Jiiva has had a relatively quiet last two years with only two of his films seeing the light.
For a while, it seemed like all the Neethaane En Ponvasantham star did was work, with little to show for it. “I’m thinking of turning into a character artiste. I’m jealous of them, and comedians. Most of them work 10-day schedules, and whenever I ask them, they’ll be like ‘Yes, the film is finished!’, and they get paid well too,” the actor jokes.
On April 12, Jiiva hopes to end the lean spell with the release of his long-pending Kee, directed by debutant Kalees (also starring Govind Padmasoorya and Nikki Galrani). We caught up with him during the film’s second round of promotions, almost a year since the first [The actor, 35, wittily described his director’s plight thus: “Kalees speaks about Kee even in his sleep!”].
Compare and contrast
In Kee, he plays a college student adept at hacking computers.
Despite his boyish looks, the actor admits that playing a student is getting tougher with age— “It was easier (playing a student) in Nanban (2012),” he notes.
But the biggest hurdle facing Kee is its plot, as it shares similar traits with Vishal’s Irumbu Thirai (2018), which did surprisingly well at the box office. While Kee ran into financial hurdles that delayed its release, Vishal’s announcement of a project along similar lines unsettled the team, say industry insiders, adding that there were closed room discussions where scripts changed hands to ensure the plot wasn’t similar. Jiiva sets the record straight.
“Our film was in the dubbing stage, when Vishal announced his project. I wanted ours to be the first film to highlight the real world problems caused by technology proliferation. But I don’t think the plot is outdated now.”
He has his reasons. “This film will expose a whole new parallel world that you didn’t know existed. Kalees put it to me beautifully, ‘Irumbu Thirai was about the money in your pocket, and Kee is about the life behind that pocket’,” he says.
Since completing Kee, Jiiva turned a nomad for Raju Murugan’s Gypsy.
And for the last four months, he has been perfecting his cricketing skills in a bid to play Kris Srikkanth in Kabir Khan’s multi-starrer, 83 (that has Ranveer Singh in the lead). “I need to develop a 1980s batting stance. I have picked up a few bad techniques from all those years of playing gully cricket. Like, my backlift is an issue, for instance,” he says.
- Content is king, agrees Jiiva, but he doesn’t believe digital streaming platforms can draw the regional audience away from theatres. “That’s because there is lack of representation. Netflix and Amazon are only for the elite, and these streaming platforms have more adult content than family-friendly material. But I understand that the digital game will become bigger, and I’m looking forward to better regional content from these platforms,” he says.
The shoot for the biopic on the 1983 cricket world cup winning team will commence in May-June in London, and will continue in the picturesque backdrop of Scotland. The crew will also be taking a tour of the Lord’s ground, considered the ‘Home of Cricket’, and Jiiva — the cricket fanatic, not the actor— is buzzed about the prospects.
“Maybe I will take some grass from there and put it in my pocket,” he says. Being one of the few established actors, who doesn’t have airs about sharing screen space with others — seven multi-starrers and a handful of cameos offer proof — Jiiva explains his stance thus: “If big tech companies like Facebook, Instagram and Twitter can join hands, why should cinema be any different? There should be a healthy competition between actors, but that shouldn’t reflect in your attitude.”
Something else that drives the actor is environmentalism. Few years ago, Jiiva built an eco-friendly villa on the outskirts of the city. It has solar-powered appliances and a mini garden.
- Jiiva debuted with Aasai Aasaiyai in 2003. It was the 50th movie produced by his home banner Super Good Films
- Kee is Jiiva’s 28th film as lead actor
- After Raam and Kattradhu Thamizh, he returns in an uncoventional role with Raju Murugan’s Gypsy, scheduled for release later this year
- The actor will make his Bollywood debut in Kabir Khan’s 83, where he will star alongside Ranveer Singh
“I grow basic crops like tomato, capsicum, mint and curry leaves,” he shares. Plans to rear a cow were dropped because “they are not easy to maintain.”
Jiiva’s love for being one with nature is also why you’d find him heading off to Kodaikanal to spend his downtime. Did this trait influence Gypsy in any way? “I do love to travel. But I don’t relate to a nomad. I have never imagined living that life. I’m someone who wants to be in cosy, five-star hotels, whereas Gypsy is about spending the night under a million stars,” he says.
This obviously threw up challenges when he worked to get under the skin of his character. “It took about 30 days for me to adapt to playing the role of a gypsy,” says Jiiva. The experience now holds him in good stead to undertake a solo trip.
Though his claim to fame was by virtue of playing such unconventional roles (remember Raam and Kattradhu Thamizh?), the actor adds that no film of his can be considered offbeat. “Any film that makes money is commercial. Of course, there are films you do purely for business. Gypsy is a passion project, and now I hope that it does well commercially too.”
Break the rules
Jiiva’s home banner is Super Good Films, which is currently producing its 90th film that stars him, Manjima Mohan and Arulnithi in the lead.
While his father, R B Choudary, still heads the production house, it is acknowledged that Jiiva will take over the mantle eventually. When it happens, the actor wants to shake set industry norms, starting with paying writers better than directors.
“Look at other countries, or even the Telugu film industry. [Writers] are the people who can bring in the minutest of details to a script. Malayalam has such writers, so does Telugu. In Tamil, we have a lot of writers who are directors. We need more writers who are paid better than directors. The latter may have more physical work, but I am sure that can be balanced. It is one of the visions [for Super Good],” he concludes.