Are We Witnessing The Rise of Jayaram 2.0?

You’re probably living under a huge-ass boulder if you haven’t yet heard of Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan (PS-1), which hit the theatres on 30th September after over three years of production. I personally loved the theatre experience, as every department had worked towards presenting a true blue big-screen spectacle. However, there was one person in particular, whose presence in the film excited me beyond measure: It was none other than Mr Jayaram, who played the pot-bellied Vaishnavite, Alwarkadian Nambi.

Are We Witnessing The Rise of Jayaram 2.0?

Based on my limited spoiler-averse research, I’ve gathered that Nambi is an important character in the story. In what we’ve seen so far, my favorite Nambi scene is one in the grave-ish third act of the film, where he warns Vanthiyathevan of impending danger (“Thala bhadram!”) and just brings the house down for a second. But again, apart from providing comic relief, he also seems to have stakes in a particular dynasty’s rise to power.

Under the guise of a Vaishnavite, he very well might have ulterior motives (For those who’ve watched the film: Is he saying a ‘code’ when he conveys to Nandini that the blue-eyed Krishna is waiting for her?) In PS-1, Jayaram does a good job of keeping us entertained and intrigued in equal measure. His performance was not just limited to the screen, but even off it – his mimicry of Mani Ratnam, Prabhu and Jayam Ravi during the PS-1 audio launch went viral for all the right reasons. The comment section for the aforementioned video is just filled with love for the actor. Love – Something he hasn’t particularly received from the Malayalam box office in a bit.

This inevitably makes me look back (and forward) into the trajectory of the actor who was, at one point, a bonafide leading man in Malayalam cinema. 

When the Family Man Faltered

In a 2019 Pinklungi article – arguably the best piece someone’s written on Jayaram in recent times – my boy Shahabas has diagnosed the fall in Jayaram’s form post the 2000s. While he mostly focused on Malayalam cinema, there was an interesting parallel trend that started around the same time: an increase in Jayaram’s involvement in projects outside of Malayalam. While he has periodically starred in Tamil films in the early 2000s – I’d reckon the most significant ones to be Thenali, Panchathanthiram, and Saroja in that order – this cross-border involvement was only seen as a side hustle for a man who seemed to have a solid base in his home turf. But as the years passed, and the home-ground sixes began to dry up, things began to look different. 

Are We Witnessing The Rise of Jayaram 2.0?

The last ‘successful’ year for the actor in Malayalam was probably 2011 with multi-starrers like Seniors, Chinatown, Makeup Man, as well as the family drama Swapna Sanchari setting the cash registers ringing. In 2012, out of six releases, his only success was the Vijay-starrer “Thuppakki” (Tamil) where he provided comic relief to the otherwise intense proceedings. But again, things didn’t look too good for the actor in the five years that followed – with few releases per year, and every third release being a cringeworthy outing (Salaam Kashmir, Ulsaha Committee, Satya, Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare… ith vallathum kandittundo? *sobs*). He suddenly found himself in a sink-or-swim situation in the industry.

The Winds of Change

Cut to 2018: Jayaram makes his Telugu debut in a horror thriller film headlined by Anushka Shetty – Bhagamathie. The slick flick went on to garner critical praise and make over Rs 50 crores at the box office, which meant that Jayaram now had a new set of eyeballs on him. The increased visibility gave rise to his featuring in another mainstream Telugu project: The Allu Arjun starrer Ala Vaikuntapuramlo. This time, the success and adulation were even bigger, with the film minting up to Rs 280 crores (and also happens to be one of my personal favourites in the masala genre). It seems that Jayaram did quite a good job of impressing the folks at Tollywood, by maintaining a trim look and also quickly learning the language and networking well, because suddenly he started to land a bunch of major projects in Telugu – from Radhe Shyam (okay let’s not talk about that nightmare) to the yet-to-be-released slew of films such as Ravi Teja’s Dhamaka, Vijay Devarakonda’s Kushi and Ram Charan’s next (RC15)

Are We Witnessing The Rise of Jayaram 2.0?

Parallelly, he also did some interesting work in Tamil. His segment with Urvashi in the Mani Ratnam – produced OTT anthology ‘Putham Pudhu Kaalai’ was highly enjoyable. More than anything else, it felt wholesome to finally see Jayaram in a well-scripted gig that demanded a subtle, charming performance. He also did Venkat Prabhu’s Party – whose promotional content screamed fun – which is currently in some sort of production hell. (I hope the makers fix things and release it soon!) And then of course, most recently came Ponniyin Selvan, which gave him a larger scope to perform. In my opinion, Ponniyin Selvan could pave the way for more roles tailor-made for Jayaram; roles that could use his strongest acting areas, be it timing-based comedy, physical comedy or family-based sentiments. 

Are We Witnessing The Rise of Jayaram 2.0?

His ability to adapt to languages other than Malayalam is now being utilised from all quarters – He has completed a Sanskrit feature film Namo, and if reports are to be believed, he is also on board for Kannada star Shivrajkumar’s Ghost. Quite exciting, innit?

Why the future looks bright

I really appreciate the fact that he was ready to build a portfolio outside of Malayalam while he could have very well continued his fledgling leading man act. In a world where borders are ceasing to exist, and cinema is getting increasingly pan-India (pan-world, for that matter) it’s great that he is active in multiple industries. Films will soon stop being seen as ‘regional films’ – people will embrace content and creators who entertain. And I’d love to see Jayaram be an active part of this ongoing pan-India movement. 

He also adapted to the tide seamlessly, by choosing to shed his hero image and playing supporting roles in good non-Malayalam projects. It’s a sign that the actor has minimal ego (a rarity!) and has begun to prioritise content quality. And if this trend is anything to go by, he might also be on the lookout for meaningful supporting roles in content-driven Malayalam films, similar to how Amitabh Bachhan, in the 2000s, gracefully paved the way for the next generation and still stayed relevant. 

When it comes to script selection and ‘content sense’, Jayaram really seems to be someone who trusts the competence of the creator. In the ’90s, this policy worked big time for him, as he collaborated with some of the smartest people in the biz then (Sathyan Anthikkad, Rajasenan, Padmarajan et al). As years passed, the people he ‘chose’ for this long-term collaboration did not deliver – be it Akku Akbar or Kannan Thamarakulam – and this had a direct impact on his career trajectory. But just a quick look at his recent films and you’ll be flabbergasted at the range of talent he’s working with – Mani Ratnam (Ponniyin Selvan), Shankar (RC15), Trivikram Srinivas (Ala Vaikuntapuramlo), Sudha Kongara (Putham Pudhu Kaalai), Venkat Prabhu (Party). This just goes on to prove that he has once again found talented people to helm his films – albeit, the films aren’t in Malayalam. And that’s honestly okay. It’d be, of course, a bonus if the younger crop of Malayalam directors consider him for their projects. I for one would love to see Jayaram in quirky universes where character interplay has a role in generating laughs (read Basil Joseph and Midhul Manuel Thomas films). There’s so much potential! 

Are We Witnessing The Rise of Jayaram 2.0?

All in all, I sincerely hope that the actor continues to adapt and reinvent himself in his future projects, and continues to live in our minds, rent-free, as the OG Janapriyan. 

In closing, feel free to take this Jayaram Rapid Fire for yourself too:

Favorite film featuring Jayaram: Ponmutta idunna tharavu 

Favorite Jayaram performance: Panchathanthiram

Favorite Jayaram song: Pinneyum Pinneyum

A Jayaram dialogue you use too often: Njan cool aa.. Mass cool 🙂 

A Jayaram film you felt was underrated: Winter 

Guilty-pleasure Jayaram film if any: Happy Husbands. (I know the film is technically wafer-thin but it makes me laugh out loud every time!) 

P.S: Not a Jayaram fanboy. I’m just another 90s kid who used to vibe to Confusion Theerkaname when it played on TV after school. 

Navaneethakrishnan Unnikrishnan
When I'm not working or sleeping, I'm mostly observing people and making notes on my phone for content. (Hope to be) Your go-to man for laughs, good music and useless trivia around movies.

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