Director Jayaraj began his Navarasa series with Shantham in 2000, followed by Karunam, Bhibatsa, Adbutham, Veeram, Bhayanakam, Roudram 2018 and now Hasyam which premiered at the International Film Festival of Kerala 2021. He talks about the unusual profession of the film's protagonist, a cadaver agent, and his advice to aspiring indie filmmakers, in this interview with Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts…
Your film Hasyam is on the subject of death, even though in your Navarasa series, its rasa is humour. How did this combination come about?
It started in 2000, with Shanthan, Karunam, Adbutham, and so on. I was trying to avoid Hasyam because of the genre. There are so many different patterns of comedy. I was wondering what pattern I should choose. Sometimes, the humour of enlightenment could be the ultimate. You always have a smile on your face after you come to know the secret of wisdom. But, I thought I needed a different idea.
Suddenly, I got a different perspective when I was thinking of black humour. The audience is laughing but characters are talking about dead bodies. I was trying to say something humorously but, at the same time, it had a philosophical dimension. That's the moment I started to focus on Haasyam.
One of the recurring jokes in the film (even though it's not really a joke) is that our protagonist is what his daughter calls a 'dead body agent'. There's a subtext about why waste our bodies after we are dead, when it can be used to save the dying.
That's not the important point, but a lot of different points arise due to the humour. You ask yourself a lot of things, that's the important thing. I used to go to medical exhibitions when I was a kid. I've seen parts of the human body kept in jars. But one cadaver was placed on a table. I was totally scared. I was thinking, if the cadaver was actually conscious and watching: someone takes his heart, someone takes his liver. So, my first thought was to create a monologue of a cadaver. But that's obvious, and it could be crude: where's the humour in it? So, I thought I'd make the film about a cadaver agent.
Today a lot of independent filmmakers are trying to see where best to premiere their films. You've had Ottal in the Berlin Film Festival. And Hasyam premiered in IFFK. What's your advice to young filmmakers trying to get into the festival circuit?
I make a movie every year and send it to Cannes, it's my dream. But, I've never entered so far. I've made a film after Hasyam and I'm sending it to Cannes. I'm determined to enter. I keep on trying. I always prefer the best.
I can say something to younger people: money is not needed to make a movie. Whenever you dream something and write with determination, and when you feel it's time, you just start shooting. Money will come, if you go ahead. The camera will come. The actors will come. Everything will happen and you can finish at the earliest. If there's money involved, there will be a lot of limitations.
So many independent filmmakers are coming up. If someone asks you how they can set themselves apart, what would your advice be?
It's absolutely the script. The ultimate thing is the screenplay and you should be different there. Like Jonathan Livingston Seagull, I tell people to fly differently.