CHENNAI: The recent promos of Ponmagal Vandhal, among other things, are noticeable for how the film is dubbed a ‘Jyotika Suriya production’. Despite being one of the directors of Suriya’s 2D Productions, Jyotika has so far remained away from active film production. Is this her way of announcing a new chapter in her film career? "Oh no," she refutes, "Suriya made this change to surprise me. Though I listen to all the scripts of the films produced by our banner, I haven’t yet involved myself with the production part." She cheerily adds that she is happy being a ‘hero’.
"I will be turning 41 soon. A decade back, it was nearly impossible for a female to play lead roles at this age. But things have changed, and I feel blessed to be busy playing the hero now. I love this phase where I have the liberty to play any character. I would not trade this for any other role in cinema."
Ponmagal Vandhal’s director JJ Fredrick has often stated in interviews that he wanted an actor with a strong image to play the lead and he couldn’t think of anyone except Jyotika.
Looking at her films post comeback like Raatchasi, Magalir Mattum and 36 Vayadhinile, you can see why he must have been inclined to going with her.
Asked about her decision to redefine her image, she says, "Building an identity wasn’t my priority. I simply ensured that women are portrayed right in my films. Sadly, 80% of films misrepresent the gender. I wanted all the women who watch my work to feel dignified. I believe that quest has led me to this point."
She expresses relief that she no longer gets offers to act in mindless commercial entertainers.
"My family means everything to me. If I am going to leave my kids alone and get out to work, I must be adding some serious value to a film and making a difference. If the film demands that I just dance to songs, I wouldn’t trade it for time with my children."
Jyotika calls Ponmagal Vandhal a film that is closest to her heart.
"Working with young filmmakers like Fredrick is an exciting experience. They don’t stick to a template, don’t hesitate to have bold dialogues, and never compromise on quality.
"The issue the film addresses is something that has been bothering me for a long time. So, I didn’t think twice before signing up."
Apart from Jyotika, Ponmagal Vandhal has other big names like Bhagiyaraj, Pandiarajan, Prathap Pothen, Thiyagarajan and Parthiban. Interestingly, they all happen to be directors. Jyotika says it was an amazing learning experience to work with such names in a single film. "I’ve been fortunate to collaborate with extremely talented stars of the 80s in all my films post marriage. I have learnt so much from them.
"In Ponmagal Vandhal, all the yesteryear stars had a clear understanding of their roles and gave their fullest. Parthiban sir and Bhagiyaraj sir improvised a lot during their takes and added so much value. I believe I have had my best onscreen chemistry in the last decade with Parthiban sir."
She goes on to reveal that she started her homework for the role three months before the shoot, so she could get the courtroom scenes right. "Though I speak Tamil fluently now, the language used in courtrooms is completely different. So I took time to master the language. We were able to wrap the court scenes in just nine days."
Almost all her recent films have had social messages. How does she prevent her film from becoming preachy? "Cinema is a visual medium. If a film is going to be overloaded with just dialogues, it might end up giving the feel of a documentary. But when a good message is told with an interestingly layered story and screenplay, it will be enjoyed by the audience. I use this engagement factor as a barometer when greenlighting scripts."
Ponmagal Vandhal is Tamil cinema’s first mainstream film made for theatrical viewing, to be released on an OTT platform. This decision of 2D Productions met with severe opposition from theatre owners, and contrastingly, unanimous support from many producers.
Jyotika calls this a temporary strategy. "Nothing can replace the joy an actor or filmmaker gets when people cheer in theatres. Ten months or a year down the line, after we have beaten the coronavirus, theatres will gain back glory and they will become again the prime sources of entertainment."
She calls OTT platforms a parallel avenue during these tough times. "Ponmagal Vandhal is a film headlined by a female actor, and it is going to reach people in more than 200 countries. This wouldn’t have been possible without the advent of technology. I urge everyone to understand the situation."