The Glorious Decline of Malayalam Actor Padma Shri Jayaram and His Films
by Tejas Nair
Last night I was watching Aadupuliyattam, Jayaram’s most recent film, and I knew I would be writing this today. It narrates the story of a young man who lives a luxurious life with his wife and daughter. He is some kind of an affluent humanitarian with an eventful past which is now back to haunt him. Basically, Jayaram’s character, Sathyajith, is a compulsive sinner who committed a heinous crime for money, which is not the biggest problem I had with the film. Instead, my problem was with the supporting character, one of his friends, dying as collateral damage for Sathyajith’s sins. I understand when horror comedies deviate into a territory where unintended humor makes the audience amuse, but Aadupuliyattam is one of 2016’s worst films with nothing to offer. Jayaram’s worst films can be listed and talked about as an essay: the recent debacles – Ulsaha Committee (2014) and Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare (2015) – and the 2012 flops – Madirsasi and Njanum Ente Familiyum – the list is endless.
What we can gather from this brief statistics is that the actor has not produced a single good film since the 2011 multi-starrer Makeup Man, which mainly relied on his ability to generate slapstick. Half a decade later and after acting in more than twenty odd films, Jayaram has still not been able to match his 90s’ success. Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal, the classic 1999 Malayalam film by Anthikad-Lohitadas duo is one of the all-time best films to come out of the industry, but still, critics won’t and cannot fully credit the actor for the film, because most still consider veteran actor Thilakan to be the star of that film. But, by giving Jayaram the benefit of being the second actor who propelled the film into a blockbuster, let’s assume it as his film. Although, this was released towards the end of the millennium, Jayaram gave back-to-back hits throughout the 90s such as Sandesham (1991), Kadinjool Kalyanam (1991), Georgekutty C/O Georgekutty (1991), Meleparambil Aanveedu (1993), Kaliveedu (1996), and Summer in Bethlahem (1998) to name a few. Then came other few new-wave features like Friends (1999), Njangal Santhushtaranu (1999), and Yathrakarude Sradhakku (2002). But, his entry into the 2000s decade also marked the beginning of his slump, with films like Sharja To Sharja (2001) and Daivathinte Makan (2000) bombing at the box office.
After Y2K, while the general movie-going audience shifted their attention to other life-changing elements like the internet and personal computers, the effect and perception of films as a source of entertainment slowly started to falter. This not only affected the Malayalam film industry, but also challenged filmmakers in the neighbouring Bollywood and elsewhere around the globe. Which is why ‘best films lists’ around the web currently cherish the 90s and then the 2010s, altogether skipping the 2000s decade. Of course, there very few exceptions, but majority releases in the 1o-year span were turkeys. Even in the case of Jayaram, films like Mayilattam (2004), Sarkar Dada (2005), Anchil Oral Arjunan (2007), and Parthan Kanda Paralokam (2008) failed at the box office so gloriously that directors and writers started approaching other actors. But, by then, the new generation wave had already reached the Kerala coast and would quickly encapsulate the industry.
It is not entirely Jayaram’s fault that the films he acts in gets panned by critics and audience alike. Let’s take the case of the 2015 mega-blunder, Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare. It was primarily a launchpad for singer Rimi Tomy who was finally going to live her dream of acting in a film. Of course, the script would have to be cheesy, similar to the talk show named “Onnum Onnum Moonu” that she conducts on TV channel Mazhavil Manorama. The script was written by – wait for it – none other than Kannan Thamarakkulam – the same person who directed Aadupuliyattam. As is a usual thing that no established actor wants to be paired with a newcomer despite of his/her popularity and/or creativity in another field, the makers must have felt a need for casting a known face rather than going for one more fresh face. I don’t know how Jayaram fell for Thamarakkulam’s offer, but it must have been either the package or out of friendship, and I am inclined to believe it was the latter. Anyways, the film made it to the screens and we had to sit through 2 hours of slipshod comedy. But, the primary reason why the film failed is that for a comedy film it lacked adequate amount of comedy. Jayaram suiting up as Mickey Mouse and running around is definitely not funny.
Rimi Tomy’s debut film also shines light into another fact behind Jayaram’s slump. Leading ladies say no to him. They just don’t want to act with him, unless they themselves are trying to land roles. A close look at his last 10 releases gives us the following result. He has been paired with:
- Sheelu Abraham
- Ramya Krishnan
- Honey Rose
- Isha Talwar
- Meera Jasmine
An average movie-goer will not recognize half of the actresses mentioned in this list, yet they were the lead actresses in recent films. Considering Honey Rose and Isha Talwar as leading actresses of the industry would be a travesty. The point here is not measuring these actresses’ success rate, but to showcase that Jayaram is not being entertained by bankable actresses. Nor is he being cast by successful filmmakers; consider these: Thamarakkulam with his back-to-back flops, slapstick king Shajoon Kariyal, Benny Thomas, king of 90s Sibi Malayail, and one-hit wonder Akku Akbar. Those who directed him in the 90s are not making films any more while the good ones who are doing it right now are not interested in him.
An acquaintance collectively appropriates Jayaram’s last few characters to the comical identity of a joker. Take Sir C. P. (2015) or Onnum Mindathe (2014), both dramas testing a social theme but advertised as comedies, probably just because they credit Jayaram as an actor. The only watchable film of the lot in the last half decade is the 2014 comedy drama Mylanchi Monchulla Veedu, which again worked because of the ensemble cast and sufficient support from youngster Asif Ali. Early in 2014, Jayaram also did veteran filmmaker and Cannes’ Golden Palm nominee Shaji Karun’s tragedy Swapaanam. The film was written and executed badly using a hollow story, which again the actor should have thought twice before accepting. I am sure money is not the issue here, but a serious lack of better offers from filmmakers who are evidently vying for young and successful talent. But, if that was really the case, then how does one comment about Mammootty’s enthusiastic bout? He does a fair share of films each year and comes up with really good ones (Pathemari (2015)) occasionally. Same is the case with Mohanlal, although, matter-of-factly he hasn’t had a hit since 2013’s Drishyam.
The craze before the release of Jayaram’s last film was regarding his salt-and-pepper look. For his fans, I agree with the craze, but it does not aid a bit in increasing the appeal of the film. Jayaram fooling around in his gray beard is the same as him fooling around in a beard dyed black. Experimenting with one’s looks for a film with a hollow story and lackadaisical execution only pleases the die-hard fan, but it does not guarantee box office returns or critical acclaim. Sure the members of the All Kerala Jayaram Fans Cultural and Welfare Association will check out all his future films and voluntarily fill the seats the starting week, but that is not what one should do with art. A film should ignite a sense of feeling in a person when he’s least expecting it. And none of Jayaram’s films in this decade, or the previous, have succeeded in doing that.
Jayaram is a talented percussionist and actor, no doubt about that, but after watching Aadupuliyattam, I couldn’t resist writing this feature. For someone who braved the industry when it was just starting up, I respect him for giving the world some great dramas (90s), for collaborating with some of the greatest minds of Mollywood, and I hope that his current slump is only a phase. Here’s wishing him good luck for his future endeavors.