Women appearing in high-octane action roles in itself is a rare sight in Indian films. So you can imagine how rare it is for a female homemaker— who endures domestic abuse — to fight back, not just metaphorically, but quite literally on screen. This is exactly why a film like Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey, which saw the demure Jayabharathi (Darshana Rajendran) suddenly kicking ass with some smooth Taekwondo moves against her abusive husband, went on to triumph at the box office. On Women’s Day, action director Felix Fukuyoshi Ruwwe sits down with Harshini after his long day’s shoot at Prabhas’ Project K, to break down the “kickass” (all puns intended) scene that won many hearts.
“I didn’t take Vipin (Vipin Das, director of Jaya Jaya Jaya Jaya Hey) seriously when he approached me on Instagram, but when he narrated the story during our first meeting, I instantly liked the plot,” Felix says. Edited excerpts below
What was the director’s brief for the fight scene?
Vipin wanted the fighting style to be somewhat different from what we usually see in Indian cinema, which makes heavy use of slow-mo and exaggerated moves. He wanted something more realistic and thought my style suited the kind of action he had in mind. He did not give me the script, but he explained the mood and the conflict, and what basically leads them to fight in the house. I got to meet actors Basil Joseph and Darshana Rajendran and understand their characters — Rajesh and Jaya — in the film. That helped me in the pre-visualisation process.
Can you take us through the pre-visualisation process and how you infused comedy into the fight scenes?
Pre-visualisation is basically where we choreograph the fights based on the director’s vision and record a draft video with stunt artists performing the sequences. We sent a video to Vipin and he got back with feedback, and we reworked on it. Most techniques for Darshana were from Taekwondo as her character in the film is also depicted to be learning that style from YouTube. In the case of Basil, he played a comedic character and the humour had to find its way into the choreography as well. Jackie Chan is quite an inspiration in this regard. He uses slapstick humour and situational comedy in his fight scenes, which makes his choreography light-hearted and entertaining.
So for instance, when Basil does these Kung fu stances, like the snake style, it gives a comical touch. We had a mix of Kung fu, boxing and karate for Basil, but what he does is mere poses that make him look cool. I was quite happy with how Basil carried his whole character and how he made use of the choreography.
How long did the training session last?
Vipin was very keen on the action sequences and the production also allowed him to take his time. So it gave actors enough time to prepare for the role. They took some martial arts training beforehand. Darshana trained in Taekwondo for two months. And we had them practise the choreography for three-four days before we shot the sequence.
What kind of feedback did Vipin give you?
He had a few sequences in mind that he wanted us to include. For instance, the stunt where Jaya kicks Rajesh and he flies and lands on the fish tank was an idea suggested by Vipin and Bablu Aju (DOP). Interestingly, the fish tank was not supposed to break that way. He (Rajesh) was stuck underneath and one of the legs of the table was broken. So it was like he physically replaced the leg. And as he tried to come out, the fish tank fell (laughs). But yeah, Vipin planned that scene for comedic effect.
How many takes did the scene require?
It’s fairly obvious to the viewer that it was not Basil, but a stunt double who did a stunt. I guess we took around five takes for this scene. But we didn’t have the same leverage for other scenes like the stunts that involved breaking the TV and table. We had only two of each and so we could only go for a maximum of two takes. For the table scene, we couldn’t take the first shot because Darshana stopped the kick midway but the stuntman did his move and broke the table. For the next shot, we told Darshana to just go for it and kick, and it was a successful take.
Did Darshana also have a stunt double?
Yes, she did have a stunt double, but it was a guy. I did find it quite surprising, but this is common in India because there is a lack of stuntwomen and female stunt performers. The stunt double for actresses are commonly men. In fact, I have also been a stunt double for actresses.
How about female stunt choreographers then?
I haven’t heard of anyone like that in India. This is also very rare in the US. But there are definitely more female stunt performers in other countries. More girls should pick up this profession in India because the market is quite big and there is a lot of demand.
Does gender matter while choreographing fight scenes? Did you have to choreograph differently for the film because it was centred around a woman?
Action choreography is gender neutral. I looked at Darshana’s skillset, the kind of kicks she can do and what techniques looked beautiful on screen and so on. So, it was based on her capabilities and not her gender. And I have to say that Darshana was very disciplined and hardworking. She never complained even when she had an injury. She injured her hip and right leg during the practice because of all the extensive kicking she had to do.
Even during the shoot of the last fight scene on the chicken farm, we had very less time before the lights went out. So, we had to nail it in a maximum of two takes. I took over the camera and Darshana was under a lot of pressure. We were like, “Darshana, Darshana, one more, one more, you can do it.” It was crazy but she didn’t complain. She made the story and character believable. Similarly, it is not that the fight scenes should be more realistic if women are involved. Realistic or over-the-top, it depends on what the story demands and what the director has in mind.
Did Basil also get injured?
During one of our practice sessions, Darshana accidentally kicked Basil on the face for real. And he had a cut inside his mouth and got some stitches (laughs). But Darshana had more injuries – her arms got pretty bruised up from all the blocking as well.
Last question, how realistic can a fight sequence be?
It is still a movie at the end of the day and many movements are quite exaggerated. If we had gone for more realistic fighting, there would probably be no kicks or fancy stunts landing on the furniture. The choreography is intricate and almost looks like a dance. I mean, no one would fight like that in real life, they would probably pull the hair and push each other. That’s not the quality we wanted to do because although it’s centred around a serious topic, we wanted the fight to have a comedic touch to it.