The veteran talks about playing Jameela in the recently-released ‘Malik’ starring Fahadh Faasil, and the need for better characters for senior actors in Malayalam cinema
It is another milestone in the star-studded career of yesteryear actor Jalaja. The veteran actor made a quiet comeback to the screen after 26 years in Mahesh Narayanan’s magnum opus, Malik.
As Jameela, the tough mother and school teacher who refuses to condone her son’s nefarious activities, Jalaja stood her ground amidst new-gen stars such as Fahadh Faasil and Nimisha Sajayan.
“It was Mahesh who persuaded me to don the greasepaint again. I was not keen to do a role that was more like a prop. But when I read the script, I knew Jameela has an important place in the story and the arc of the character was interesting. It was not just another ‘mother’ role that is usually reserved for senior women actors. However, I was quite nervous about facing the camera after such a long interval,” says Jalaja.
Jalaja with her daughter Devi, who makes her debut in Mahesh Narayanan’s ‘Malik’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
She says that another reason for her second innings was her daughter Devi’s desire to try her luck in cinema. Devi makes her debut in Malik as the younger version of Jameela since it is a film spanning two decades. “After completing her post-graduation in International Studies and Economics from Wharton Business School, Devi decided she wanted to act. Mahesh offered her the role and though it is not a long role, I thought it would be a good break for her,” she says.
So, perhaps for the first time in Malayalam cinema, mother and daughter are acting together in the same film. Devi slips into the character of the young mother with ease, proving that she is a chip of the old block. Jalaja recalls how Nimisha told her she was enthused about working with her, given that many of her films were like a masterclass. Much before Nimisha put her foot down on makeup for actors, Jalaja had shown the way by her no makeup policy.
“I do not see myself as a trendsetter or an icon. Today’s actors made me feel at home and once I got over the initial nervousness, it was fine. It is like swimming, once you learn it, you will never forget it,” she says.
The face of parallel cinema during her heyday in the late ‘70s and ‘80s, Jalaja has the rare distinction of having made a mark in mainstream cinema as well. Her filmography is like a compilation of the landmark movies of Malayalam cinema.
Where it began
After working with legendary actors and directors of the Malayalam film industry, Jalaja left tinsel town to settle down as a homemaker in Bahrain. “I consider myself blessed to have got the opportunity to work with such a wide range of directors. G. Aravindan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Bharathan, Padmarajan, KG George, Lenin Rajendran, IV Sasi, PG Viswambharan, Sathyan Anthikkad, Priyadarsan…. it is an eclectic list. I am touched when people greet me warmly and talk to me about my characters,” she says.
Jalaja and Mahesh Narayanan’s during the shooting of ‘Malik’ | Photo Credit: Special arrangement
About what has changed in the industry, she says there wasn’t much of a divide between actors and technicians. “We used to spend time together and there was no star system on the set…no caravans. We would give our shot and hangout together. For women, changing costumes or finding a washroom used to be a tough, especially when we were shooting in remote locations. We had to depend on the goodwill of people living in the neighbourhood or travel all the way to where we were staying,” she recalls.
The veteran actor asserts that she is happy that women are asking for and getting the space they deserve on screen — both inside and outside of cinema. She says she isn’t in a hurry to take on projects and would rather wait for the right one.
“Though plenty of Bollywood actresses are now working after marriage and motherhood, that still hasn’t reached Malayalam cinema. Senior women actors are also getting roles of substance too, wherein they play characters their age. I hope the industry starts writing scripts for senior actors too,” she concludes.
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