Jiiva: I can walk into any genre and find an audience
The actor, whose upcoming film, Seeru, is releasing this Friday, talks about his career so far, his future projects, and more
Academy Award-winning director Steven Soderbergh, a filmmaker at ease making diametrically different films like Traffic and Magic Mike, famously said, "It's really easy to make a movie that five people understand. It's really hard to make something that a lot of people understand and yet is not obvious, still has subtlety and ambiguity, and leaves you with something to do as a viewer." Jiiva thinks this of our masala cinema, even if he agrees that the typical film may not always offer as much as they should. "As my career progressed, I realised that there was no point trying to replicate foreign films here. The storytelling in our cinema is appreciated all over India and has a reach beyond our expectations," says Jiiva, who recently completed 17 years in Tamil cinema.
Jiiva is now at a crossroad of sorts in his career. Although his filmography boasts of cult films like Raam and Kattradhu Thamizh, the actor has had a mixed run at the box office with recent films. He is now coming out with Seeru, a film that aims to tick every box in the masala film template. "This genre does sell. Everyone is happy. Such ‘complete’ films run not only in our State but also enjoy a market in other States. For me, these films are the best examples of storytelling. Though we are awed by the occasional pasta or pizza, sambar or rasam rice is our staple diet. It comforts us."
For someone who did Raam, Dishyum, Keerthi Chakra (Aran), E, and Kattradhu Thamizh, it is almost strange to see Jiiva focus as much on market value, the complete package, remake rights etc... "This realisation dawned on me during my Thenavattu and Kacheri Aarambam days. I began my career with romcoms and then did a series of films that were off the beaten path. While new-age audiences lapped up my films like Ko and Siva Manasula Sakthi, family audiences thronged for Thenavattu, Rowdhiram, and Kacheri. I expect this audience to take to Seeru too." Won’t it be disheartening for fans of his offbeat films? “I do want to do the sort of films that an Ayushmann Khurrana does. But some of my experiments have backfired. Films like Seeru follow a success format. It is safe for all the parties involved. Ultimately, what is important is if a film is good, and I can say Seeru is one."
Does Jiiva get confused by these different fan bases? “Oh yes. But I know that I can walk into any genre, and find an audience for it. Neraya vedhaigal pottu vechurkom nu oru satisfaction," says the actor, adding, "But again, I am not too fond of making films just for a particular type of audience." Even as confusion prevails in his script choices, another term that riles him up is ‘comeback’. "I have fans asking me when I am making a comeback, and I am perplexed. I guess they are talking about that one big hit."
Perhaps this is a consequence of the obsession with the Rs 100-crore mark? "My contemporaries are said to be doing films that are apparently grossing such big numbers. I am not sure how true these claims are (laughs). Nevertheless, as I am not part of this numbers race, they think I need a comeback. Every actor has a specific business capability. If the investment is, let's say 10 crore, the expected returns can only be calculated on that film's strength. You can't compare it to a project that cost Rs 50 crore to make. I guess I will be appreciated in a big way when I do a film like Ko. I don't know," says Jiiva.
Even as Jiiva is moving forward under a cloud of doubt it seems, the path ahead for him seems promising. Among his upcoming films is the much-hyped and long-awaited Gypsy, directed by Raju Murugan, and his home production, Kalathil Sandhippom, which also stars Arulnithi. He is also set to make his Bollywood debut with the Ranveer Singh-starrer 83, in which the former plays the role of Krishnamachari Srikanth.
83 marries two of India's greatest passions—cricket and cinema—and Jiiva was chosen after Kabir Khan and team felt he would be able to do justice to the trademark restlessness and Hindi-speaking style of Srikanth. "Interestingly, during Class 8, I did a project that made me interact with Srikanth sir and talk to him about his World Cup memories. It’s surreal that I am now doing his character and recreating those moments," says Jiiva, who had the opportunity to meet his cricketing heroes while shooting for this film. "Having been part of a filmy household, I was never awestruck by stars, but when I went to Lord's, and met Clive Lloyd, Sunil Gavaskar, and Vivian Richards, that was a special experience."
The recent promotional activity of the film featuring Kamal Haasan, Ranveer Singh, and other 83 cast members, became a talking point. "If you need to bring audiences to the theatre, it is important to take our films to them. As an actor, seeing people's responses first-hand is a great source of encouragement." In Tamil cinema, promotions are still thought of as a bit of a chore. "We don't have a choice now though. With most of our films suffering losses and being affected by changes in release dates, there is only one way forward: Promotion of our films to the most important demographic—the cinema-loving and theatre-going audience."
Here's the interview: