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cinema cinema:tamil Essay

On Jayanthi

As news reached that actress Jayanthi had passed on to the great beyond from her home in Bangalore, brought immediate images in the mind’s eye. Here I try and document two of them.

While some may say that the projected screen image is not real and fleeting in real life, it creates indelible impressions. In the case of actress Jayanthi it was not just her face that made these impressions, but also distinctive voice. 

Maybe that’s why in Iru Kodugal (1967), KB chooses to bring to the forefront her voice and only her hands are seen completing a kolam (Irresistible KB being irresistible, opens a movie called Iru Kodugal with a woman drawing lines on the floor). 

He doesn’t stop there, but also goes on to emphasise what the Iru Kodugal is, but it’s also a life lesson I would never forget. 

A puzzle in a magazine acts as a ruse, how to shorten a line without erasing it? 

No one is as quick witted at home as Jayanthi, and she in character easily solves the puzzle by drawing a longer line adjacent. The lesson is simple relativity, while life’s current troubles might seem daunting, it does fade away when compared to oncoming challenges and so it goes. 

Me explaining it won’t make it better, because you have to watch the solution explained in her voice, where the character draws from personal experience and that’s the first Jayanthi thing that came to my mind. 

I am not experienced to write an entire career retrospective as I am unaware to large chunks of her long filmography, but what little I had seen was that she made it a point to indicate that there were more emotions than her characters let on or were forced to express; if it was comedy it came with a tinge of rejection (Ethir Neechal), if it was sincerity it also came with doubt (Velli Vizha) and if it was practical smarts like in Iru Kodugal, it was expressed due to deep personal loss. Fascinating actress, this unique duality (dual+quality?) accentuated by the voice. 

The default memories dialled back naturally to the KB films of the sixties and the seventies, but another much recent memory popped up, that too was a movie opening and that too concerned a voice. 

1994’s Vietnam Colony opens with a fabulous song by someone just credited Jayshri and not with the city of Bombay, an opening song to probably pacify all sentiments of producers to have a mangalakaramana song as the credits rolls, but the director Santhana Bharathi works it into the movie as a ‘paatu class’ song about Saraswathi. 

And who is singing? It’s a late career appearance by Jayanthi, back to expressing dual emotions here being devotion with enough sadness to push the movie plot forward. 

All the sadness that comes when you realize that only 30K have viewed Kaiyil Veenaiai on youtube is washed away when you listen five minute song is listened, it is a true blue Ilayaraaja classic composition that heavily lends credence to the argument “they don’t make them like that anymore”

As Valee slips in gold like 

“un kOyil engum nAdaswarangaL kETkum

an nAdam nenjil undan ninaivai vArkkum”  

I realize that any art serves its purpose by sitting in the memory slots of people, irrespective of the time that it was created, consumed or meant for. As art is remembered, with it those helped create it, will too. 

Farewell Jayanthi, Om Shanthi. 

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