Joju George is excited about his upcoming Tamil release Jagame Thandhiram
It took him more than two decades to carve a niche for himself, to win the National award, the Kerala State film award and more importantly, to be recognised for his passion and craft. But he looks at this period not as a ‘struggle’ but as a learning, a means to achieving his biggest dream which is Cinema. Today, he has over 100 films to his credit, the various characters he has portrayed over the years has often left the audience in splits, in tears and sometimes even at the edge of their seats. He is also a successful producer of three blockbuster films – Charlie, Udhaharanam Sujatha and Porinju Mariyam Jose. As he makes his Tamil debut in the much awaited ‘Jagame Thandhiram’, Ritz catches up with the veteran actor, Joju George who is all set to set the screen on fire!
Interview: Riya Sonny Datson
What was it about cinema that kept you at it for so many years?
Cinema has been my passion from a very young age. When I started at first, just getting a role excited me, then improving my craft became my goal. After that it was about discovering myself as an actor. At various stages of my career, my goals changed and the excitement I felt at each milestone is what kept me going. Now I look forward to playing interesting characters in different languages.
Do you feel Cinema is different from what you perceived it to be?
Not at all. Cinema has been a wonderful journey of discovery for me. When I compare myself to actors who I admire and consider as my Gurus, I don’t think I have reached anywhere yet, I still have loads to improve and learn to perfect my work. Cinema is a huge medium and my life, passion and profession is all about Cinema.
It was soon after the success of ‘Joseph’ that you started winning accolades and more intense roles, how did the sudden transition feel ?
It took me 25 years to reach where I am today, so it was a very gradual process for me as an actor. It is true that people started noticing me more after ‘Joseph’ but I had done more than 100 films by then. So, it was not a ‘sudden’ transition for me at all. I don’t think I did anything extraordinary for Joseph’s role but yes, being the central character, I was more conscious about my responsibility as I was playing the titular role. I never expected the kind of response it received. I take it as a reward for the hard work I put in for two decades before that. I am lucky to have won the National award for that role. There are many who work hard but never get recognised for their efforts.
What kind of roles excite you?
I see each film as the director’s art or canvas. To me, the role I portray doesn’t count, it is the director and script that matters. It is the director who is the most important person as far as a film is concerned, actors are just using his creative space.
We all know that you are a big fan of Mammootty. How was the experience sharing screen space with Mammootty in ‘One’?
Mammooty is one of my favourite stars. I admire everything about him, his acting skills, the way he carries himself, his personality and his way of life. I have even told Mammootty personally that I love him. I am equally crazy about the roles portrayed by Mohanlal. To me, they are the ultimate stars and each time I meet them, I still feel the thrill and excitement. But when I am facing the camera, I am not Joju George but the character I am portraying. So that completely changes the way I see things. Yes, sharing screen space with Mammootty was very challenging but all I can say is that I tried to give it my best.
You also shared screen space with Hollywood actor James Cosmo, the Game of Thrones fame.
I was totally awestruck by James Cosmo, everything about him is amazing -his personality, body language, voice and his acting is just flawless. I am extremely happy to have gotten an opportunity to work with him on a single frame. When we faced the camera together, we were no longer James Cosmo and Joju George but the characters we portrayed and I would give all due credit to the director who helped us to portray our roles to perfection. I hope I have done justice to the role.
How was your first Tamil experience with Jagame Thandhiram?
It was a big change for me when compared to the Malayalam film industry. Over the last two decades, I literally climbed up the ladder in Malayalam Cinema, so I am familiar with everyone in the industry. But in Tamil, I bagged the role after receiving the National award. So I felt their perception of me as an actor was very different. After my shoot for Jagame Thandhiram, Dhanush along with director, Karthik Subbaraj organised a small get together with the entire crew. They made me cut a cake and we thanked each other. It was like a farewell party and I was overwhelmed as I have not felt so loved and respected before in any other set. Especially since it was my first project in a new industry, with a new team, it was very special. For me, getting a character in Tamil with such a talented group of professionals was a blessing but to receive so much love and respect from the team was an added bonus.
How did you prepare for the role in Jagame Thandhiram?
I am playing the role of a Tamil gangster based in London. It is hard to explain how I prepared for the role but all I can say is that there was specific preparation and planning behind it. Gopan Chidambaran, script writer of Thuramukham, is like a mentor to me and he gave me a lot of inputs to build the character. In my mind, the very first gangsters I saw were in Priyadarshan Sir’s Aryan and Abhimanyu, in Tamil film Nayakan and later in Hollywood films like Godfather, The Departed and The Irishman. So my perception of the role and the collective inputs from my seniors and the director is what moulded the character.
Has any particular character stayed with you?
Not really. I don’t think too much about my character once I complete the shoot. I am happy to get back to my friends and family and move on. I think my character in ‘Madhuram’ and maybe even ‘Nayattu’ would probably be the only films that nudged my heart a little bit.
What led you to produce movies like Charlie and Porinju Mariyam Jose?
I think it was a period in my career when I was beginning to feel I had reached the end of the road as far as acting was concerned. I was literally written off. But I very badly wanted to remain in Cinema, so a group of us friends decided to get into production and that’s how Udhaharanam Sujatha and Charlie happened. There were other films for which I felt I needed to take up responsibility and production just happened. I didn’t give it too much thought. I believe that everything is possible if you set your heart at it. All I want to say is if I can do it, anyone can do it.
How do you see the shift from theatre to OTT ?
I grew up watching Cinema and feeling the excitement in theatres and I feel there is nothing that can replace the theatre experience . But today due to the pandemic, we are left with no choice and am glad that we have at least the OTT platforms to showcase films. It has literally opened up a new space which reaches a wider audience. When Nayattu released, appreciation poured in from across the country and that felt amazing. I think there is no denying that OTT has become a part of our lives now. It is a welcome change as it gives us access to such a rich variety of content. You also need to be really good at your craft if you want to survive now because the platform is huge and everyone is giving it their best. Competition is high and we need to evolve with the changing times.
Bollywood actor Rajkumar Rao recently applauded you for your performance in Nayattu. How did that feel?
I have always felt proud of our Malayalam films and our culture and when people from other states acknowledge Malayalam Cinema, it is a moment of great pride for me. I was thrilled to see Rajkumar Rao’s personal message on my Insta handle. I never expected to receive such a positive feedback for my performance in Nayattu from a Bollywood actor. It is encouraging feedback such as these that inspire me to perform better and do varied roles.
Would you tell us about your Upcoming projects ?
I have a lot of interesting projects lined up for release and each of them is special to me. Almost 12 projects in Malayalam are awaiting release like Malik, Thuramukham, Madhuram, Peace, Pada and Churuli to name a few and three films in Tamil which includes Jagame Thandhiram. I was so busy that I hardly slept last year.
After having such busy schedules, how are you handling the lockdown ?
It has been extremely tough but I don’t think anyone has a choice but to accept the situation. So I am doing the same and trying to adjust to the situation. I enjoy cooking so I have been trying new recipes and teaching my children to cook too.
Being a hotel management graduate, do you have plans to start a hotel?
Yes of course, I love food and cooking and all of my family members enjoy cooking, including my children. So if everything works out, it is just a matter of time before I venture into the hospitality industry.