“This is a grassroots-level story that I’ve not done before,” began Jyothika about her upcoming film Udanpirappe, releasing on Amazon Prime Video on October 14. Over the course of the next thirty-minutes or so of her interaction with the press, the idea of being a ‘village subject,’ ‘deep-rooted story’ and ‘native ideas’ keeps coming back. Unlike her co-stars Sasikumar and Samuthirakani, who are both known for their work in ‘nativity films’ — a term commonly used in Tamil cinema to indicate stories set in rural milieus — Jyothika has largely stuck to stories of the city.
In that sense, she believes Udanpirappe will be truly different. She has put in the effort to get herself prepared for a role like that. “I drew inspiration from my mother-in-law and my marital family that belongs to little villages beyond Coimbatore. I’ve been part of this large family for the last fifteen years and I’ve picked up a few things here and there,” she says.
Even so, she didn’t walk into the sets and expect to just perform. “I get my dialogues two months in advance and mug them up even before shooting starts to make sure I’m ready for lengthy shots,” she says, almost revealing her tendency to overcompensate for some perceived lack of ability to speak Tamil. Despite that, she didn’t dub for the role of Mathangi for this film — something she has been doing through her second innings that began with 36 Vayathinile.
“We completed the shooting for Udanpirappe before the pandemic, but the dubbing happened after. I had to stay home for the sake of our two children’s safety. My husband went to work and one of us had to stay back with the kids. In fact, I haven’t gone out to work in the last two years because I didn’t want to return from work and quarantine or stay away from the kids. That’s one reason I didn’t dub for myself. The authenticity of the local dialect was also important. These two reasons put together, I decided not to dub,” she explains.
Not just this, every decision she makes appears as though she has an acute awareness about her place as a woman in society. When asked how she chooses the roles she acts in, she says, “I want my female audiences to feel represented in a dignified manner on screen,” following through on something she’s been saying ever since her return. When talking about her role, she brings up the lack of roles for middle-aged women.
When asked about her role as the co-producer of the film, she brings up the power of choice it presents her, especially around scheduling her shoots to return home by six. “As every family woman, I also have other needs like being with my children, their schooling etc.” When asked about how she sees the rise of OTTs, she says, “In my 50 film-long career, this is the first time I’m getting a festival release for Dussehra. These slots are always booked for hero-centric films. An OTT like Amazon has made it possible for me to have a festival release,” she says.
The one thing going against the grain in Udanpirappe for the Jyothika we’ve come to know so far is the silence of her role. “This film has far fewer crusader scenes, like the ones I come on screen and talk to the audience. In this film, my favourite scenes are the ones where I’m silent,” she says.