Jyotika: Why can't AR Rahman work on a female-centric film?
The actors talk about their new film Jackpot and the market value of female-centric films in Tamil cinema today
It's not every day you get to interact with two actors who played a major part in the evolution of Tamil cinema across two generations. As we sit down to talk to Revathi and Jyotika about their latest film, Jackpot, the former responds to being thought of as a role-model for heroines. "I am just doing my work. My first six-seven films laid a solid foundation for my career because I was fortunate enough to work with directors such as Bharathiraja, Bharathan, Bapu sir, and Mahendran. After getting such opportunities, if I hadn't done good films..."
Jackpot has the two actors playing conwomen, and on accepting such a role, Revathi says, "I know director Kalyan from Gulaebaghavali. I still don't get that name right (laughs). I trust him a lot after that film; so whatever roles he gives, I take them. He has great clarity." She remembers that even Jyotika had some apprehensions during the first few days. "But I told her to go with the flow. We have both been doing realistic roles for a long time; so when doing a comedy film, there will be a change in performance. You see that in Jackpot."
Jyotika clarifies that it was not a conscious move to do a film like Jackpot after an intense one such as Raatchasi. She and Revathi play Akshaya and Masha, respectively. "Akshaya is street-smart, and both are happy-go-lucky. There's a small beautiful message in this film, so it's not all about comedy. I liked Kalyan sir's thought process."
She is glad that the new filmmakers are coming up with interesting scripts. "Many of these directors are unmarried, and yet, they write such powerful roles from a woman's perspective," she says. Revathi adds, "This generation of youngsters respect the women in their lives and that's evident from their writing."
Jyotika reveals that she got the bound script three months in advance. "Be it Raatchasi or my next film, Ponmagal Vandhal, they gave me my lines early, and it makes life so much easier. They are all so confident; they know that a scene might be chopped off at the censor's table and shoot back-up scenes in advance."
It's hard for a female actor to rise to such prominence that scripts centering on them get written. Jyotika credits her husband Suriya for the resurgence of her career. "If not for a supportive husband, a wife cannot come out and work. When 36 Vayadhinile came up, the director had a producer in mind, but Suriya said he wanted to take care of production as it's my comeback film. The support Suriya and 2D give me is immense."
Jackpot allowed Jyotika to showcase her massy avatar. "The shots, mass sequences and action scenes you would expect in a mass hero's film, are there in this film. The shooting was so much fun. I even got to ride a bike, something I am doing after Magalir Mattum," adds Revathi. Jyotika adds, "That's why in the 2017 Magali Mattum, we were keen to retain the bike sequence and I learnt to ride."
The two actors evidently have immense respect for each other. Revathi says, "If Jo takes up a project, she gives whatever is necessary. I haven't seen Raatchasi, but loved her in Kaakha Kaakha and 36 Vayadhinile." A smiling Jyotika returns the compliment. "I feel Revathi ma'am sees a scene as a director. She would give some of her lines to me saying it would be better if my character said those lines. I would pass on tough lines to her (laughs)."
Both actors are united in their love for comedy. Revathi rues hardly getting such scripts. "I enjoyed doing Arangetra Velai and love the genre. But some other offers did not impress me. It's important that jokes are not made at the expense of anyone. We grew up with clean humour, thanks to legends such as Chandrababu, Nagesh sir, and Aachi (Manorama)."
Revathi's characters in both Gulaebaghavali and Jackpot are named Masha, after her name in Arangetra Velai. "Kalyan really likes that film. When he first met me, he asked why I hadn't done a role like Masha again, and I joked that no one had written such a character after that."
She also hopes to play a female don sometime. "Something like what Amitabh Bachchan did in Sarkar. If I had to choose to repeat a role, I would go with Pudhumai Penn. It was a film I did when I was just 17, so I did exactly what Bharathiraja sir said. But it's too late now."
The actors acknowledge that female-centric films don't get the footfalls of a male star's film. Jyotika says, "We don't even get a quarter of the collection, but we actually work harder because of budget restraints. We do a fight sequence in a day when they take five days. We finish a film in 30 days when they take months." She also bemoans the fact that experienced technicians do not work in such films. "Why can't AR Rahman do a female-centric film? Imagine how amazing it would be," she says.
Revathi thinks films like Jackpot are necessary. "Their success will give us bigger budgets for upcoming films. Look at what Kamal sir does. He maintains a balance between the star and actor in him. We want to do films that will touch hearts but also ones that will keep our market alive." Jyotika interrupts to say, "Appo dhaan AR Rahman sir enga padangal pannuvaru (laughs)."
Revathi mulls on the label of 'female-centric cinema'. "Back in the 80's, we never thought of the films we did as being female-centric. I mean, what was Pudhumai Penn? It was such a powerful film with a message. I am confused by the feminist tag for films today. Why not call them humanist?"
While on feminism, Tamil cinema has notably not taken much action on those accused by the #MeToo movement, especially in comparison with other industries. Revathi, one of the founding members of WCC (Women in Cinema Collective), believes they are doing a lot. "But what we do does not come up on social media because we are keeping it low profile for a reason. WCC is the first organisation in the world to lend a voice in favour of women in the film industry. We are even planning to give out an award called Bechdel Awards for films that pass the Bechdel test. We formed a similar association here as well, but did not get adequate support."