The first look of Panchavarna Thatha came out as a surprise to all those who love Jayaram, who walked into Malayali minds with legendary director Padmarajan’s Aparan in 1988. The bald head, pot belly and loose attire gave him a unique appearance and it went viral within no time. The movie Panchavarna Thatha and the character are, in many ways, special to the actor, who jumped on the bandwagon 30 years ago. “In my 30 years, this is the first time I am playing a nameless character,” he begins the conversation.
Panchavarna Thatha had a different name first. “It was Laughing Buddha. According to Chinese concept, laughing Buddha brings prosperity to wherever it is placed. The initial story was about a man who brings riches to everyone. It was discussed almost one-and-a-half years ago. During that time also, the get up was the same. We did a computer graphics image to see how it would look. Although slight changes — such as animals and birds — came into the story line with time, we retained the look, which is apt for the character who reached the place with a circus group. He has different mannerisms,” explains Jayaram.
Besides the character, the other two factors that attracted Jayaram to the movie were Ramesh Pisharody (director) and Maniyanpilla Raju (producer). “Pisharody and I have been performing on stage for almost 15 years. We have good chemistry. We have done shows across the world and all of them have been hits. It is then that I realised there is a director in him. The movie offers quality humour and I am happy to be a part of his project,” he says. “Maniyanpilla Raju is one of the finest producers. He asked me to be a part of his venture around 18 years ago. I am happy it became true with Panchavarna Thatha.” Also, he is acting with Chackochan (Kunchacko Boban) after Seniors. “Above all, I am there with the Malayali audience during Vishu. In these 30 years, I have been part of their life through movies of directors like Sathyan Anthikad, Kamal, Sibi Malayil, Bharathan, Padmarajan, etc. I am happy the audience consider me as family. I have experienced their love while leading chenda melam in temples,” he says gleefully.
Jayaram has both sweet and bitter experiences to share while walking down memory lane. He strongly believes it was the blessings of his gurus that guided him during the peaks and valleys of his path. “You have to be lucky to get good mentors in life,” he smiles. He got his first teacher in Kalabhavan. “There it was Abel Achan. He was a genius and I was his dearest disciple. I spent five years in Kalabhavan and eventually entered cinema,” he recalls. In films, lady luck smiled on him again in the form of Padmarajan. “One glitch that can happen in a beginner’s life is lack of proper guidance, the absence of which could cause failure. I was fortunate to start my career with a person like him, who asked me to do a few more movies with him before choosing other projects, which helped me establish my space,” he says.
Jayaram entered the industry in 1980s, a time when Mammootty and Mohanlal were reigning. “They were the two heroes and used to act in all movies. There was space for a new person, but no producers or distributors were brave enough to do a movie with a newbie,” says Jayaram. Padmarajan, Supriya International and Thomson Films took that risk. Padmarajan looked around for a new face. “For six months he searched for a new face and called me after watching Kalabhavan’s cassette. It was his son who suggested me,” he remembers. “He treated me like his son. After his demise, when his wife gave me a book she had written about him, she addressed me as ‘the son she could never had’,” he adds.
Mattannur Sankarankutty Marar is another teacher who touched his life. “I have learnt chenda as a child. When I wished to study it further, I met him. If I am leading melams now in temples standing at the centre of a massive crowd, it is all because of his blessings. I still study under him,” says the actor, who feels the blessings of his teachers turned out to be the god-sent straws of hope for him during dilemmas. Equally important for him is his family. “I was lucky to get the right partner. I met her (Parvathy) during my first movie. We were in love for five years and we got married in 1992.”
He is a proud father too. That happiness you can feel in his voice when he talks about Kalidas, who is an actor and Malavika, who studies in London. “Acting has been Kalidas’ passion since childhood. He himself asked Sathyan Anthikad for a chance to act. Now, he has been launched in Malayalam with Poomaram. That would be a milestone in his life,” he says, recalling the memories of his film Sandesham. “While doing it, I wasn’t aware of its depth. It didn’t rake much at the box office, but still lives in people’s hearts.”
He was then seen in plentiful movies in various languages. Chronicling them would be a herculean task. He won Padma Shri in 2011. Ask him what he has earned from his 30-year-long career, he says, “I could be a part of good movies, do good characters and travel with so many good artistes. Also, I feel happy when Malayalis ask me ‘Jayarametta, oru mimicry cheyyamo? Prem Nazir ne kanikkamo? Kamal Haasan ne kanikkamo? (Can you do mimicry? Imitate Prem Nazir, Kamal Haasan?).” He says he does it wholeheartedly as nothing else in this world makes him happier.