Ahead of the release of ‘Kaatrin Mozhi’, Jyothika speaks to TNM about how naive women are when they come into the industry, the swear word controversy in ‘Naachiyar’, and discussions at home on cinema.

Dont want to do films where I stand near the hero and praise him Jyothika to TNMFacebook/Jothika
Flix Interview Wednesday, November 14, 2018 - 12:16

Actor Jyothika is awaiting the release of Kaatrin Mozhi, her fifth film since her return to cinema in 2015. Kaatrin Mozhi is the Tamil remake of the superhit Vidya Balan film Tumhari Sulu which came out last year and went on to set the box-office on fire.

Jyothika terms her return to cinema as her “second innings” and she appears to be visibly confident about expressing her frank views on the industry and the films it produces. Critical voices on cinema rarely come from within and it’s rarer still for a woman actor to speak up, dependent as they are on the big male stars, directors and producers to get work.

Jyothika, however, believes she is past that stage when she has to compete with rivals for work. And as someone who’s watching a daughter grow up, she feels all the more responsible for the work that she does.

TNM caught up with the actor for a chat before Kaatrin Mozhi hits the screens on November 16.

Tumhari Sulu is about a middle-class woman who has a late night steamy radio show. Maybe even five years ago no mainstream woman actor would have done this role. Do you think the audience has changed its ideas about morality over the years?

I think the audience is very relaxed and they just want to see a good film. That’s been the practice for 25 years or so. Even 10 years ago, when Simran and I were acting, we did a lot of women-centric films. I did MozhiPachchaikili Muthucharam. Simran did loads of them – Vaali was around her character.

People are ready to watch if you give them a good film. It’s the cinema industry which keeps changing norms and trends and makes actors out to be larger and larger than what they are. And then there comes a stage when the actors start dominating scripts and they become the god of the film. They are just the face of the film but they are made larger than life to make the film saleable in the market. 

Yes, and in Pachchaikili Muthucharam you played a negative role, a woman who seduces men for money…

Yeah, there were many movies like that where the film centred around a woman character or something like Dum Dum Dum where the two leads had equal roles. Even Mynaa for that matter, was like that. It’s in the years after this – 8 or 9 years I think – in which there were no films for women at all. Then I think Maya and 36 Vayadhiniley came and they made some money. Actually, if you look at the track record, most of the women-centric films have run, barring one or two.

You’ve been vocal about cinema and social responsibility after your comeback. Is that something you’ve always thought about? 

To be frank, no. Initially when we come, we are very naive and we don’t know much about it and it’s all about signing the bigger project and making the money. At that point, we are very young, we’re like 17 or 18. We haven’t even completed our education. So we don’t have a vision, we don’t see the larger picture.

But today, being a mother and especially of a daughter, and seeing what’s happening to women in society in the past 5-6 years, a lot of things have changed. We all take money and do films. We are not here for charity. Everybody is taking big money and doing films. It’s a job but I feel we’re blessed to get so much love from people. They look up to actors like they look up to politicians – especially in this country and this state. So we should understand that we’ve been given that position by god and we should make good use of it.

It’s not social service, we are charging money for it. But when we get so much love, I feel we should be socially responsible and give back. And I feel whatever we show now (on screen), the effects will be reaped by girls like my daughter 20 years down the line. If we show bad cinema, it’s going to be a reflection of the whole youth.

There are some who say that you made your career by doing mainstream cinema but now you are criticising it. What is your response to this?

I do say that we should stand for better roles. But if you look at my graph, I’d have done hardly 3-4 such roles in the 50 films I’ve done – films which I did just for money because I needed it at that time. The rest have been where I’ve been a protagonist, sharing equal space with the hero.

Somewhere, I have always chosen my films. I’ve said no to a lot of big films even in my first innings and I have consciously not gone towards Telugu cinema because I did prefer the kind of films that were being made in Tamil.

Initially we’re also young, we don’t have the mind of a 40-year-old. So there is a little room for making faults.

There was a lot of noise over you swearing in the Naachiyar trailer though male actors have been swearing on screen for years now. How did you handle the criticism?

I knew what I was doing was right. If you’d given me the chance, I’d have given two more bad words! The thing is, I knew what the story was and I knew it was being given to a rapist or a person who was encouraging the whole process. I knew it was right and once the film hits the screens, people will know what it was about.

In fact, it’s one of my strongest films and I’m proud of it.

You’ve often said it was your mother who taught you to stand up for yourself, could you tell us a bit about your childhood?

We had a nice, secure, beautiful childhood. My dad made films in Hindi, he was a producer. We had a pleasant childhood but somewhere, my mom was a very strong person and she kept telling us that women need to go out there, you should have a bank balance, she’d tell us what if you don’t meet the right man. We were three girls and one boy but we were seen equally.

I didn’t see my mom or my dad give more importance to the boy child. All of us were equal, serving each other at the table. In fact, we three are the elder sisters and he (the brother) was the last one to take a seat at the dining table. He’d make sure that all the akkas were sitting at the table and eating and then pull a chair from somewhere and sit with us. This is the way we were brought up.

Mothers are icons for their kids. I always say do not follow any actor or actress. You know, cinema is cinema at the end of the day. Yes, we can pass on good social messages but it’s your parents at the end of the day who can influence you. When I learnt to ride a bullet for Magalir Mattum, I could see what an impact that made on my daughter. She kept saying ride it, drop me, she wanted her friends to see. She loved the idea that I was riding a bike – for her, it wasn’t Jyothika who was riding a bike, it was her mom. I feel parents are the most inspirational figures for their children. Don’t stick posters of actors and actresses, pop stars, singers, to inspire kids… maybe sports stars or your parents!

You have mentioned in your interviews that you want to make films for the women in the audience. What is your understanding of what women want to watch on screen?

I don’t plan my films. Most of the films I do are ones that are coming to me. Also, these films are male directed, male written films. So, the whole idea crops from the head of a man. What I want minimum in my films is that women should walk out feeling very proud.

I, as a woman, when I watch a film, 90% of the time I get very dejected by the way they show women. And then, when there are those five films like a Mahanati or a Kolamaavu Kokila, in its own way is a comedy film, I feel good seeing the space they’ve given the woman character. Or at least they’ve shown her to be intelligent, how women are in real life. They multi-task. They don’t need alcohol when they’re depressed or whatever – they pick up themselves, take charge and move on. They’re strong mentally, so why show them so stupid on screen? This is what I want reflected on screen – show me as intelligent, I’m not ready to stand near the hero and praise him anymore. I can’t be like ‘thank you very much for giving me screen space, now let me praise you in five scenes’. I don’t want to do that.

You come from a family of actors. So is this a conversation you have with them at home?

Of course. We’re are all very open with each other. Each one’s mind and thought process is their own. We are very transparent. Many a time we like each other’s films and many a time we don’t like each other’s films. There is a very healthy conversation at the table and we do point out what’s going right and what’s going wrong. But then again, there’s the market, there’s the strategy, the fan following that each actor has to look at from their side.

But definitely, it’s a free country and we can talk. Advice is free and we do offer it!

Unlike Hollywood, Bollywood or even the Malayalam film industry where women actors have come together in solidarity whenever a colleague speaks of sexual harassment, the big voices in Tamil cinema have been very quiet during the recent explosion of Me Too. What do you feel about this?

There has to be a lot more opening for women in south. Mentally they’re still in a shell. There’s a lot of male dominance in Tamil Nadu, as it is in up north. It’s only in some cosmopolitan cities that it’s more equal – but Chennai being a cosmopolitan city, it’s still male dominant. I think that’s why it’s not happening here.

It’s a beautiful movement. As far as I’m concerned, I’m not on social media and I’m not someone who’s out there in public. But whenever I get a chance and media people have asked me, I’ve openly expressed what I feel. I completely support the movement. I feel each and every woman, who has openly put forth their character and self-respect before the media, will not lie. What tangent is right and wrong, we’re no one to decide. More than people being punished, it’s about creating awareness. The fear is needed in men. It’s not just cinema, sexual harassment is going on everywhere. Whether people are right or wrong, the fear that they can be named to the media is very important.

Kaatrin Mozhi is a comedy, your favourite genre. Which scenes did you enjoy shooting the most?

Kaatrin Mozhi was shot in 30 days, really fast. I liked the scenes we shot between the husband and wife. And for me, specially, the climax was something I really enjoyed doing and that’s my favourite part of the film.

I enjoyed working with Lakshmi Manchu a lot. After a long time I had such very nice, powerful scenes with a woman and I really loved the way she acted. She didn’t need to act, she is that character in real life. She’s confident, brilliant. The way she carries herself you feel ‘oh god, can I match up to her’? And we both are moms. She had her kid on the sets and I had mine.

You’ve acted with everyone including Rajini and Kamal and the generation which came after that. But is there anyone you still wish to act with?

Not really. I’ve actually acted with everyone. I haven’t left anyone out (laughs).

It can be a woman star too!

Yeah, I’d love to do a film with women. With three or four lead women actors! And make something like Magalir Mattum, the old one. I’d love to make a film with top 3-4 women actors, a fun film. It’d be a delight to do such a film.

Women really get along, unlike the way they are shown to be. All of us are actually quite good friends. We wish each other each time when there’s a release or when we’re signing a film. I think we’ve become women now, we’re no more girls. The competition is behind us and we’re happy for one another. I’m so happy for Simran that she’s in a Rajinikanth film. Similarly she called me and said, ‘I’m so happy you’re doing a Mani Ratnam film’. We both had missed this in our first innings – I hadn’t done a film with Mani Sir and she hadn’t done one with Rajini Sir. Now we’re getting it and we’re happy!

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