The Decline of Malayalam Actor Jayaram

Malayalam film 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 Sathyajith, played by Malayalam actor Jayaram, 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 almost all cinematic departments. It qualifies as one of year 2016’s worst (Malayalam) films with zero entertainment quotient to offer (compare it with the year’s best here).

Jayaram’s worst films can be listed and talked about like an essay: the recent debacles – Pattabhiraman (2019), Marconi Mathai (2019), My Great Grandfather (2019), 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. And I haven’t even counted over a dozen turkeys he acted in between 2010 and 2014.

Jayaram, the Hit-Maker

What we can gather from this inexhaustible list of flop films 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 and the writer’s ability to generate slapstick. Half a decade later and after acting in more than thirty-three odd films, Jayaram Subramaniam – better known by his stage name Jayaram – has still not been able to match his 1990s’ success.

Malayalam film actor jayaram
Padma Shri Jayaram Subramaniam / Commons

Veendum Chila Veettukaryangal, the classic 1999 Malayalam film by Anthikad-Lohitadas duo is one of the all-time greatest dramas to come out of Malayalam film industry, but still, critics won’t and cannot fully credit the actor for its success, 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 that film’s 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. People had begun to talk.

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 feature film releases in the 10-year span were box office disasters.

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. The rise of Soubin Shahir from a small-time comedian to a top-billed actor and a successful director is a small example, a testament to that evolution. So is the rise of new-gen romantic comedies like Premam which released in 2015 and partly set the stage for more realistic cinema, something that has recently found even more traction with films like Kumbalangi Nights (2019),[1]Kumbalangi Nights was ranked number one on my list of the best Malayalam films of the first half of 2019. Ee.Ma.Yau (2018),[2]Ee.Ma.Yau was ranked number one on my year-end list of 2018. and Thondimuthalum Driksakshiyum (2017) getting made and finding viewership as well as continued fondling from critics and award juries alike. Unfortunately for Jayaram, it looks like he didn’t get the memo as he continued to join hands with directors that brought him failure. Even though he tested the waters in the more friendly Tamil film industry, he couldn’t really replicate his 1990s’ success even there.

But it wouldn’t be fair if we skip the fact that the neighbouring Tamil Nadu 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).

His slump, however, was not going to just disappear.

Flop Movies of Jayaram: Cause and Effect

It is not entirely Jayaram’s fault that the films he acts in gets panned by both critics and the audience. 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 and, more recently, Pattabhiraman (2019).

The trailer of the 2015 film

As is a usual and understandable thing that no established actor wants to be paired with a newcomer despite of their 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. Anyway, 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 late 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 in the film industry. 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 14 releases gives us the following result. He has been paired with (the actress has to play a character who is either a love interest or has considerable screen space to be considered):

  • Athmeeya Rajan
  • Divya Pillai
  • Anna Rajan
  • Anusree
  • Iniya
  • Parvathy Nambiar
  • Sheelu Abraham
  • Ramya Krishnan
  • Honey Rose
  • Kanika
  • Priyamani
  • Isha Talwar
  • Meera Jasmine
  • Kadambari

An average movie-goer in Kerala will not recognize half of the actresses mentioned in this list, yet they were the lead actresses in his films. Most of them are only a few films old, and as stated before, are only trying to make a name for themselves in the industry. The point here is not to measure their film success rate but to expose that Jayaram is not being entertained by bankable actresses. Nor is he being cast by successful filmmakers. (Although the former is a discussion for another time because Malayalam film industry hardly pays attention to actresses. This feature article being about a male actor is an irony. Plus, other than Parvathy Thiruvothu, Manju Warrier, KPAC Lalitha, Lena, and Rajisha Vijayan there’s hardly anybody who has maintained a consistent filmography in the 2010s decade for even a comparison.)

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 no longer with us or are not making films anymore 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 rare 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 sporadic 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 a mimicry artist-turned-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.

To keep his finances up during this slump, he had to make do with endorsement deals for brands such Ramraj, Vayodha, and Kalyan Sarees. As of October 2019, he is still an ambassador for the last one.

Filmography in the 2010s Decade

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) and Unda (2019)) occasionally. Same is the case with Mohanlal, although, matter-of-factly he hasn’t had a qualitative hit since 2013’s Drishyam. The 2019 film Ittymani may be considered a comeback, but let’s be a bit more critical.

Trailer of Pattabhiraman (2019), his most recent release

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.

Possible Bounceback

Jayaram is a talented classical percussionist (a video of one of his recent concerts is embedded below) 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, for being an influential career-starter for a lot of newcomers including his son Kalidas Jayaram who is dangerously treading up the same territory lately,[3]Post his Malayalam film debut as an adult actor in Abrid Shine’s Poomaram (2018), Kalidas has not acted in a single successful film. And he’s done at least two new films in 2019 alone, all confirmed flops. for being an animal (pachyderm) lover, for collaborating with some of the greatest minds in Mollywood.

I hope that his current slump is only a phase. Here’s wishing him good luck for his future endeavors. TN.

Something to end on a high note; Jayaram’s pandi melam performance

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

Update #2: Copyedited; added new film titles; changed images. (26 September 2019)

Update #3: Copyedited. (3 October 2019)


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footnotes   [ + ]

1. Kumbalangi Nights was ranked number one on my list of the best Malayalam films of the first half of 2019.
2. Ee.Ma.Yau was ranked number one on my year-end list of 2018.
3. Post his Malayalam film debut as an adult actor in Abrid Shine’s Poomaram (2018), Kalidas has not acted in a single successful film. And he’s done at least two new films in 2019 alone, all confirmed flops.

Comments

[…] 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 says:

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 says:

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.

Vijesh says:

absolutely .. loved this article …the author has hit the nail on the head ..jayaram is an amazing actor very hard working and he has exccelmt chemistry with all his co stars whether mohanlal , mammootty or suresh gopi ..past decade his movies have all been slops thanks to the scripts and direction ….

Tejas Nair says:

Thank you for your comment, Vijesh. To add to the article, his 2019 releases (My Great Grand Father, Marconi Mathai, and Pattabhiraman) have all bombed at the box office. Only Lonappante Mamodeesa ruffled some feathers.

akkosetto says:

Brilliantly written. Also great that you have kept it updated 🙂

Tejas Nair says:

Thank you so much. 🙂

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