Jayaraj is back with Haasyam, a dark comedy
The filmmaker talks about making the eighth entry in his navarasa series, working with leading man Harisree Ashokan, and why he still believes in the theatrical experience
Thirty years after his directorial debut, the filmmaker in Jayaraj still remains passionate and interesting as ever. He has been on a filmmaking spree lately, working silently and fast to complete the production of two small-budget films back-to-back. You don’t know about a new Jayaraj film unless he puts the information out there himself.
Following Backpackers starring Kalidas Jayaram, Jayaraj has completed Haasyam, the eighth entry in his series of films titled after each of the navarasas. His leading man this time is Harisree Ashokan, who plays ‘Japan’, a middle-aged family man trying to make ends meet by supplying cadavers for medical students. It’s a profession hitherto unexplored in Malayalam cinema.
Jayaraj calls the film a “dark comedy” that deals with death in a lighter vein. Death is a theme in Backpackers too, but both films, he says, tread different narrative paths. “Yes, the characters have a serious side to them, but despite the subject matter, these films are not grim,” says the national award-winning filmmaker, who wanted to express the idea of life being a joke regardless of our technological accomplishments. With all that is going on right now, it seems like something we all can relate to.
Explaining the reason behind naming his protagonist ‘Japan’, Jayaraj says it’s a common nickname for people who are shrewd and smart. “Japan is a cunning fellow, but he is not exactly a fraud either,” he explains. “This man is quite resourceful — he has a talent for getting anything done.” Jayaraj cast Harisree Ashokan because his face is the first thing that came to his mind while penning the script. “He is a vibrant and outstanding performer; we can convert him into anything. He is easily mouldable, whatever the role. He can carry off an ordinary man’s role without any strain.”
Though the idea for the film came to Jayaraj after finishing Backpackers, he thinks it all started with a spark ignited inside his mind when he chanced upon a cadaver in his school days. “I once pondered the idea of telling a story from the perspective of a cadaver,” he says. “Before shooting Haasyam, I thought of some quirky ways to tell this story, until I decided to do it the way it is now.”
Haasyam has been selected for the Panorama section of the 23rd edition of the Shanghai International Film Festival which is slated to run from July 18-27. To send the film for festivals, Jayaraj finished the post-production before December 31. It was only later that he finished the post-production of Backpackers.
Except for Veeram, all of Jayaraj’s recent films were shot mostly outdoors. He finds outdoor filming beneficial as it eliminates the complications and expenses of shooting indoors. “Nature has played a big part in my films. Its major contribution to my filmmaking cannot be stressed enough,” he adds. “As far as I’m concerned, shooting indoors is very restrictive. Creating and lighting a set is an expensive process. Major manpower is needed even for a small scene. Also, the sets have to be air-conditioned these days. In the old days, we did everything with a fan. Now we not only have to think about providing a luxurious atmosphere but also security.”
Jayaraj has not yet decided on a release mode for Haasyam. He is someone who believes in the theatrical experience, even if some of his films get only a limited release due to their offbeat nature. Asked about theatres reopening, he feels that they “will be definitely back and more active than before”. “Though there are multiple platforms out there, we all yearn for the ambience and community experience of a movie hall,” he says. “I think the situation will improve in the next two-three months. Some countries have already begun reopening their theatres. We will slowly learn to adapt, while following all the necessary precautions, of course.”
'It's a fresh, honest subject'
Like Kalabhavan Mani and Salim Kumar before him, Harisree Ashokan is among those actors who are as good with serious roles as they’re with comic ones. After 2018’s Ilayaraja, the actor is once again essaying a serious character in Jayaraj’s Haasyam. Ashokan says he was amazed at Jayaraj’s fast and systematic filmmaking style.
“Everything was well-planned. We completed the shoot with a minimal crew in nine days. Each shot was calculated in advance. There were no new decisions made on the set. Of course, there were some minor improvisations here and there, but Jayettan (Jayaraj) knew the location well and had a clear idea of how to go about the shoot. Even our cinematographer, Vinod Illampally, is from Kottayam.”
As the film was shot continuously without breaks, Ashokan found the experience quite invigorating. “I’m someone who doesn’t like sitting idle on sets. I like to keep working without any long gaps. Besides, it’s a fresh, simple and honest subject with a lot of heart. It has a good ending. It’s about a man who lives for his family. It’s not a typical offbeat film. It’s very touching,” he says.