In March, 1992, Jayaraj was shooting his film, ‘Paithrukam’ at a traditional home at Tavanur in Malappuram district. The house belonged to the grandparents of Sabitha Surendranath, who was doing her first-year degree in English literature at NSS College in Ottappalam.
One day, she came home to celebrate the birthday of her grandfather, Narayanan Nampoothiri. There was a large get-together of all the family members. The first time Sabitha saw Jayaraj he was directing the veteran actress, Geetha. But since she was not a Malayali she had to keep repeating the dialogues. “My cousins and I found it surprising how Geetha was having so much of difficulty to say one sentence in Malayalam,” says Sabitha.
Little did Sabitha know that the moment Jayaraj saw her, he was infatuated. Within a day, he told his friend, at the set, the scriptwriter, Madampu Kunjukuttan, who approached Sabitha’s grandmother, and gave a marriage proposal. “My grandmother said that I was still studying and was not planning to get married soon,” says Sabitha. “But nobody told me about this conversation.”
Anyway, the shoot concluded and they went their different ways. A couple of months later, Sabitha met her cousin who told her about what happened. He suggested that she write a letter to Jayaraj and talk about the film. She did so. But when he replied, it was about his feelings for her. Sabitha realized that Jayaraj was serious. So, she told her parents about it. They discussed the matter and told Sabitha she was too young to think of matrimony. “So I wrote a letter to Jayaraj saying that he should drop the plan to get married,” she says. The director agreed.
However, a few months later, they met accidentally at the Guruvayur temple. “We started talking again,” says Sabitha. “It was then that I felt that this was the man for me, which God had chosen. We started communicating with each other through letters and phone calls. Then I told my father that I would like to get married to Jayaraj.”
The family accepted her decision and Sabitha tied the knot on December 11, 1994. After 18 years of marriage, Sabitha says that Jayaraj is a loving and helpful person. “He understands the sadness of other people and is very supportive of those who are going through a tough time,” she says. “But his greatest quality is of being a parent. Jayaraj is close to our children - Dhanu, , and Keshav, .”
Since he is not at home all the time, Jayaraj compensates by spending quality time with the children. “He reads stories to them and plays cricket, football, and badminton with our son all the time,” she says. “Jayaraj takes them to school every morning. As a result, the children are very attached to him. If he is on a shoot, they always await his arrival. Every day they will ask me when acchan will come home.”
Asked about the particular qualities of a creative artist, Sabitha says, “Even though he is present in the house, I feel that mentally he is far away. He is absent-minded at times.” If a shoot is approaching, Jayaraj is thinking full-time about the film. That is because cinema is his passion. “He discusses the script, with me, right from the storyline,” she says. “Sometimes, he makes changes. But I feel, at times, that my importance has suddenly gone down. I am unable to prevent this feeling from coming up. Then I remind him that there is somebody like me who is present in the house.”
As a creative person, Jayaraj has emotional ups and downs. “When he is moody, I leave him alone,” she says. “If I interfere, it will be a hindrance. I will ask him later about what is bothering him.”
Interestingly, a couple of years after they got married Sabitha asked Jayaraj what drew him to her initially. “He told me he was attracted by the atmosphere of the house,” says Sabitha. “His house in Kottayam is in the middle of the town. Our house was in a village and resembled those in MT Vasudevan Nair’s stories. When he saw the house for the first time, he felt very excited. He told himself that if he married anybody it would be a girl from this sort of environment.”
Jayaraj was also looking for a traditional girl. “Somebody who has a naadan look, yet at the same time, is modern,” says Sabitha. “He was searching for that particular mix, and, apparently, I fitted the bill.”