A large part of me is there in my characters: Jyotika intv on ‘Ponmagal Vandhal’

Ahead of the film’s release Jyotika spoke to the media about the film, its direct release on an OTT platform and her choice of roles since her comeback.
Actor Jyotika in Ponmagal Vandhal
Actor Jyotika in Ponmagal Vandhal
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Jyotika’s Ponmagal Vandhal is all set to release on Amazon Prime Video on May 29. The actor plays Venba, a fiery lawyer, in the film which revolves around a dark subject – the sexual assault and murder of children.

Ahead of the film’s release Jyotika spoke to the media about the film, its direct release on an OTT platform and her choice of roles since her comeback.

Though the lockdown due to COVID-19 has come as a dampener, Jyotika pointed out that the film, which has been produced by 2D Entertainment (owned by spouse and actor Suriya, Jyotika and brother-in-law Karthi), will now enjoy a worldwide premiere in over 200 territories – a feat that is quite rare for a heroine-centric film.

“None of my films in the past have had such a big reach,” she said. She further pointed out that since Tamil Nadu does not have too many multiplexes, the market for such films has always been small. While big hero films get coveted dates at the box-office, small films often have to wait for over a year to get a release date. However, Jyotika also said that the theatre experience is still precious to people who work in cinema, and that whenever the theatres open, it will be nothing short of a celebration.

Speaking about Ponmagal Vandhal, Jyotika said, “It’s a crime thriller. It’s about a woman who’s been finding out about the case for the last 13 or 14 years. She has been doing her homework about it. I don’t want to reveal much of the story or underlying cause but we’ve definitely highlighted a very important social issue. And the trailer speaks it. It is about child abduction and rape, which is a major issue going on in society today.”

However, Jyotika added that the film wasn’t preachy or shot like a documentary but was very much within the genre of a thriller.

The film, directed by JJ Fredrick, is set in Ooty. The most challenging part of preparing for Venba’s character was learning the dialogues in Tamil, Jyotika said. The courtroom scenes demanded sufficient proficiency in the language for her to comfortably pull off lengthy lines.

“I’m still not very fluent in Tamil, and I do take my scripts two months earlier. There’s a lot of mugging up to do! The director did the homework of going to the courtrooms and he’s updated me with that. Frankly speaking, I haven’t attended court and sat through it. Also, this is a small court in Ooty and pretty much like the olden days’ court from British times,” she said.

While the film is not based on any one real incident, Jyotika said that much of it was based on what happens around us on an everyday basis.

“I’ve been reading about child rape and abduction for two years now. Much more gory things happen every single day. So when the script actually came from someone new, a very young person who is very talented, we felt the film had to be made,” she said.

Hill towns are popular settings for thriller films. Commenting on this, Jyotika said, “I recently saw a funny comment on social media. The person said that Ooty is the holiday spot for Tamil Nadu and we always go there... but why do you all always shoot thrillers, horror and crime films there? We’ll feel scared when we go next time!”

The film was shot at a time when the region received the highest rainfall in close to 80 years, Jyotika revealed.

“There has been a huge change in the last 5-7 years. There have been a lot of women-centric films that have been made and have done well. In the south at least, 90% of the female-centric films which released have done well, as compared to male-centric films which is 50-50. I think women-centric films always come with good content and we work thrice as hard to get it right. We have to double-triple convince... without the packaging of action, dancing and all of that,” she said.

However, Jyotika also said that women-centric films are still focused on younger women and that older women’s stories seldom get told.

Speaking about working with veteran directors Bhagiyaraj and Parthiban in the film, Jyotika said, “There’s always lots to learn when working with senior artists. I have a lot of respect for Bhagyaraj sir. I found Parthiban sir very inspiring. He would enter the courtroom scenes wearing the black coat with such speed and reel off his Tamil dialogues in a single breath after just looking at it once. He would also improvise. It’s inspiring to see how easy it is for that generation to take on such heavy scenes.”

Actor Radikaa Sarathkumar had recently complimented Jyotika’s dialogue delivery in Ponmagal Vandhal. Calling herself a big fan of Radikaa, Jyotika said, “I’m a big fan of hers and I’ve told her this. In my second innings, whenever I would get a role, it was her film references that I would look for. My phone is full of her photos for look or acting references. She has done every kind of role, from a policewoman to a lawyer to a homemaker, village girl... I think she’s the only artist who’s done such a variety of roles. So, to get a compliment from her was a very big thing for me.”

Jyotika also said that she’s keen to sign subjects which are different from each other, and that she’s been blessed to work with directors across age groups.

“It’s a decision that I’ve taken consciously, that my films should have a social message and it should be the way real life is. And women who come to theatres should feel proud when they watch the film. They should be able to see their image on screen, that is my priority,” she said.

In the first phase of her career, Jyotika appeared in several mainstream blockbusters where she played the “bubbly” heroine and later evolved to do more substantial roles like Mozhi, Kaakha Kaakha, Sillunu Oru Kadhal and Pachchakili Muthucharam. Since her comeback, however, the actor seems much more emotionally invested in the roles that she has done. How much does she draw in from her personal experiences when she does these films?

“I have a lot of friends who are mothers, parents of my children’s friends circle. Each woman to me is very different. I know working mothers, mothers who are at home out of choice and mothers who are at home out of no choice. I see women in different shades. There are some who react a lot for small things, some to whom nothing makes a difference... I just pick up these things. And yes, a large part of me is there in my characters because I have travelled a journey. Today I’m a mother. I have left behind my priorities and what I like, now it’s what my kids like. There’s a lot of change in a woman after marriage, after kids. Anything I take up, I want my kids to see it, I want them to feel proud of it,” she said.

While there are several heroine-centric films that have come out in the south recently, many have revolved around a particular issue. Does she feel such heavy themes prevent the audience from going to theatres?

“It is true that many of these films are issue-centric but I guess that’s because there are many issues when it comes to women. Having said that, I have done Kaatrin Mozhi and a mindless comedy like Jackpot. I think women face a lot in life, whether it’s working women or women who are at home. Men connect to action, war, dance... they like to see large films. I think women like to see real films and if we find that connect, we have a large audience,” she said.

Considering that 2D Entertainment has ventured into a direct release, will the production company also think about making web series, a format that is under-explored in the south?

“2D is open to any good content. That’s the reason we started 2D, which is named after my two children (Diya and Dev). We want to do small, content-oriented films. It’s not a decision we have made yet, but since we want to make good content, we will go for it in whichever direction it takes us,” she said.

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