer project.

But why is it that he has never previously shown an interest in a multi-starrer film?

Troubled waters
  • Comali film crew shot a notable sequence recreating Chennai city floods of December 2015 early this year. “Comali discusses our degrading human values, courtesy technology, using satire. The flood sequence is where the film’s basic storyline culminates,” explains Ravi. Filming the flood shot was tough because it was considered next to impossible to recreate, he adds.
  • “We touched base with many art directors, and all of them declined. It was a bit difficult because we needed someone for whom erecting sets for such sequences was a speciality. Finally, we brought one person on board. When we made the set, we had to ensure that we didn’t use too much water due to the ongoing water scarcity in Chennai. So, we laid the set on an incline, and created a storm effect with huge propellers. The rest will be handled in CGI,” says Ravi.
  • Filming went on for five days. By the end of it, Ravi had had enough. “We didn’t change the water and had to shoot in a sealed space due to the CGI background in the set. The water went stale, and it started to stink. It came to a point where was like... ‘let’s just finish this soon and leave the place’...” he laughs.

Ravi explains, “In the Tamil industry, the key aspects of a film like the story, screenplay, dialogues, direction, and even the lyrics sometimes, all germinate in the brain of one man. If the thought is of a single man, then they can’t think expansively. It means that the script too will be oriented towards a single character. This is the reason why there are no multi-starrers in Tamil. It is not the case, however, in Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Hindi (film industries),” he says.

In February, Ravi became one of the first leading actors to sign a three film deal for an undisclosed sum with production and distribution firm Screen Scene Media Entertainment.

Since then, actors Vishnu Vishal, Dhanush and Vijay Sethupathi too have followed suit with their own multi-film deals. The first of Ajith Kumar’s two films contracted to Boney Kapoor’s Bayview Projects, Nerkonda Paarvai, is set to release on August 8.

“I think it is a friendly, healthy and positive situation (of actors signing multiple film contracts). This is how it used to be. Sivaji [Ganesan] sir used to do three to five films together for a production house. [Mike] Mohan sir used to sign 10 films and receive advance for five films. When my father was making Telugu films, this is how he used to sign actors,” he says.

It also makes sense because he is here to stay. “They (production firms) know my market value. They know I’m going to stay in the industry, and that even if there is a downfall, it won’t be massive,” he remarks, adding in conclusion, “People find me trustworthy. So, the question is... why not?”

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 12:54:39 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/jayam-ravi-comali-helps-me-break-an-image-trap/article28806820.ece

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