Comedy is serious business and I realised this never more than when I was in conversation with comedian Chinni Jayanth, who is convinced he’s playing a breakthrough role in Rubaai that is getting released this Friday. From beginning till end, the actor, who’s got quite a few films, including Kalavu, Netrikann, Abdul Kalamin Vaguparai, and Thirumbi Vanthutenu Sollu, maintains a serious tone.
Rubaai has him playing a 65-year-old. “I play Anandhi’s father in this film that is about how unexpected incidents change one’s life completely,” he says. “I expected it to be the usual paternal role or perhaps that of the hero’s friend, but director Prabhu Solomon, who is producing the film, surprised me by asking me not to trim my hair or beard for two months. After that, he and director Anbazhagan (of Saattai fame), took me to a saloon and tried different hair styles on me for about three. At the end, they transformed me completely and Kungumaraja, my character, has turned out to be a role unlike any I’ve ever played in my career before.”
Following his comeback role in Prabhu Solomon’s Thodari, Chinni Jayanth has decided to opt for more serious roles and seems to have let go of the comic tag that he’s generally associated with. “I never saw myself as a comedian. I always wanted to be a character artiste who could do humour,” he says. The ‘Jayanth’ in his name is a combination of J, taken from the name of J. Mahendran (the director who introduced him to cinema), and the suffix ‘anth’ that was quite famous when he began his stint in cinema. In a sense, his name also indicates that he never saw himself as a comedian. “In the beginning, people said I looked slim like Nagesh and that I should try my hand at slapstick comedy like him. But Mahendran sir and director Kathir (of Idhayam fame) asked me to avoid such roles and I’m glad it has turned out to be fruitful,” he says.
In fact, it isn’t too well-known that he began his career playing a villain in Rajinikanth’s Kai Kodukkum Kai (1984). “I am a big fan of Sivaji Ganesan sir. I have always wanted to be as versatile as him. Now, I want to be like Amitabh Bachchan. Take Paa for example. He was unbelievable in it,” he says.
He realises he isn’t where he wants to be. “People haven’t seen all I can do. When they see me, they tell me to keep doing more films. They also tell me that I haven’t been used properly by the industry. Maybe that’s what’s keeping me young (laughs)—the urge to do more in the film industry.”
While on being young, Chinni Jayanth played the role of a college student for ages. Perhaps he’s most known for making up words, and speaking gibberish. “That came because of my admiration for Thengai Srinivasan sir. He kept using words like jaanchika jinakuchika and oddly, I took to it. Even during my college days, when the professors would teach me words like beta and gamma, I would instead refer to them with made-up words like gamosika and gilfosika. I began using them so frequently that I used it in my films that had the backdrop of a college,” he says. He recognises that those roles are what he’s remembered for the most.
“Despite doing only a handful of such films, people forever think of me as the actor who plays a college-goer.” Recently, in fact, when Rajinikanth’s Raja Chinna Roja began trending, so did the word, ‘Haun’, that the actor often uses in that film to great comical effect.
But the actor is convinced that comedy is easier than doing serious roles. “When doing serious roles, you have to apply yourself more. I have done that in films like Kizhakku Vasal, Dharmam Vellum and now, in Rubaai,” he says, and cites the example of the homework he did for the upcoming film in which he plays the owner of a street food joint. “I would park my car next to such joints and quietly observe their behaviour.”
Of his roles, the one he played in Kadhalar Dhinam is a favourite of his. I ask him about the scene in which Goundamani throws a computer at him. “It was a real computer that Goundamani instinctively threw. Fortunately, I blocked it with my hand. He apologised but working with him is like being a part of a stunt team. Even in My Dear Marthandan, he pulled my hair so hard that it hurt an entire day (laughs).”
Chinna pulla, Kannedhirey Thondrinal and Kadhalar Dhinam
Kapil Sharma’s show