Kalidas Jayaram: I am a very selfish actor
The actor speaks about his long-pending film, Oru Pakka Kadhai, and his role as a trans woman in Paava Kadhaigal
I remember meeting Kalidas Jayaram on my school grounds as a kid, who was being celebrated for winning a National Award for Best Child Actor (for Ente Veedu Appuvinteyum). There was a customary exchange of greetings and I remember giving him a cursory pat on the back. A decade later, I saw in 2014, Kamal Haasan introducing Kalidas to the press as the lead actor of Balaji Tharaneetharan’s sophomore project, Oru Pakka Kadhai. I remember feeling the warmth that comes with the vague familiarity of having studied in the same classrooms a few years apart.
On Friday, we met again for this interview. We spoke about our teachers, the PT classes, and other school memories, before moving on to the job we had to do: the conversation about Oru Pakka Kadhai, a film that was to mark his debut a few years back. Six years since, he has had six films, and three short films come out, and here he was publicising what was to be his debut film. “I feel an overwhelming sense of happiness. Finally, people will get to see this film,” he says, beaming. “I believed in myself, and knew there would come a time for everything,” he says, referring to the long wait. “All I could do was be patient. This was the advice I gave myself.”
And this advice kept him going until he found the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel in the latter half of 2020. Two anthologies and a feature film later, Kalidas is now the toast of critics and social media. “We hadn’t planned on having as many releases, one after another. While Paava Kadhaigal was shot before the lockdown, Putham Pudhu Kaalai was filmed during it, and as you know, Oru Pakka Kadhai happened six years back,” says Kalidas, who seems to have approached his career rather unusually. A self-confessed masala film fan, Kalidas, however, prefers projects that are more rooted. “I’m not sure I’m in a place where I can see myself doing masala films. Also, cinema is evolving, and audiences are expecting and accepting good content.” It was this belief that got him choosing unusual films for his launch in both Malayalam (Poomaram) and Tamil (Oru Pakka Kadhai).
He looks up to contemporaries like Shane Nigam and Vijay Sethupathi, who mostly tread off the beaten path. “I like their body of work, but I don’t know if I can do what they do. All I know is only I can do the films I do,” says an assured Kalidas, who grew up around superstars, on account of his father being actor Jayaram. “I am actually jealous of the kind of films my dad, Kamal sir, Rajini sir, Mammootty sir, and Mohanlal sir have done. They worked in the golden period of cinema and had the opportunity to work with some of the finest filmmakers at the peak of their careers. I am jealous that I wasn’t part of cinema then, but I’m glad to be associated with the kind of filmmakers I’m working with right now who are ushering in new-age cinema,” says Kalidas.
The responses to his work on OTT, especially in Paava Kadhaigal have brought him critical acclaim. His role as Sathar in Sudha Kongara’s short, Thangam, saw him portray the role of a trans woman, one that got him learning a lot about the plight of trans people in the country. “I have seen the wrongful portrayal of the community in cinema. I was conscious of avoiding such pitfalls with this short. I worked with Jeeva, a trans woman who narrated incidents from her life. Just listening to those stories, and trying to imagine her plight affected me deeply,” says Kalidas, who is aware of the criticism that he opens himself to, considering that he, a cisman, is playing a trans character. “I only sought to portray the community in the right way. If I haven’t done justice to it, and they feel offended, I am ready to take criticism. Even while shooting, we had trans people on set, and they were in tears at how relatable the struggles we show in the short film are. Their acceptance is my biggest reward,” says Kalidas.
He is one of a few actors who are straddling OTT and theatre releases across languages. “I am a selfish actor and want to be part of good scripts irrespective of the language. I also try to be wary about not thinking too much. If I did that, I would be cooped up home without work,” signs off Kalidas, with a wide smile.
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