Ever since her debut in 1999, Jyothika has been a darling of the Tamil audience. The adulation she enjoys has only grown over the years, especially in her ‘second season’. Unlike most of her contemporaries who disappeared into oblivion post marriage and motherhood, Jo (as she is fondly known) continues to choose author-backed roles from both new-age filmmakers and veterans. Despite the time she has clocked, she has the enthusiasm of a newcomer as she speaks about her upcoming film Magalir Mattum. “This film has been in the making for two years. As this is a male-dominated industry, it is quite a challenge for a women-centric films to be made and earn a profit. The situation is such that, even a bad movie which has a male lead, runs to packed houses for three to four days, while a women-centric film despite having a good content is taken off the theaters after a weekend.”
The actor is full of praise for her director Bramma whose debut movie Kuttram Kadithal won a national award. “Bramma approached me with a bound script three months prior to the shoot. I was impressed when I read the story. It is about how a daughter-in-law takes her mother-in-law and her friends on a road trip. This is a story that has been untouched. What surprised me more was that a story like this came from a man,” says Jyotika.
Does she discuss her scripts with her husband Suriya, who has also produced this film under his banner 2D Entertainment, before agreeing to do a film? “Suriya gives me the freedom to explore and has always stood by me. We have a good understanding of each other as we made our careers together,” she said.
Magalir Mattum also has veteran actors Urvashi, Saranya Ponvannan and Bhanupriya. “I was very nervous on the first day of the shoot. Urvashi was a part of the original Magalir Mattum and she would have been the ‘lady Kamal Haasan’ had she got enough opportunities. On the first day, we shot on a boat and I couldn’t deliver my dialogues properly. But they calmed me down and became very good friends over time. I learnt quite a few techniques from Urvashi,” Jyothika recalls.
The teaser which has impressed also shows the actor riding a Bullet. A visibly excited, Jo said, “Though I didn’t have to prepare for the role in terms of performance, I had to learn to ride it and lose weight for the film. Suriya helped me out for a couple of days and even rode pillion. I warned him that he might fall. He said, ‘Jo then let’s fall down together’. Then came biker Sheeba, who trained me. We also went to Uttar Pradesh to train for this. My daughter Diya was very proud because I picked her up from the school on the motor bike.” What about her son Dev? “For Dev, his dad is the hero. But Dev will see a hero in me when Nachiyaar releases,” she smiled, before quickly adding, “But I compete with his father when it comes to fitness. We hit the gym together. Also, I always look at least five years younger than my male co-stars.”
While Jo struck a fine balance between content-driven films and commercial cinemas in the early stages of her career, she has consciously stuck to women-centric scripts like 36 Vayadhinile and Magalir Mattum after her comeback. “I got a lot of offers but I wanted to do movies like these because for me, money isn’t a criterion anymore. I am a mother, a wife and I have a family to manage. But yes, I want to do films like these because it’s important to show powerful and independent female characters. Our production 2D Entertainment has consciously made it a point to support such scripts,” she said.
However, Jo states there is dearth of such roles. “I am happy that Nayanthara is choosing women-centric stories. Back then, Simran, Laila, Sneha and Meera Jasmine made the best use of the limited good roles we were offered,” she candidly remarked. She also added, “But you don’t see roles being written for them now. Female actors are utilised only until they turn 27 or 28. Beyond that they’re relegated to doing insignificant roles. It’s very unfair. We need to have strong roles being written for women artistes and portray them as regular girls and working women. Filmmakers need to stop clinging on to the idea that the audience will not watch a married actress playing the lead.”
Jyothika believes that the industry also has failed its female writers. “Not many people come forward to produce films written by them. Madhavan had faith in Sudha Kongara and provided her with Irudhi Suttru and the movie became a blockbuster. I hope the situation changes in the future. There are lots of female writers who are still snubbed and are the unsung heroes of movies that are being made.”
The actor further said that it is the responsibility of the lead actors to ensure women characters are treated with dignity. “The audience will watch and be influenced by what you offer them. As artistes, we need to be responsible. If you show a lead actor hitting a woman or cheating on a girl, the youth will think it’s okay to do it. We need to be careful of what we choose to show the future generation,” she said.