The Glorious Decline of Malayalam Actor Jayaram

Last night I was watching Aadupuliyattam (2016), and I knew I would be writing this today. It narrates the story of a young man who lives a luxurious life with his wife and daughter. He is some kind of an affluent humanitarian with an eventful past which has now come back to haunt him and his dear family. Basically, Jayaram’s character, Sathyajith, is a compulsive sinner who committed a heinous crime for money during his youth. Which is still not the biggest problem I have with the film. My issue is with a supporting character – one of his close friends – dying as collateral damage for Sathyajith’s sins.

I understand when horror comedies deviate into a territory where unintended humor makes the audience laugh, but Aadupuliyattam fails in cinematic departments. It qualifies as one of 2016’s worst (Malayalam) films with zero entertainment quotient to offer (now compare it with the year’s best here).

Jayaram’s worst films can be listed and talked about into an essay: the recent debacles – Daivame Kaithozham K. Kumar Akanam (2018), Achayans (2017), Satya (2017), Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare (2015), Ulsaha Committee (2014) – and the back-to-back flops in 2012 – Madirsasi and Njanum Ente Familiyum – the list is crowded and endless. 

Jayaram, the Hit-Maker

What we can gather from this brief statistics above is that the actor has not produced a single watchable film since the 2011 multi-starrer Makeup Man (dir. Shafi), which mainly relied on his ability to generate slapstick. Half a decade later and after acting in more than thirty odd films, Jayaram Subramaniam – better known by his stage name, Jayaram – has still not been able to match his 1990s’ success.

A photograph of actor Jayaram
Padma Shri Jayaram Subramaniam

Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal, the classic 1999 Malayalam film by Anthikad-Lohitadas duo is one of the all-time greatest dramas to come out of the Malayalam film industry, but still, critics won’t and cannot fully credit the actor for the film, because most still consider veteran actor Thilakan to be its star (even though Jayaram is top billed in the opening and ending credits). But, for the sake of an argument and considering him as the “other” actor who propelled the film into a blockbuster, let’s assume it as his film.

On the heel of its success, he then gave back-to-back hits throughout the 1990s such as Sandesham (1991), Kadinjool Kalyanam (1991), Georgekutty C/O Georgekutty (1991), Meleparambil Aanveedu (1993), Thooval Kottaram (1996), Kaliveedu (1996), Sneham (1998), and Summer in Bethlahem (1998) to name a few.

A string of cherishable film awards also followed him, starting with a Filmfare acting honour for Thooval Kottaram in 1996, which also earned him a Kerala State Film Award. Then came other few new-wave features like Friends (1999), Njangal Santhushtaranu (1999), Theerthadanam (2001), and Yathrakarude Sradhakku (2002). But, his entry into the 2000s millennium also marked the beginning of his slump, with films like Vakkalathu Narayanankutty (2001), Sharja To Sharja (2001) and Daivathinte Makan (2000) bombing at the box office.

The Beginning of a Slump

After Y2K, while the general movie-going audience shifted their attention to other life-changing elements like the internet and personal computers, the effect and perception of films as a source of entertainment slowly started to falter. This not only affected the Malayalam film industry, but also challenged filmmakers in the neighbouring Bollywood and other industries around the globe. Which is why ‘best films lists’ around the web currently cherish the 80s, 90s, and then the 2010s, sometimes altogether skipping the 2000s decade. Of course, there were a very few exceptions, but majority releases in the 10-year span were turkeys.

Even in the case of Jayaram, Malayalam films like Njan Salperu Ramankutty (2004), Mayilattam (2004), Sarkar Dada (2005), Anchil Oral Arjunan (2007), and Parthan Kanda Paralokam (2008) failed at the box office so gloriously that directors and writers started approaching other actors. But, by then, the ‘new generation wave’ had already reached the Kerala coast and would quickly encapsulate the industry.

It wouldn’t be fair for him if we skip the fact that the Tamil film industry gave him some success in the early 2000s decade while he struggled in Mollywood, helping him win two Tamil Nadu State Film Awards for his work in K S Ravikumar’s Thenali (2000). 

Cause and Effect

Jayaram
Jayaram in Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare

It is not entirely Jayaram’s fault that the films he acts in gets panned by critics and audience alike. Let’s take the case of the 2015 mega-blunder, Thinkal Muthal Velli Vare. It was primarily a launchpad for singer Rimi Tomy who was finally going to live her dream of acting in a motion picture. Of course, the script would have to be cheesy, similar to that of the talk show named “Onnum Onnum Moonu” that she hosts on Malayalam TV channel Mazhavil Manorama. The script was written by – wait for it – none other than Kannan Thamarakkulam – the same person who directed Aadupuliyattam.

As is a usual and understandable thing that no established actor wants to be paired with a newcomer despite of his/her popularity and/or creativity in another field, the makers must have felt a need for casting a known face rather than going for two fresh faces. I don’t know how Jayaram fell for Thamarakkulam’s offer, but it must have been either the package or out of friendship, and I am inclined to believe it was the latter. Anyways, the film made it to the screens and we had to sit through two hours of slipshod comedy. The amount of cringeworthy sequences that the film has would put a turkey like director Diphan’s Satya to shame. But, the primary reason why the film failed is that for a comedy film it lacked adequate amount of comedy. Jayaram suiting up as Mickey Mouse and running around is definitely not funny.

A Lack of Bankable Actresses

Rimi Tomy’s debut film also shines light into another fact behind Jayaram’s fall. Leading ladies say no to him. They just don’t want to act with him, unless they themselves are trying to land roles. A close look at his last 10 releases (from and before 2017) gives us the following result. He has been paired with:

  • Parvathy Nambiar
  • Sheelu Abraham
  • Ramya Krishnan
  • Honey Rose
  • Kanika
  • Priyamani
  • Isha Talwar
  • Meera Jasmine
  • Kadambari

An average movie-goer will not recognize half of the actresses mentioned in this list, yet they were the lead actresses in his films. Considering Honey Rose and Isha Talwar as leading actresses of the industry would be inaccurate and would only take the value out of this analysis. The point here is not to measure these actresses’ success rate but to showcase that Jayaram is not being entertained by bankable actresses. Nor is he being cast by successful filmmakers.

Consider these directors and their films: Thamarakkulam with his back-to-back flops; slapstick king Shajoon Kariyal; Benny Thomas; king of 90s Sibi Malayail; and one-hit wonder Akku Akbar. Those who directed him in the 90s are either dead or are not making films any more while the good ones who are doing it right now are not interested in him.

Staying Above Water

Despite this slump in his filmography, he did manage to stay afloat with a handful of quality films like Manassinakkare (2003), Veruthe Oru Bharya (2008), and Swapna Sanchari (2011), some of which also bagged him one or two awards. And thanks to his presence in the Tamil film industry, the Indian government decided to help him improve his spirits by honouring him with the Padma Shri in 2011. A very well-deserved honour for an actor with so much talent and influence, but even that did not help him land better roles in the decade that started with mega-blockbusters for his contemporaries.

An acquaintance collectively appropriates Jayaram’s last few characters to the comical identity of a joker. Take Sir C. P. (2015) or Onnum Mindathe (2014); both dramas testing a social theme but advertised as comedies, probably just because they credit Jayaram as an actor. The only watchable film of the lot in the last half decade is the 2014 comedy drama Mylanchi Monchulla Veedu, which again worked because of the ensemble cast and sufficient support from youngster Asif Ali. Two other examples would be Tamil actor Samuthirakani’s debut Malayalam directorial feature Aakashamittayi (2017) and fellow mimicry artist Ramesh Pisharody’s Panchavarnathatha (2018).

Early in 2014, Jayaram also did veteran filmmaker and Cannes’ Golden Palm nominee Shaji Karun’s tragedy Swapaanam. The film was written and executed badly using a hollow story, which again the actor should have thought twice before accepting. I am sure money is not the issue here, but a serious lack of better offers (and better script-choosing ability on his part) from filmmakers who are evidently vying for young and successful talent is playing against him. But, if that was really the case, then how does one comment about Mammootty’s enthusiastic bout? He does a fair share of films each year and sometimes comes up with really good ones (Pathemari (2015)) occasionally. Same is the case with Mohanlal, although, matter-of-factly he hasn’t had a qualitative hit since 2013’s Drishyam

The craze before the release of Jayaram’s Aadupuliyattam was regarding his salt-and-pepper look. For his fans, I agree with the craze, but it does not aid a bit in increasing the appeal of the film. Jayaram fooling around in his gray beard is the same as him fooling around in a beard dyed black. Experimenting with one’s looks for a film with a hollow story and lackadaisical execution only pleases the die-hard fan, but it does not guarantee box office success or critical acclaim. Sure the members of the All Kerala Jayaram Fans Cultural and Welfare Association will check out all his future films and voluntarily fill the seats the starting week, but that is not what one should do with art. A film should ignite a sense of feeling in a person when he’s least expecting it. And none of Jayaram’s films in this decade, or the previous, have even remotely succeeded in doing that.

Jayaram
Jayaram in Aadupuliyattam

Jayaram is a talented percussionist and actor, no doubt about that, but after watching Aadupuliyattam, I couldn’t resist writing this feature. For someone who braved the industry when it was just starting up, I respect him for giving the world some great dramas and comedies (90s), for being an influential career-starter for a lot of newcomers, and for collaborating with some of the greatest minds in Mollywood. And I hope that his current slump is only a phase. Here’s wishing him good luck for his future endeavors.

Featured image courtesy: Unsplash

UPDATE: Copyedited; added more data to reflect the subject’s career progression; added and removed a few links. (15 January 2019)

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[…] hopefully stop making films after releasing the sequel to his 2013 filthy comedy, Honey Bee. And Jayaram will be again embarrassing himself with Kannan Thamarakullam’s Achayans. Midhun Manuel Thomas will be directing Sunny Wayne in […]

Abhi
Guest
Abhi

Good write up. Was surprised with all the back to back flops no one has commented earlier and I keep wondering how he is getting new movies. It is more awkward at the asianet awards where they keep giving him awards for participation i n the show.

Tejas Nair
Guest

It’s surprising, really. He has acted in two films (Sathya, Achayans) since I published this article, and guess what – both of them have bombed at the box office. The words used by critics to describe his films are mind-numbing. I don’t know how he gets signed for more films; and by the looks of his next film (Aakasha Mittayi), I don’t think it’s going to get any better.

  • about me

    Tejas Nair is a freelance writer based in Mumbai, India. He writes about cinema, literature, current affairs, culture, and society. He manages search-based digital campaigns for Publicis. more »