Joju George, who was recently seen in Nayattu, plays a London gangster in Karthik Subbaraj's Jagame Thandhiram. Ahead of the film's release this week, he speaks to Vishal Menon in a video interview. Edited excerpts…
Jagame Thandhiram is among the biggest movies to release this year. The film is releasing this week, but it's an OTT release. Is the excitement level the same as a big ticket release or is there some disappointment that it's not getting a big theatrical release?
I am excited to finally watch the film, just like you are. But I cannot deny that I wished it had been released in the theatre. Not only me, the entire audience would have loved the theatre experience for this film. But in this situation, there is no other way. There is no option to be disappointed, if there were theatres and then it came out in OTT, there is a reason to be disappointed. But now, OTT is the only way. I have done a different role, the film is releasing in so many languages and that is huge. The film has got the biggest OTT platform and we are happy about it. A regular theatre release would barely have gone to one fourth the places.
Are you someone who grew up with a habit of watching Tamil movies?
Yes, of course. Actually I haven't watched as many Hindi films as I've watched Tamil films. Tamil music is always playing at home and even my entry to watching Tamil cinema is somehow a result of my love for Ilaiyaraaja's sirs music. I feel an emotion when it comes to Tamil, the people and their energy, their food, their cinema. Everything is in the list of my favourites. I was trying to act in Tamil for a long time and when I got an opportunity for that, it was a big one.
Did you hear about Kartik Subburaj right from Pizza, his first film?
Yes. I tried to know more about him since I watched Pizza. I was someone who was trying to get into cinema and was noticing new people who were making a mark. Like who has come in, who is going to come in, that's how we seek opportunities. Jigarthanda is my favourite film of his.
When he approached you for this film, which films or yours did he have in mind?
I got the role in Jagame Thandhiram after he watched Joseph and Chola.
Is your character's pattern in Jagame similar to those two movies?
No, not at all. I was playing a local SI or a Local Gunda all these years. In this movie, I got a promotion. When I got that, it was straight to become a London Gangster. Yes, I am a gangster in this film, that's all I can reveal now.
The industry has changed a lot in a decade. An actor can now play a villain, a character artist and also a hero. An actor like you can switch between any kind of role and still maintain an opening and a star value. What are the advantages of such a position?
It was not at all planned. The character roles and other roles are only differentiated by audience. For me, everything is the same. I would love to work with good directors. Even now I go and ask directors if I love their work. Nowadays, central roles come to me, so I am doing it. If I get different roles tomorrow, I would take that too. If there is a space to perform for my character in a good script, I would do it. And if I feel I will not do justice to the character, I will not do it.
After delivering two super hits Joseph and Porinju Mariam Jose, if you had gotten a smaller but great character role to do, would the decision have been a tough one to make?
Not at all. Rajeev Ravi called me for his Thuramukham and I did it because I just want to be in one of his films. Same way, Lijo Jose Pellissery called me for Churuli and I did it. Malik too was the same. I will never bring these discussions into my life and I do not want to complicate it. I just enjoy doing all the films.
People today talk about your struggle with great respect and a bit of romanticisation. But what were you doing all those years to improve your craft? Because waiting for all these years is not only about waiting for directors to call you.
Whenever I went for auditions and got rejected, I never thought, "I will show you who I am one day." I only wondered if I had performed well or not. You have to learn and there is no theory for it. I have attended lots of workshops and watched lots of movies. I actually know only acting and I don't differentiate between method acting and other stuff: for me it is simply acting. Learning is the only way, there is no shortcut.
Every 2-3 years, your limitations as an actor are getting lesser. When you look back at your older performances, how do you gauge them?
I always try to improve everyday. I have done lots of films in my career but many people started knowing me only after Joseph and the films that were released after that. In that case I have done only four films, at least to those people even though I have done over a hundred. I know that if my work stops to entertain people, my career will be done. So, I always try to improve.