Throughout the conversation, Jayam Ravi, sort of, reiterates that he is not ‘your regular commercial hero’. “I always experiment with my roles irrespective of how they are received by the audience,” he says with a smile. With Comali releasing on August 15, the actor reflects upon his career choices, among other things.
Excerpts from a conversation follow:
Comali isn’t a regular title.
Yes. That’s the catch and it is apt for the script. Comali is a feel-good film and has zero negativity. There are a lot of things we have forgotten in the past and this film makes us revisit them. The ‘feel-good’ factor comes from nostalgia. For example, water is being sold now—but that didn’t exist, as a concept, 20 years ago. We would have laughed if someone said this back then. These kinds of changes are inevitable. So, the question is did “Comalis” change us or are we the actual ones behind this ‘change’? Comali is a beautiful film, sugar-coated with entertainment and comedy.
In the film, I play a YouTuber. Even though he says stupid stuff, he makes you think. In fact, I was the one to suggest the title. Since this story revolves around a guy who wakes up from a coma after 16 years, we wanted ‘coma’ to register with the audience. The character behaves like a clown as he is not used to his surroundings. Hence, the title makes sense. I am confident that, after the release, people will react positively.
You have got multiple looks in Comali. Which one did you enjoy the most?
Comali features nine looks—among which 4-5 are prominent. One is a school-boy. Then there is a hospital look. We also have a 90s inspired look and a trendy look, keeping in mind today’s sense of style. Apart from all these, there is an old-man getup. Additionally, we have introduced the human evolution concept. Like, how human beings evolved from homo erectus to homo sapiens and how we seem to go back to the position of apes—thanks to smartphones. (Laughs)
How was it to revisit school days?
This portion (that goes up to 15 minutes) is Comali’s USP. We needed to make sure it was done perfectly because only then the story will travel. Initially, we thought of hiring another younger actor to play this part—but I felt I needed to do it myself. Otherwise, the audience won’t relate to the film.
To get into the skin of my role, I only ate only tomatoes and carrots for almost two months. Working out was not an option because my shoulders are broad. So, to look like a younger version of myself, I did cardio and was on a special diet. It took two-and-a-half months to achieve this. I wanted to lose 20 kilos but managed to lose 17.
How did your mother and son react to you being a school kid?
My wife said I resemble my son (Arav), but I quipped it is the other way around. (Laughs) My mother, on the other hand, felt bad after seeing my eating habits. She liked my getup but was more worried about my health since I starved for a couple of months.
How did you mentally prepare for your role as a 17-year-old?
Comali traces the journey of a teenage boy to a 34 year-old-man. I looked back to my own school days for inspiration. I didn’t have any other reference material except myself. I am also a 90s kid who grew up with paper aeroplanes and book cricket. I simply needed to relive those times. I had to work on my body language. For that, I revisited some videos of my younger self. My mother had saved a few of my dance recital videos, so I looked at them to pick up cues on my body language. See, the character is essentially a man-child. You can’t treat him as an adult.
Who plays the villain in Comali?
I am not sure if I can say ‘villain’, but KS Ravikumar plays a very important role. We needed someone who looks like a villain and can be sentimental. These things can be done by a wholesome, well-rounded actor. KS Ravikumar doesn’t take up roles that have negative shades but he was really interested to be a part of Comali.
What is Samyukta Hegde’s role?
Samyuktha appears in the school portions and plays my high-school crush.
Tell us about your real-life high-school crush.
Of course, I loved someone during my school days. But I don’t know where she is right now. Even if I know, I don’t think I can reveal. (Laughs)
Tell us about your co-star Kajal Aggarwal. You both were supposed to work together earlier.
Yes, but it didn’t happen. We required a big heroine in the film, and Kajal Aggarwal took this role up willingly after she liked the story and script.
The female actors you have introduced in your films have gone on to act in Tollywood and Bollywood. Is it because you give them the space to showcase themselves?
Who am I to give them space? (Laughs) It is more to do with the kind of scripts I select. Asin did an excellent job in M Kumaran Son of Mahalakshmi. Likewise, I am doubtful if anybody else can do what Genelia did in Santhosh Subramaniam. I aim to do good films and all good films give equal space for heroines to perform.
You have never explored the genre of comedy fully.
Yes, that’s right. Comedy is usually a part of my films but I have never explored the genre. I am a huge fan of Crazy Mohan sir and I have been wanting to do his type of films for a long time. Comedy is not easy to write and I saw that talent in director Pradeep. I am that ‘Comali’ (joker) in my friend’s circle. (Laughs)
Does Comali have an underlying message?
Yes, of course. Human beings band together only during a crisis which is unfortunate. But it’s good when we stay united all the time. The climax replicates the 2015 Chennai floods and focuses on how people helped each other.
Have you discussed mental health in Comali by any chance?
No. The film is focused more on how we adapt to our surroundings every day for different circumstances. Comali attempts to look at what and why we have forgotten over the past years.
What was it like to work with a young director like Pradeep Ranganathan?
First of all, I loved the script. Secondly, I loved the way he narrated it. Only a passionate person can think of such a script and narrate it equally. I was stunned by how he acted out every scene and dialogue. Even during the process of shooting, I used to call him and ask for his performance, so I could copy it. (Laughs) As a youngster, people openly accepted me in the industry. I would do the same for anybody who has talent.
After doing an intense film like Adanga Maru, was Comali easier?
I won’t say ‘easy’ but it was different. As an actor, you are required to show some variation in characters. My next with director Lakshman is going to be agriculture based hard-hitting film. The one after that is an out-and-out action.
Comali is your 24th film. What’s next?
I don’t believe in the number game. Of course, my 25th film is important, just like any other. It will be directed by Lakshman of Bogan fame and produced by Home Movie Makers, who bankrolled Adanga Maru. Also, I have signed an action-thriller with I Ahmed of Manithan fame. We are shooting the film abroad for 43 days. And, Thani Oruvan 2 is definitely on the cards next year.
It has been 16 years since Jayam happened.
In the beginning, my father used to tell that I should treat every movie as my first. I still remember this advice and follow till date. I am very happy to be part of the film industry, though I never repeat my mistakes.
You have done a couple of films as a child artiste. How was your first day on the sets?
I did Oru Thottil Sabadham when I was eight. The makers called my school from a landline phone and took me to the sets on a cycle. From there, we travelled by an ambassador car. I didn’t understand what was happening. It was my father’s first direct production and it was his wish that I act. I didn’t even know what a camera was but despite that it was a memorable experience. I got free food as ‘payment’ as both were home banner films. (Grins)
Will your son, Arav, get back on screen again after Tik Tik Tik?
He is interested in acting and getting a lot of offers. But we don’t want him to commit to any. He’s occupied with studies.
For the school portions, did you have conversations with your son to help with the role?
Yes. I mostly told him how things were during the 90s. For instance, I got home a bambaram (a wooden-spinning top) to show him how it looks. He plays with electronic tops now. I taught him how to make paper aeroplanes and fly a kite. It was fun.
We don’t find your wife attending events. She seems to be a private person. What does she think about you?
She thinks about me the same way all wives think about their husbands. (Laughs) Nothing special at all. After my shoot schedules, I am a house husband. We are private people. She has played a huge role in my growth. She is the reason I am on social media. She encouraged me to communicate with my fans online. As an actor, she expects me to deliver good films, win awards and achieve success on a big level.
Which film of yours did she not like?
She doesn’t like films that are not sensible. I will not reveal the name because they are all like my babies. (Chuckles)
You have been consistent with the tag of a ‘family hero’.
There is no big reason. I like my films to be family entertainers. I was doing them and I still am. Adanga Maru, Thani Oruvan and Tik Tik Tik were all enjoyed by families. As a child, I was taught that housefull in a theater meant all the seats (from the front row till the last) were filled by all age groups. I like catering to such audiences by having elements that satisfy kids, youth and adults. It’s a conscious decision to work on wholesome entertainers.
In which film did you struggle, both physically and mentally?
Peranmai, Aadhi Bhagavan and Vanamagan. Most films made by my brother (director Mohan Raja) have been difficult. (Laughs)
Has your brother raised his voice at you while working on a film, having forgotten that he is your elder brother?
No. When he is a director, he never raises his voice at anyone. He is a silent killer.
You worked as an assistant director in Kamal Haasan’s Aalavandhaan. Has he commented about your acting?
Kamal (Haasan) sir did the puja and kickstarted my first film. After seeing Jayam, he asked to not stop and suggested that I go abroad and learn the different techniques of acting.