Jayam Ravi: Theatre releases are the lifeline of the film industry
The actor, who’s all set to stand for the cause of farmers in his upcoming Pongal release, Bhoomi, talks about his upcoming release, and more
Sometime in the summer of 2003, around the release of a film called Jayam, I remember riding down the Kodambakkam flyover and seeing a huge cutout of the film with an actor I could not recognise. Now, 18 years later, I found myself talking to the actor, one of the industry’s most reliable stars, about his upcoming release, Bhoomi. “During this period, I think I have understood the kind of cinema my audience wants me to do. They have been accommodating of my experiments, and it is for them that I make my films,” says a confident Ravi, who has just made one of the boldest decisions of his career by opting for an OTT release for his 25th film, Bhoomi, which also marks his third collaboration with director Lakshman.
“I come from a film family and understand the importance of theatres, but this was an exceptional situation that required such an exceptional decision.” The film, made for theatres, will be streaming on Disney + Hotstar—this is a move that comes under even more scrutiny because by the time Bhoomi begins streaming, big-ticket films like Master and Eeswaran would be playing in theatres. “The decision to release it online was based on many factors, not just on the financial ramifications,” says Ravi, who also shares to being worried about the possibility of the film getting leaked. “Also, we had no clarity on the possible reopening of theatres when we made this decision. I always believe though that theatre releases are the lifeline of the industry.”
When the decision to release Suriya’s Soorarai Pottru on OTT was made, exhibitors came down heavily on it, and threatened not to participate in the star’s future releases. I ask if Ravi, who has an impressive line-up of films, including Mani Ratnam’s dream project, Ponniyin Selvan, and I Ahmed’s upcoming action thriller, tentatively titled Jana Gana Mana, is worried about such conflicts. “The cinema industry is a family, and of course, not everything is always right in a family. There are some issues that need to be ironed out, but we will chalk out our differences. It is important that all parties involved understand that such decisions aren’t taken on a whim,” reasons Ravi, who’s now made it a habit to do films that while being entertainers, also prioritise a message.
Bhoomi looks to be no different. It is a film about a NASA scientist who doubles up as a farmer crusader. The film also marks Ravi’s second sojourn in space, after Tik Tik Tik. He laughs and shares that it is a fun genre to be a part of. About the messaging in his films, he says he isn’t unaware of the criticism that comes with being part of such cinema, especially when it’s a topic as important as farming. “If someone thinks it’s just used as a crutch, I will call it an unfair assumption about Bhoomi. Our film is well-thought-out and works on multiple levels. We have used this medium to tell a story that is about modern-day farming and how our roots are important,” says Ravi, who considers himself to be politically aware but prefers cinema as his medium to express his social concerns. “Bhoomi is about farmers and their importance to our society. With everything that is happening in our country now, and the film’s release on Pongal, it feels like everything has fallen into place for Bhoomi.”
The seeds for his brand of ‘message films’ were likely sown with Peranmai (2009) and grew in size with Thani Oruvan (2015). Ravi points out that his earlier films like Santhosh Subramaniam had underlying messages too. “There were parents who told me that they pulled their kids out from courses like engineering that they had forced them into. I like it when my films have such impact,” says Ravi. “It might seem that I only do such heavy films, but that is not true. Even with Comali or Adanga Maru, they were first good stories; the messaging is just an add-on. These stories allow me to explore their multiple layers.”
On whether his active involvement in his films could be perceived as interference, he says, “I always understand that the scripts are first the babies of the writer. I am like the uncle who comes in with some nice toys and clothes. All I do is only to ensure that baby is happy. I always remember that they belong to the writers and directors,” says Ravi, who has ‘two-three babies’ of his own that are ready to be filmed. The actor laughs and says that this isn’t the right time in his career to step into direction. “But the time will come for those ‘kids’,” he says, laughing.
From being launched as ‘Ilam Puyal’, Ravi has come a long way. To be specific, his career is now 18 years and 25 films old. He is an actor who has shown that an actor’s career is a marathon, not a race. I may not have been able to recognise him when I saw him in 2003, but few Tamil people will be unaware of him today.