"I used to write dialogues for my brother when he was doing his first Telugu movie under my father's production. If something was good, my father would take it. And when people would clap for some of those dialogues, I'd feel very good," Jayam Ravi tells Baradwaj Rangan. Excerpts from their conversation before the release of his 25th film Bhoomi, directed by Lakshman.
Would you say Bhoomi is a message film?
You could call it that, but I'd say it's a much-needed film.
You said there are two methods, preaching and sharing. You don't like preaching and you said "I'd like to share my thoughts through my films." How do you differentiate between preaching a message and sharing a message?
It's the difference between a teacher and a friend, that's how I see it. We have to listen to the teacher, sometimes we like it, sometimes we don't and we bunk classes, sit in other classes. But, you'd want to listen to your friend when the same thing is said. I want to be that friend who can share things because good things have to be said, nice things have to be done.
Has there been a movie that changed your life?
There is definitely. I don't remember if I was in school or college, but that film made me realise I have to come to this industry. That movie was Braveheart, directed and acted by Mel Gibson. In Tamil, K Balachander sir, Bhagyaraj sir, Mani Ratnam sir and their works have impacted me to become an actor.
You were an assistant director first, then an actor. How did that happen?
The problem with my family is that my father's a producer and I didn't know whether I should become a producer. My brother's a director and I didn't know if I should be a director. I wanted to become a part of the industry, but didn't know which field to select. I was always interested in the performing arts, I was trained in classical dance and learning Karate. I thought acting was a medium close to me.
Was it also that, maybe, you saw Kamal Haasan and got inspired by what he was doing in Aalavandhan?
Of course. What a great inspiration he was. I met him even before that through my father when I was very young. I'm inspired by all my seniors, and I had also assisted my brother before joining Aalavandhan, so watching actors and films, all these added up to my joining the industry.
One of the reasons I brought up Kamal is because Aalavandhan didn't do well in the box office, but today has a cult following. Is there a film that you think will last better than your hits?
From what I know, films that didn't run well then wouldn't run well now. One thing I want to tell you openly is to know your audience. I think I know my audience and will only do films for them. If I think I'm doing a film for me, I have to sit at home and watch it. If I'm doing a movie to attract the press or get their appreciation, I can only put on a press show, I can't release the movie. So, the most important thing for me is to know my audience. That one moment, I feel it would be good to make the film and see the result. If I have an idea for a futuristic film, I'll keep it in mind and make it later.
You have editors in your family and I've also heard that you sit for the edits of your film and give inputs. Did you learn it out of interest or did you do it for your voice to be heard after coming into the industry?
I believe every artiste has a plus point, be it appearance, dancing skill or dialogue delivery. Because I come from a film family and have done several film appreciation courses and attended film festivals, they have all added up to gaining some knowledge about films. My father was an editor and he taught us when we were young, he was also a screenplay writer and I believe I've learnt that too. My brother's a director, so at some level I believe I know how to give the audience a good film. When you work on every aspect, you can produce that result. So I sit for the script and screenplay discussion and for editing. I'm not well versed in music, so I stay away from it.
The film comes together from writing and editing. I used to write dialogues for my brother when he was doing his first Telugu movie under my father's production. If something was good, my father would take it. And when people would clap for some of those dialogues, I'd feel very good. I've been in the film fraternity for a long time, so I think my plus point is working on the overall aspects of the movie.
I don't irritate the directors to write certain scenes for me and all my suggestions are for the improvement of the movie.
Is irritation the correct word? Because every star wants to climb and become a bigger star. So you might think it would be good to have a punch dialogue in this place, because you're also thinking about the point of view of the audience right? So, why do you call it irritation?
What you said is just that. It's not irritating if I just ask for a scene, but it is if I ask for everything and that doesn't work. It's not just mine, everyone has come together for this. They all want a name and want it to be a good movie. For example, in Comali, the character equal to mine is Yogi Babu's. The irritation bit is if I had said he was not needed in the film. The script writer and director would have been irritated, and the film is about friendship in life. So, I believe I should not say such things.
A few years ago, your 25th film was supposed to be Thani Oruvan 2, instead of Bhoomi. Is Thani Oruvan 2 still happening?
It is happening for sure. My brother and I were busy with other projects so that's why we couldn't do it earlier. We might start the movie by the end of the year, and will update soon.
It's a rare film that everybody liked because it worked commercially and critically. Is there pressure that the second part must deliver, like the first?
There is pressure, but there should be a line where we set the pressure aside. That line for my brother is during the scripting stage and for me during shooting. You can't take the pressure to your workplace. When you talk to friends from the fraternity and other friends, they will pressurise you, and you'll have to take that pressure because you respect the friends. But when you're scripting, writing and shooting, you have responsibilities, people trust you, and you have to keep that worry and pressure at home, lock it up and head out. Again, you go back and take it, that's a different thing. But, while working, we never feel the pressure.
You come across as a very Zen person. But in an actor's career, it's all about planning for the future. How do you balance your living in the moment and the fact that the moment around you is changing so much?
Of course, I have all those emotions but they stay with me only briefly. That is all the pressure and thinking about the future. I'll think about it, give it a serious thought and find a solution. After that, I will not worry about it. During lockdown, I started eating a lot and put on six kilos. I was living in the moment and worried about when shooting would take place, when I'll keep fit again and why I should keep fit. I am like any other normal person. Then, I got my answer. I had to play with my kids, so for them, I reduced weight, Of course, nobody expected such a drastic change, but I can make minor changes, struggle, and somehow find an answer and start living in the moment again.