Why actor Jayam Ravi, whose ‘Bhoomi’ is ready for release, feels that the star value of an actor won’t change despite changing business dynamics
Introspection was the order of the day for ‘Jayam’ Ravi during the lockdown last year. Whilst the film industry had to shut completely, Ravi admits to spending most of his downtime re-evaluating some of the decisions he has made in his career. “It was a good time to sit and think about the mistakes I had done and what I need to do to get better,” he smiles.
The actor, whose upcoming film Bhoomi streams on Disney+ Hotstar from January 14, connects over a Zoom call from Hyderabad, where he is filming for a project. Is it for Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan in which he plays a lead role? “I can’t admit to anything,” he laughs, sheepishly.
Since we connect only a few days after the shoot of Rajinikanth’s Annaatthe, which also was underway in Hyderabad before it had to be ended abruptly due to multiple cases of people on the film set contracting COVID-19, the obvious question arises: does he feel safe going back to work, especially when imposing a bio-bubble on film crews have proved cumbersome in India?
“Every other business has opened up with necessary precautions. We have to handle the situation the same way in film shoots as well. I hope there won’t be any problems, but if there is one we have no choice but to find a way to cope… because work has to happen,” Ravi adds. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Bhoomi is one of three major Tamil films releasing this Pongal. The other two are releasing in theatres, so why did you opt for an OTT release?
We did think about a theatrical release but the fact is we waited for 11 months with a completed film, expectantly waiting for theatres to open. It didn’t happen and, as you may know, safeguarding a finished product is akin to walking on a knife’s edge. One never knows when the story will be leaked or something else will happen. So we signed over the film to Disney+ Hotstar, and immediately after came the announcement that theatres were reopening.
You play Bhoominathan in the film. Tell us about him. What is he fighting for?
Bhoominathan is fighting for something that is relevant in today’s context — for farmers. It is not a clichéd story, however. The film has addressed the subject with—sincerity; the farmers’ issue is not just one sequence in the larger story, it is connected to the whole of the plot.
My character is an astronaut who returns to his hometown after being away for a few years. He comes back and realises that some things are wrong; he makes a few decisions that he thinks will help society heal in a way.
As an actor, you have tried to remain apolitical. Can a film on a subject like farmers’ issues be apolitical?
Look, this is a serious subject, but at the same time, I am not making a documentary. I am making a commercial movie, so there are some creative liberties that have been used, which is also the reason why we have a disclaimer at the start of a film.
Has cinema lost its charm as a medium that can influence its audience? A few decades ago, cinema was a propaganda tool for the then-rising Dravidian politics, but these days, it would appear that the values don’t stick to the viewer…
I still think audiences take back values from a film. For instance, a film like Comali where the lead character is someone who re-emerges from a coma to find that society has changed. This was the entertainment factor in the film, so if you found the content entertaining, it means that the values also reflected well on the audience. Inevitably then, the viewer will take back the message.
Even with Santhosh Subramaniam, where the story is set in a family where the father takes all the decisions, people rang me up after watching the film to tell me that they had forced their son or daughter to do this or that, and that they were going to drop doing it. These are positive changes.
Many in Tamil cinema have tried to follow the Viswasam formula for instant success. Is Bhoomi a similar attempt?
(Laughs) I stay away from formula. I did the first zombie and space movie here, so I have always attempted something that is not formulaic because of the confidence in my audience. It wasn’t intentional that Bhoomi has a rural setup or falls in a genre that resembles previous formula films.
This is your third film with Lakshman. Outside of your brother (filmmaker Mohan Raja), this is the most you have collaborated with anyone…
He is not leaving me (laughs). He only wants to do films with me. I don’t know the reason, maybe he finds it comfortable. But for me, comfortability only comes with a winning script. I don’t work with someone just because there is rapport there. The script is a deciding factor [for me].
What changes do you expect to see in Tamil cinema’s business in the pandemic’s wake?
Budgets will reduce, for sure. It is always best to work from a safe zone when you are always unsure of what might happen. It also means there will be limited crew. But I don’t expect the movie watching experience to change.
OTT platforms were a big draw when theatrical business went missing. Do you expect them to grow at the same level in 2021 as well? Do you see these corporate entities turning producers in future?
People do prefer OTT platforms more these days. They have gotten used to OTT; it will continue to grow and it is a good thing. Whether they turn producers, I think there already have been many corporate companies in film production. Reliance comes to mind. But whoever is next, they will need to do their homework and understand how the industry functions. They also need to be committed to producing good movies. Only then can they be successful.
Do you suppose the star-driven culture will change should corporate entities enter production?
No. It will never be affected. It is like how back in the day, a film had to run 100 days to be successful and now it only needs a 10-day run. Those days, there were only single screen theatres and you had four shows in a day. These days, we have multiplexes and 40 shows in a day; just the ratio differs. Likewise, the star value of an actor won’t change. Neither will the public’s interest to go to theatres and watch movies.
‘Bhoomi’ streams on Disney+ Hotstar from January 14.