James Bond of Tamil cinema

Jaishankar with Rajnikanth in Murattukalai  

Friday the 12th marked the 75th birth anniversary of Jaishankar. In his heyday, Jai, as he was known, was hailed as Tamil cinema’s answer to James Bond. Action was his forte, till K. Balachander saw his potential and honed him as a performer par excellence in Nootrukku Nooru. And it was KB again who brought out Jai’s youthful enthusiasm to the fore in Poovaa Thalaiyaa. After more than a 100 films as hero, Jaishankar went on to work in several films as a character actor. Years have rolled by but even today his directors and colleagues in the film industry remember the actor’s generosity and humaneness as much as they do his friendliness and zest …

Satyaraj: From the producer to the light-man, Jaishankar would greet everyone with a ‘Hi’ and put his arm around their shoulders! He was 20 years my senior, yet we were friends. It is from him that I’ve imbibed bonhomie that transcends age. Today, if my interaction with a youngster like Sivakarthikeyan is on an equal footing, it’s thanks to Jai.

No other actor can carry off the formal suit as well as he could. I was in Class VII then. He would often visit his friend Dr. Narayanan in Coimbatore, who was known to my family too. He would arrive in a different car every time, and we would look at him awe-struck. Later on when I reminded of it he quipped, ‘You thought they were mine? I was only borrowing cars from one or the other of my friends.’

We’ve worked together in about 20 films and not once have I seen him yawn or stretch himself. His son is my eye doctor and every time I go for a check-up we discuss his dad and I return feeling rejuvenated!

Cho Ramaswamy: It was with our theatre troupe, Viveka Fine Arts Club that Jaishankar opened his innings as an actor. The acting bug had bit him and he was meeting producers. Being accepted as a hero when giants MGR, Sivaji Ganesan and Gemini Ganesan strode the Tamil screen, was an uphill task. He was employed in Delhi then and I tried dissuading him from giving up a secure job. “Don’t worry, I’ll surely make it as a hero,” he told me. He set a goal for himself and worked towards it. Setbacks were many but he overcame them. At a time when in Tamil cinema, the common word of greeting was ‘Annay’ (‘brother’), Jai came up with ‘Hi’!

There was a time when he toyed with the idea of entering politics. I advised him against it and I was happy he paid heed to my words.

He helped several production managers turn producers. His donations and service to Mercy Home in Chennai exemplified his generosity. It isn’t often you come across a person like him.

Sachu: Jaishankar would never insist on his payment till the film was complete and even after it, he would ensure that the money due to small-time actors was first settled. I had attended a common friend’s wedding and enquired whether Jai was present. ‘I’ve invited him but he’s been hospitalised,’ was the reply. Just then, Jaishankar entered in a wheel chair straight from the nursing home, clad in a simple lungi and shirt! He smiled at me and said, ‘How can I not honour a friend’s invite?’

S.P.Muthuraman: The producer had completed the film but had no money to pay the hero. I went to Jai and began, “He says he will pay you once the film releases …” He stopped me. “He will not pay me Sir, I know. But if you feel the film has come out well, I don’t wish to stand in the way of a good product,” he said. That was Jaishankar — a person who wished well even for producers who didn’t play fair.

Kanimuthu Paapa was my first film as director. Jaishankar and Muthuraman were the protagonists. Both were very busy then. Seeing my tension to complete as much work as possible in the stipulated time, they would call me aside. “Our dates can be worked out. This is your first film, please concentrate on your work alone,” they would say. They laid the foundation for my success in cinema.

Jai was also the hero of my first colour film, the runaway hit, Thunivae Thunai. Later Rajnikanth’s Murattukaalai saw his re-entry as a character actor. Initially we were hesitant to approach him. How could you ask a hero of more than a 100 films whether he would play villain to Rajni? But Jai agreed without ado. When Rajni heard about it, he categorically said that in all the promos Jai should be given equal prominence, and that’s how it was.

The Jai Joy Nites he organised as fundraisers for Mercy Home, spelt joy for the film fraternity.

I love the ‘rasam’ from his kitchen. Every time I went to his home, he would call out, “Geetha, ‘rasam’ … SPM Sir is here.”

None who knew him can ever forget him …

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Printable version | Feb 19, 2021 8:53:22 PM |

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