Jyotika: My films must make women feel respected

For Jyotika, her latest release, Udanpirappe, is special for more than one reason. Firstly, the rural drama marks her 50th outing as an actor. Also special is how it is her first festival release post the start of her second innings in 2015, when she began ‘leading’ films. “Festival slots for theatre releases are usually occupied by hero-centric films, and films led by women don’t get the opportunity. I’m elated about Udanpirappe getting a premiere during the Dussehra season, which, of course, is a festival celebrating a goddess. This was possible only due to OTT platforms,” Jyotika says, smiling. 

The actor, who plays a Mathangi, a role she describes as “the daughter of the soil”, shares that the script drew her towards the film. “It was a grass-root level script which I haven’t done before, and it’s not quite often that I get roles as powerful as this one. Also, I think it beautifully explores the relationship between a brother and sister through its writing and native setting,” she says, adding that she drew inspiration from women around her while preparing for the character, including her mother-in-law. “Suriya’s family and their relatives hail from tiny villages near Coimbatore, and I have had the chance to interact with many women over the last 15 years. My mother-in-law at home and many of these women have served to motivate me to play this role.”

While Jyotika doesn’t think of Udanpirappe as being a project that is out of her comfort zone, she admits that films that she is now getting demand extensive preparation. “The roles are getting stronger, and I am tasked with holding the film by myself, be it Geetha Rani in Raatchasi or Vasanthi in 36 Vayadhinile. Contrarily, my role in Udanpirappe possesses a power of silence that is integral to the character and story. Generally though, I ask for dialogues two months before the shoot, so I can memorise them,” she says. In Udanpirappe, her character speaks little, and this, Jyotika says, made the film a different experience for her. “My favourite scenes in the film are those moments of silence, not those that feature heavy dialogues. As an actor who gets talkative characters usually, this film helped me realise that silence is equally important,” Jyotika adds. Sharing another takeaway from the film, she says, “I have realised how great it feels to play a character older than you, considering everyone is in a rat race to look younger. That is a beautiful learning experience.”

Directed by E Ra Saravanan, Udanpirappe features Sasikumar—an actor who is at home playing rural characters—as the elder brother of Jyotika’s Maathangi. “It’s a lovely cast. Many members belong to the village the film was shot in, and, naturally, it was easy for them to fit into their characters. Sasikumar sir is not just an actor, but also a director, and this gave him an upper hand. The same goes with Samuthirakani sir, whose work I’m a big fan of. They have all helped me get under the skin of the character as it was a new experience for me.”

Ever since she has returned to acting with 36 Vayadhinile, Jyotika has headlined all films she has been a part of, with a notable exception being Mani Ratnam’s Chekka Chivantha Vaanam. In CCV, her name during the opening credits appears alongside the image of a goddess’ idol in a temple. Incidentally, she is introduced in Udanpirappe while carrying an idol of a goddess. The actor shares that she is clear about playing noble characters that celebrate women. “I want to do films women can watch and feel respected and glad that they have seen a part of themselves on screen. Seldom are women portrayed in films the way they are in real life, especially in Tamil Nadu, where most of them are bound to their homes. It’s important to me that the projects I sign connect with them.”

Jyotika has co-produced the film with her husband-actor Suriya, and she admits that being the producer does give her the privilege to choose from a wide variety of projects. “The process of selecting films as a producer is the same as choosing films as an actor. When a filmmaker narrates a script, it is entirely my decision to say yes or not. But yes, being a producer gives me the power to choose diverse stories. And of course, I get to pick my working hours to make sure I attend to my family and children as well.” 

The actor is also cognisant of the medium’s influence on viewers. “I make it a point to communicate something virtuous through my films. I do this because the viewership is vast, and the audience believes and follows cinema. Light or heavy, a film should have a good message for the audience to take home.”

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