If versatility is the parameter to measure the caliber and range of an artist or a director, then there is a director in Malayalam film industry who fits into that bill completely. He has had a stint in all types of movies, right from the parallel cinema to the mainstream commercial cinema. No prizes for guessing, it is none other than the maverick filmmaker Jayaraj. But less often we have seen his name being mentioned among the stalwarts of Malayalam cinema. He definitely deserves a place in the Hall of fame for some outstanding works and contributions that he has given to the industry.Here is a journey through the works and contributions of the versatile filmmaker of Malayalam cinema.
A start with the stalwart of Malayalam cinema:
Jayaraj had a dream start to his film career as he got the opportunity to assist Bharathan, one of the finest filmmakers that Malayalam cinema has ever seen. After completing his graduation in Engineering he took up the path of cinema and assisted Bharathan in 7 films before becoming an independent director.
He debuted as a director through ‘Vidyarambham’ in the year 1988.The film starred Sreenivasan and Gouthami in lead roles and the movie had a socially relevant message which was conveyed with humour in right proportions.He followed it with 'Akasha Kotayile Sulthan', again with Sreenivasan in the lead role. This film too was a movie with simple humour.
The Western Style of Making:
Jayaraj got the chance to direct Mammootty through the film Johny Walker, a film which was scripted by Ranjith. The film is considered to be one of the first films to bring in the style quotient in the making side. A pinch of western style was followed in this movie with peculiar characterization and a new tone giving a good and fresh feel to the movie.
Something similar was followed in his movie named Highway, which was an action thriller having Suresh Gopi in the lead role. The whole story was set in a highway and it showed certain traces of English Wild West cowboy films which were something entirely new to Malayalam cinema.
Jayaraj has always had that knack to make his films look poetic through his narration.‘Paithrukam’ released in the year 1993 is a good example to show that. The movie was scripted by Kaloor Dennis and it narrated the story of a Brahmin Family, focusing on the relation and beliefs of a father and son. The movie had some equally strong and touching moments to showcase.
Jayaraj came with ‘Deshadanam’ in the year 1997, which was a much appreciated work and a movie that
would leave you with tears on your eyes anytime that you watch it. The best part is in the fact that the movie was critically and commercially successful. The movie fetched the National Award for Best Malayalam film that year.
Master of Adaptations:
Adapting the works of ‘Shakespeare’ and presenting in a believable manner to the Malayalam audience is not a simple task. But, Jayaraj was hugely successful in that matter. At first, Jayaraj came up with ‘Kaliyaattam’ which was an adaptation of Shakespeare’s much famous play Othello. Jayaraj took the concept and planted it onto the backdrop of Hindu Theyyam performing people. The movie was scripted by Balram Mattannoor .Jayaraj ably recreated the whole scenario and was able to take the audience into the minds of the lead characters. ‘Kaliyaattam’ was highly appreciated and the movie fetched Suresh Gopi his first National award for best actor.
Jayaraj again tried his hands in adaptations by coming up
with ‘Kannaki’ in 2001 which was based on Shakespeare’s story of Antony and
Cleopatra. The movie was set on a rural village where cock fight is considered to
be the common sport. Lal and Nandita Das did the main roles in the movie.
The commercial game:
Post 2000, Jayaraj had two phenomenal successes to his credit that reestablished his identity as a director of commercial cinemas too. In 2003, he teamed up with Dileep to give a rollicking entertainer through ‘Thilakkam’ which was one of the biggest hits of that year. Many had doubted the ability of Jayaraj to direct comedies even though his first few movies were light hearted films with simple humour. With ‘Thilakkam’ he proved that a comedy entertainer is also possible for him. It should also be noted that Thilakkam had a strong emotional content towards the second half of the movie. Jayaraj was able to pull off both the portions successfully.
We have heard the word trendsetter buzz around film circles many a times. But the real example of a trendsetter was shown by Jayaraj in the year 2004 when he came up with ‘Four The People’ which was a swashbuckling hit. The movie didn’t have any big names associated with it. The film had many fresh faces with Jayaraj being the sole experienced personality in the crew. Yet the movie went on to become the biggest hit of that year overtaking the movies of superstars.
‘Navarasa’ film series:
While he made commercial movies, he also made sure to maintain the right balance by coming up with out of the box movies. A series of film with the names of ‘Navarasas’ were the most important among them. He started off with ‘Karunam’ which had the script written by Madambu Kunju Kuttan. Vavachan, the regular face in Jayaraj movies did the lead role along with Biju menon. The movie was chosen as the best film for the state film awards that year.
He followed this film by ‘Santham’, which is the most appreciated film in the series with it winning the National Award for best film. He had the guts to experiment in this film too by bringing in renowned football player I M Vijayan to do the central character of the movie. He followed these movies with films like ‘Bhibhatsa’(2002/Hindi) and ‘Adbhutham (2006)’ but were not as much noted as their predecessors.
Man with numerous Awards:
Jayaraj is one among few Malayalam film directors to receive National recognition. Jayaraj won the National award for best director award for his movie Kaliyaattam. It should be noted that not many Malayalam film directors have gained this recognition. Again in the year 2001, his film ‘Shantham’ was adjudged as the Best film at the National film awards. Apart from this his movies have also been popular in State film awards circuit. He won the best director award at Kerala State Awards for Deshadanam in 1996.
There was a time when Jayaraj movies were considered to be the best platform to bring in lot of recognition. Such is his ability to extract the best from his team. List of awards won by his films stands as a testimony of that.
Jayaraj makes sure to bring out the best from his performers. Suresh Gopi got the role of his lifetime through ‘Kaliyaatam’. We got to see a never seen Suresh Gopi through this film and rightly the film fetched the actor his first State and National awards for best actor.
National recognition came in searching for KPAC Lalitha for her powerful performance in the movie Shantham. She won the best Supporting actress award in the year 2001.
The same is applicable to other technicians and artists who have associated with Jayaraj movies. K J Yesudas won the National Award for Best singer for rendering a song in Jayaraj movie Sopanam. It should also be noted that , the new actor in ‘Ottal’ was shortlisted for the best actor in the recently announced National film awards.
His films have been popular in International circuits too.'Karunam' was screened at various international film festivals and Jayaraj won the Golden peacock award for Best Asian director. 'Daivanamathil' which was released in the year 20015 alsowon the Best film award at Madrid International film festival.
Apart from the memorable movies that he has made, there have been many other vital contributions from him for the industry. ‘Lal’ from the Siddique – Lal team who was initially reluctant about acting in films made his debut through the film Kaliyaattam. Lal was offered an antagonistic role and Jayaraj was spot on with his selection.
Many don’t know that Jeethu Joseph, who is one of the most bankable and creative filmmakers of Malayalam cinema at present, started his film career by assisting Jayaraj. Jeethu joseph was a part of the crew in Jayaraj movies like Thilakkam.
‘Loudspeaker’, the film starring Mammootty and which was written and directed by Jayaraj is the first Malayalam mainstream commercial cinema to employ sync sound recording. It was something that Malayalam films didn’t try doing but Jayaraj came up to bring in a change.
‘Lajjavathiye’, the song from ‘4 the people’ still ranks at the top among the songs which created frenzy waves in Malayalam cinema. Jayaraj gave a new Music director and singer in the form of Jassie Gift to Malayalam cinema.
Failures that could have been avoided:
Like any other director, Jayaraj too has many failures to credit. Sad part is in the fact that these failures could have been avoided. For that reason, he is being considered as a director who has given films at two extremes. He is also being blamed for becoming inconsistent with his works. When he made movies like ‘4 The People’, he also gave some forgettable movies in the form of its sequels like ‘Of the People’ which were trashed heavily by the critics and audiences alike. He tried follow the trend that he set through ‘Rain Rain come again’ but was largely unsuccessful.
But With ‘Ottaal’, the film of the moment , Jayaraj is back
into action. The film has won various national and state film awards and it
could be easily said that Jayaraj is back to his best reiterating the phrase that 'Form is temporary but Class is
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