A rough scan through the characters he has played, one can’t help, but think if Manoj K. Jayan has acquired the mythical power of parakaya pravesha – of leaving one’s body and entering another. A ruthless cop, a struggling layman, a fierce warrior, a fearless rebel, an immature adult, an evil black magician, a brainless goon, devilish gangster or an egoistic singer — name it, this man has done it all, with such ease and precision. The actor, who will complete 30 years in the film industry next year, looks back with pride at having given his cent per cent to all his attempts.
“I have never tried to market myself or considered myself to be an aggressive actor, but I have put my heart and soul into everything I have done so far,” begins Manoj, who has mesmerised Malayalis with his legendary acts from the 1988 movie Mamalakalkkappurathu to the just-released Solo and Tharangam. From full-length roles to cameos, he has played his part very well. That’s because screen time has never been a criteria for him. “My focus is always on the identity of the character and the mark it leaves behind,” he says.
Right from the beginning, he has been lucky enough to associate with legends like M.T. Vasudevan Nair, Hariharan, Bharathan and years later, with Adoor — all of those, his best ones. Asked about his flawless performances as the Kuttan Thampuran of Sargam, Anto of Chamayam or Kunjunni Namboothiri of Parinayam, Manoj says it’s not his talent, but the director’s vision that made all those roles memorable.
“Directors like them make you do it and bring out your best. It has nothing to do with my talent. Each one is a different school of learning — for Bharatettan, its perfection; for Hariharan, its strictness,” he recalls, adding, “While M.T. sir is someone who ensures that you know the whole script very well, Adoor sir doesn’t want any rehearsals and so, you get the script only during the take.”
Call Manoj an actor for all ages; he is quite at ease while working with both masters and new-generation film-makers like Alphonse Puthren, Vineeth Sreenivasan and Rishi Sivakumar. “The working style is different for any director, so there is no basis in classifying films as old generation or new generation. Movie making is the same process; it’s just that their attires are different. Whereas Hariharan sir used to sport white and white, Vineeth wears a T-shirt and lungi. I’d say Vineeth is the Ramu Karyat of the current times,” he laughs. Asked about his character selection criteria, Manoj says that he has always tried to break free of clichés.
“When you do a police role, the next offer will be of another cop, may be you get a promotion, as ACP or DGP! (laughs) This happened when I did the Tamil movie Dhool in which I played the role of a sub-inspector. All the roles that came were of policemen. I waited till the typecast spree ended and then happened the plain-looking villain in Thirumalai,” says Manoj who always opts for different narrative and challenging characters.
In Tharangam, which has been earning good reviews, he plays a small but important role. In the bilingual Solo, released a day before, he plays a don, a mentor of Siva played by Dulquer Salmaan, whom he fondly calls ‘Chaalu’. “I have known Chaalu as a child. Though he has been acting for some time now, Solo is our first movie together. He is a sweet child, a brilliant actor. I am also very happy to have worked with Bejoy Nambiar, who is, like me, a disciple of Mani Ratnam, who gave me my first Tamil movie Thalapathy,” says Manoj, who will play a retired army man in the upcoming Zachariah Pothen Jeevichirippundu.
In Roshni Dinaker’s much-anticipated My Story, he plays a director, a mentor of Prithviraj’s character. Also coming up are Bonsai, a low-budget movie in which he plays a cycle mechanic, Sadrisyavakyam and Tamil movie Pattinapakkam, which will see him in the role of a rich businessman. All these years, the focus has been more on his personal life than professional arena, but Manoj has no complaints. “People are more interested in negative news. A Facebook post on my divorce that happened years ago gets more ‘likes’ and views than any good role I have done. If people get happiness from it, why should I bother,” asks Manoj, who is happy to share that his daughter Kunjatta — from his marriage to actor Urvashi — is all grown-up and is a graduation student and his four-and-a-half-year-old son Amrit — from his second marriage – has joined school.
Actors with even a couple of years of experience try their hands at production, scripting or direction, but even as he completes three decades in the southern film industry, Manoj hasn’t given any of those a try. Amused at the prospect, Manoj lets out a loud laugh, “I haven’t still perfected even my acting skills. Let me get this one right first!”