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`Legends never fade away'


We all wept during the 1986 Asian Games, when you were denied the medal Jayaram

PHOTO: VINO JOHN


You just can't stop listing Shiny Wilson's achievements. It runs like an 800-metre track. Olympics, Asiad, South Asian Federation Games... she blazed a trail in her time. Surfing her forties with charm, Shiny who works for the Food Corporation of India, continues to do her bit for sport as a member of various organisations and selection committees for athletics.

Her partner for the Take Two is Jayaram, the Malayalam hero who has been a steady box-office draw for 18 years. Jayaram has left an indelible impression on Tamil cine-goers too with his spontaneous humour and distinct accent.

Though their heart lies in Kerala, Shiny and Jayaram have made Chennai their home. The two hit it off in a mix of Malayalam, English and Tamil. T. Krithika Reddy records their airs-free chat.

Jayaram: Shiny, I feel honoured to have you here...

Shiny: (Smiling coyly) I'm equally happy. Not just to meet you. I'm thrilled to see Parvathi too (looking at Jayaram's beautiful actress wife). You know, once I got a chance to act in a film on sportspersons. That too with Mammootty in the lead! But the project was shelved following the director's demise.

Jayaram: I'm not surprised. In your time, you were one of the most beautiful athletes.

Shiny: (With a hint of embarrassment) But I've turned older and gained weight (with eyes downcast).

Jayaram: These days, sportspersons get popular fast. Look at Sania Mirza. It wasn't so in your time. But Shiny, we all wept during the 1986 Asian Games in Seoul, when you were denied the medal.

Shiny: It was said I changed the track. I had established a 20-metre lead. But I accepted the decision as God's will.

Jayaram: Nowadays, there are cameras to replay the action. So things are verified from different angles.

Shiny: Have you participated in sports events?

Jayaram: I was 6ft tall and pencil thin. In school, they thought I'd make a good runner. Once, in a district level relay, someone shouted `throw the baton', I took it literally and flung it. I got carried away by the girls in the gallery. (Laughter) That was my tryst with sports. Tried mimicry instead and tasted success. From mimicry and theatre to films, it has been an exciting journey. Padmarajan was looking for a new face and "Abharan" happened. I stayed on... won four State awards, including one for the Tamil film "Tenali". My dream is to get a national award.

Shiny: You're one of the best mimicry artistes till date...

Jayaram: Once, Prem Nazir's son met me on board a flight. He asked me to speak like his dad. When I did, he just closed his eyes, and tears rolled down his cheeks.

Shiny: You're known for your family entertainers too.

Jayaram: Yes, I did quite a number with director Satyan Anthikkad. But nowadays, we are having a dearth of good scriptwriters. Mammootty and Mohanlal will always remain in people's hearts because they translated some of the best scripts onto celluloid. Padmarajan, Bharathan, P.M. Menon, M.T.V. Nair... it was the golden period of Malayalam cinema. Prem Nazir too did a whole lot of family drama. He acted with Sheela in 120 films! These days, after two films, the gossip mill works overtime! (Laughter)

Shiny: You are too good when it comes to humour. Guess it comes naturally...

Jayaram: Yes, I enjoy doing comedy. One of my forthcoming Malayalam films, "Veendum Oru Kalyanam" is a rib tickling fare with Urvashi. There's also "Shaktimaan" with Jackie Shroff. "Sarkar Dada" will be released this Onam.

Shiny: How has your Tamil experience been?

Jayaram: Initially, I did not know how to choose because language was a constraint. Though I've done serious films, people remember me for my humorous roles. Between Malayalam and Tamil, tastes differ. I've also noticed a trend... While Hindi and Tamil films attract the youth, it's contrary in the case of Malayalam films in Kerala. That's because it's the same old faces — Mammootty, Mohanlal, Suresh Gopi and myself. You will hardly see youngsters in theatres screening Malayalam films — unlike in Tamil Nadu, where youngsters watch Tamil films. "Anniyan" was a runaway hit in Kerala. But if a Malayalam star had tried out an "Anniyan" kind of role with a weird hairdo, it would have been a disaster! (Laughter) Okay Shiny, I read that you've represented the country 75 times in international events.

Shiny: Yes, I've been through gruelling practice sessions. I used to run 20 km a day. Infrastructure was poor. So also, incentives for sportspersons. For school nationals, we used to travel long distances in unreserved compartments.

Once, I was sent to Patiala for training. The temperature was so unbearable that my nose bled. There should be more encouragement from the government. Only then, will there be parental support for aspiring sportspersons. But you know something, though facilities are poor in Kerala, a number of athletes hail from there — and eventually migrate.

Jayaram: When we look back at sporting legends, your name is sure to come up. Legends never fade away, whether it is cinema, sports or any other field. See how many chocolate heroes have come and gone. Both you and Wilson are Arjuna awardees, isn't it?

Shiny: Yes, the only couple from the South to get the award. Wilson's record — 13 years national champion in 100 metres backstroke — remains unchallenged.

Jayaram: Are you in touch with your co-athletes?

Shiny: Yes, of course. P. T. Usha, Valsamma and Vandana Rao still come home and we connect through phone too.

Jayaram: That's nice. The scene is quite contrary in films. Particularly, when the heroine's mother makes it to the sets of a multi-star film. (Laughter) Have your children taken a liking for sports?

Shiny: Not really. Nowadays, children don't even walk. I used to run home from school and back during lunchtime. I won the national championship nine months after my first daughter was born. These days, kids have academic pressures. There are tuitions and more tuitions, no time for play. Your son made a memorable debut in films. Just liked him when he pulled out a piece of paper and sought the President's autograph while receiving the national award for "Ende Veedu Appoondeyum."

Jayaram: (Beaming) Yes, he did it impromptu. He's still in school. It's too early to say whether he will settle for a career in films.

Shiny: Do you workout?

Jayaram: Yes, for about three hours (shows Shiny his swanky gym). Do you go to Kerala often?

Shiny: Only during the holidays. The children love Chennai; they don't want to go back. Education is good here.

Jayaram: Same with me. I'm filled with nostalgia when I speak about Kerala. The climate is so good, so is the landscape. Here, it's only hot, hotter, hottest. And river view means Cooum view! (Chuckles) But development wise, there's not much in Kerala because of strikes and politics. What do you think of Onam festivities? Isn't everything packaged now? It gives a synthetic touch to festivals.

Shiny: Actually, people outside the country are celebrating festivals in a more devout manner.

Jayaram: True, "Kaikottikali" reverberates in its authentic form in the U.S. and the Middle East (laughter).

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