From his debut as a mute hero in Vinayan's Oomapenninu Uriyadapayyan to, recently, Captain, actor Jayasurya has come a long way. In his 20-year-old career, he has proven himself, on multiple occasions, that he is adept at tackling any role head-on. So when he speaks, his words convey the same fervent passion and conviction that marked his on-screen performances. He calls his role in his new film, Njan Marykutty, the most challenging one he has done so far, and the one that he holds close to his heart.
This is the best phase of your career. You chose to do one serious role after another (Captain, Njan Marykutty) immediately after doing a full-blown comedy like Aadu 2. Was that to create a balance?
No, it's all about doing good cinema, regardless of the genre. If both the character and story excite me, I'll do it; otherwise, I won't. Njan Marykutty is one such film: something like this hasn't been attempted before in Malayalam or Indian cinema. There have been films about transgenders but none about transsexuals.
What's special about Njan Marykutty, and what do you hope to achieve with it?
Usually, subjects of this nature are given a very dark treatment and people are hesitant to go near them. We took away all the cliches and negatives usually found in transgender films and came up with something that gives off a positive vibe. This film is my gift to the LGBTQ community. And I hope it will change, at least to a small degree, society's attitude towards them.
Your film will be pitted against Mammootty's Abrahaminte Santhathikal, which has an evidently macho character. Are you worried that most people will go and watch that instead?
I see it like this: A movie with Mammootty as the hero on one side and a movie with Jayasurya as the 'heroine' on the other (laughs).
When the trailer came out, some people wondered why a real transperson wasn't cast instead. What's your take on this?
Maybe it's possible for a real transperson to do this role. I don't know. But such a role is not so easy, I tell you. Living it and doing it in front of a camera are two different things. I've seen non-actors cast in roles that they actually play in real life, but the minute they get in front of a camera, they start sweating. People bring up all these silly criticisms without looking at it from all angles.
Some people are under the impression that this is another film like Mayamohini...
...or Chanthupottu or Avai Shanmughi, right? But take Chanthupottu, for example. He is not a real transgender or transsexual; he is just effeminate. If he were a transperson, it wouldn't be logical to have him fall in love with a girl. Marykutty, on the other hand, is a woman both in body and spirit. She is a sophisticated and well-educated lady. She is classy in all respects.
Your wife (Saritha) must have been of great help.
She designed all my costumes -- 56 saris. When the shoot began, I had some difficulty putting them on. And then one day she came in and fixed everything. As for tips, she showed me how to move my hand in a certain way or sit like how a woman would normally sit. We did several retakes till we got it right.
What about the makeup?
We opted to go for a minimal makeup look with Marykutty, as you can see from the trailers. The difference between Marykutty and other women (or other films) is that they get their confidence from their makeup while Marykutty gets it from her personality.
Any unforeseen challenges on set?
In the first four days of shooting, we weren't really sure if we were doing the right thing. Initially, we used a female voice; but further research revealed that 99 per cent of them have a male voice. So we decided to go with the male voice. It takes at least 10 years post-surgery for them to develop a female voice. In the meantime, they undergo hormone therapy. In the film, we see Marykutty just six months after surgery. As for the physique, I had to develop a flabby appearance. So I stopped frequenting the gym. In the first four days, the costumes were just nighties and churidars. But then we decided to go with only saris. That means reshooting everything. There was no other option but to revise the script. Actually, these changes worked hugely in our favor. These difficulties were blessings in disguise.
Is it true that you got rashes all over your body as a result of these preparations?
Yes. I'm still taking medication for that. I had to shave my body three times a day -- it's reverse shaving, mind you -- and this damages your skin. If you don't shave properly, it will show up on screen.
Your son Advaith is portraying Marykutty's childhood. He seems to have inherited your confidence.
(laughs) When Ranjith first asked me about casting Advaith, I was apprehensive. But he showed zero hesitation. I wasn't around when his portions were being filmed. But I was relieved when they told me later that he had pulled it off. I don't think he was even half as nervous as I was (laughs).