When Manoj K Jayan steps out of his car, at the entrance of a five-star hotel in Kochi, the staff welcomes him with warm smiles. He is wearing a full-sleeve blue shirt, black trousers and matching canvas shoes.
To get some privacy, he is allowed inside a closed restaurant from where classical music can be heard on the sound system.
Manoj is feeling good. The actor has just entered his 30th year in Mollywood. And he remembers his first shot as if he did it just the other day.
“I had a small role as a horse owner in Ente Sonia,” he says. “Ratheesh, top star of that time, and Geetha were the leading pair. It was a party scene, but I did not feel nervous. The shot went fine. But unfortunately, the film never got released.”
Despite the inauspicious start, Manoj went on to act in hundreds of films in Tamil, Telugu, Hindi, Kannada and Malayalam.
On his longevity in the industry, Manoj says, “I have avoided playing stereotypical characters. Secondly, I have not irritated the audience with my behaviour, either on the professional or personal front.”
Apart from that, Manoj is well-versed in the craft of acting. And he got most of the tips from director Hariharan. “He told me that it is not so important to be fair, handsome or have a muscular body. What matters is how you express yourself, especially through eyes. The audience is always looking at your eyes. So, it is the best way to hold their attention. And your body movements will automatically align with the emotion in your eyes,” says the 51-year-old actor.
Manoj has been feted for his roles as Kuttan Thampuran in Sargam, Thalakkal Chandu in Pazhassi Raja, Kunjiraman in Kaliyachan, and Digambaran in Anandabhadram.
And right from the beginning, Manoj had his priorities clear. He never aspired to be a superstar. “I am happy to be regarded as a noted actor who does good roles,” he says. “That has been my aim all along.” And this has turned out to be the right decision because Manoj is still getting roles.
Surprisingly, despite being in the industry for so many years, he says it is impossible to predict which film will be a hit or flop. But there are ways to increase the chances of success. “If a film has to do well, it needs one of the two elements—either it should be an entertainer or should have a clear encouraging message,” he says.
Also, there should be clarity in the story-telling. “When the audience leaves the theatre, they should not ask, ‘What did the director mean? What was the message?’” he says. “Instead, they should say, ‘This is a superb film’, with smiles on their faces.”
There is no doubt that Manoj has a clear-cut practical vision. Even though he is the son of famed Carnatic musician Jayan, he never ventured into singing. “Since childhood, I realised there is only one genius in music and he is KJ Yesudas. So I wondered whether I should enter. In the end, I opted for films. And my decision turned out to be correct, because, even today, there is nobody who can match Yesudas,” he says.
In the end, music’s loss has been cinema’s gain. And nobody’s complaining.
“If a film has to do well, it needs one of the two elements—either it should be an entertainer or should have a clear encouraging message.”