I'm not going to change myself to please others: Jayasurya
Jayasurya on his script choices, evolution as an individual, his love for motivational films, and why he doesn't explain his spiritual standpoint to those who don't get them
I spoke to Jayasurya a day after a Malayalam actor's unwarranted outburst during two interviews went viral, and assuming that every Malayalam actor now must be approaching interviews with a bit of trepidation, I asked Jayasurya if he enjoys doing them. "I don't mind them," he replies. "You know, I like people who really do the work. When we dedicate so much time to these things, and unnecessary questions bombard us, that's when it unsettles us -- and becomes a concern."
Jayasurya's new film Eesho, directed by Nadirshah, debuts on SonyLiv on Wednesday; ahead of it, the consummate actor gets candid about where he is at in his life right now, his love for motivational films, and why he doesn't explain his spiritual standpoint to those who don't get them.
I imagine Eesho is one of those films we can't talk much about before release. Was it first planned as a theatrical release?
Not at all. We intended it as an OTT release from the start. But just because it's an OTT release, we didn't compromise on the making, mind you. We should put more effort into OTT releases because we are giving them to mature, sensible audiences. In the last couple of years, everyone got exposed to content from all over the globe. People only accept films with top-notch making. Eesho is one such; a different attempt from Nadirshah.
Most of your films have soft emotions and an aspirational quality to them. Your last release, Meri Awaz Suno, had an uplifting bent, too. Do you sometimes feel that people have grown weary of such films?
Well, we can't say all the people. Maybe a few online reviewers don't. If a film manages to move me in some way -- romance, family bonding, dialogues, making -- and it's enriching, it will always be in my heart. I love motivational films. Here's the thing. We always respond better to positive individuals, don't we? Be it in our personal or professional lives. Take interviews, for example. We might watch the negative ones for timepass, perhaps to criticise them. But we often want to see content that inspires us and compels us to implement the same principles in our lives.
So when a few people dismiss a film of mine, I can't be bothered to go into that space. If they don't like something, we can only tell them not to watch it. I wouldn't change myself or my dreams just for those ten people. Every film has its detractors. We can't ask everyone to like everything.
When you get dark subjects, do you become concerned about a certain element from it being too heavy for the audience?
Frankly, I don't know. The characters I do often go through a seemingly insurmountable problem, like in Vellam, for instance: he is addicted to alcohol, and then he has to stop it in order to turn his life around. The RJ in Meri Awaz Suno loses his voice which is essential for his profession. A lot of people called me after that because they found relatable moments -- some of them have family members who experienced the same. A film changes people in different ways in different corners of the world. A good one is like a good friend.
Being an established actor, have you grown more cautious about doing justice to sensitive characters like the ones you did in Njan Marykutty or Meri Awaz Suno? Do you engage in dialogue with a lot of people before taking on such roles?
It is possible to talk to the real people that inspired these films. We can listen to their life experiences, but what they really felt and how they dealt with those emotions aren't something we know for sure. We can only create a character based on our understanding of those experiences. Take Vellam, for instance. The real-life Murali has jumped into a well so many times, but we can't show all that in the movie. We can only take a few episodes from their life. When I create someone in my own way, there is enough freedom. However, it becomes limiting when you are doing a biopic because playing famous individuals is complicated. I think the one biopic performance that impressed me greatly was Ranbir Kapoor in Sanju because it felt like he was playing the actual person. That kind of thing is hard to pull off because people are very familiar with both. When you see one man brilliantly turning himself into another, one can't just call it a trick of the makeup...
There's always the risk of imitation...
Right. Imitation is always a limitation. (laughs) It's peripheral -- copying mannerisms, voice and all that. Only if you get that person's soul can you do it really well. I see it as a god-bestowed blessing. When you start thinking it's your own power, there ends everything. Divine intervention is possible only when you see it as a divine process.
I've always been amazed by actors from a mimicry background who don't let that experience take over.
No matter who comes, whether it's from theatre or mimicry, that experience will be with them for a while, but it only lasts till that point when that person decides to change themself. If they continue with their comfort zone, firm in the belief that something is their style, there is no space for growth. One should look within for that to happen. This applies to both personal and professional lives. I'm someone like that.
Since you've brought this up, most people who have interacted with you know you to be a spiritually or philosophically inclined person. Not everyone expresses their thoughts openly, but you do. Have you wondered whether this quality of yours would make others perceive you as unrealistic?
Yes, that happens. Say, during some interviews, we say something; they instantly label it 'philosophical'. We can't blame them because they haven't experienced it. It's like a visually impaired man touching an elephant. Their description would differ from the real one, right? When I talk, I'm talking about my experiences. It's not something I read somewhere. What we read is merely information; we can find that on Google, but you can't find personal experiences there. I would not suggest dismissing them as 'philosophical'. I say, why not implement some ideas if possible? There could be changes. Who knows? One's personal revolution reflects in their professional journey. If there is a change in the latter, that means a change has happened in the former.
I guess that would take some time for people to understand...
Even if they don't, that's fine by me. People can say whatever they want. We don't have to adjust ourselves to their range to please them, do we?
You have frequently collaborated with names like Ranjith Sankar and Prajesh Sen. What are your takeaways from your experience with them?
I like to work with everyone. But when a frequent collaborator calls you again, it means your work impressed them. When you talk about Ranjith, Prajesh or even Rojin Thomas, with whom I'm going to work again (in the big-budget 3D fantasy, Kathanar), the advantage is that they love cinema deeply. Ranjith Sankar gave me some of my finest characters, which happened because he is a good listener, and so am I. We let a script or character marinate for a long time. These are things that require a lot of homework and mental work. I can only work with passionate people like that, not someone who looks at cinema as a business. I can't encourage friendships with those who try to take advantage of the actor or producer.
When veteran directors bring you a script you don't like, do you find it difficult to turn them down?
No. If I say yes, I know I'll turn into their enemy on the set. Everyone's, in fact. So I tell them at the outset that I'm not apt for a particular role. I never tell them a script is bad because when a writer or director has taken so much effort to write something, in their or their friends' view, it's not bad, right? When we go to an apparel store, we can't say, 'This shirt is bad,' can we? We can only say, 'This shirt is not apt for me.' That's the best approach because it's the truth.
Have you had disappointing, helpless instances where you listened to a narration from a newcomer, but the movie turned out to be something else entirely?
Oh, all the time. What happens is we go to a set trusting a new director who, by the way, must have a way with words -- and may have already made a short film -- but when they reach the set and see all the big people and big cameras, they forget shot divisions and everything. When you see how they criticise others' films, you assume they know everything about filmmaking. But the opposite is true. Now it happens rarely because, you know, past experiences. The same goes for technicians, writers or producers. Sometimes a cinematographer is brought in because the director or producer trusts him. I can only give inputs based on my working experience with someone. When someone else brings somebody, you sometimes learn that the director and cinematographer don't gel with each other. They might when they dine together or crack jokes, but you don't see that vibe in the workspace, which makes things very awkward and reaches a point where we will have to replace one or more people.
Do you prefer reading a bound script?
There can't be an alternate option. Again, here's a problem we constantly face: someone tells us a story and makes us commit. When you ask for a full script, they say we can bring that one later, but the producer is leaving soon, and we need to secure the advance and all that... It's a trap into which we often get manipulated. By the time the other actors are brought in and the set is already built, you look at the script and realise it's one of the worst things you've ever read. What do we do then? We either say it won't happen or ask them to rewrite it. Who becomes the villain then? Only us. And some people often keep you in the dark because it's their first film. But you have to remember that, at the end of the day, it's our name attached to this film. Suppose the script is improved and the film becomes a hit, they'll mention the actor's involvement; if it fails, it's because of the actor's 'interference'. It's frustrating because this lack of clarity can affect the schedules of an actor's upcoming projects too.
You're doing Kathanar next. How is the pre-production going?
It's going well. I have a feeling it's going to be something that Malayalam cinema can be proud of. We are planning to start shooting in December.