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Return of the native

``I like to do comedy, but not always. People come out of their houses to get a break from the monotony of TV serials. So we have to offer them something different''.

You just can't help but like him. His sense of humour will have you in splits. Put him behind a mike, and he can transform into multiple personalities and actually convince you he is someone else. The multi-faceted actor has come a long way from the days he was a mimicry artiste with `Kalabhavan'.

His pairing with Kamal Haasan has always brought out electrifying results from `Chanakiyan' to `Tenali' to the now under production, `Panchathanthiram'. ``But the roles here (in the Tamil film industry) are very limited. There's not too much of a variety of characters offered here. It's mostly stereotyped. I have been very selective,'' a down-to-earth Jayaram, staying back after the first day's shoot of `Panchathanthiram', tells Sudhish Kamath.

MY FIRST few movies in Tamil were very good. I got good roles. `Gokulam', `Purusha Latchanam', `Kolangal', `Murai Maaman', `Periya Edathu Maapillai' were good movies. After that, it was `Tenali' that gave me a big break here,'' says the artiste who has been around for nearly 15 years and more than 150 films.

`Tenali' did indeed establish Jayaram as an actor with amazing potential. He held his own, even when pitted against a veteran of Kamal Haasan's stature.

``I worked with him in `Chanakiyan' some 13 years ago. Working with Kamal then, was like attending a coaching class. And I still continue to learn many more things from him. We are very good friends. Our `wavelengths' match. Especially, in sense of humour'', says Jayaram.

Admittedly, he does Tamil movies, ``only once in a blue- moon'', in spite of being settled in Chennai for 7-8 years now. ``My wife (Parvathy) has more freedom here. That's why I shifted. Here she can go out, buy vegetables and move around freely. But yes, I keep going to Kerala very often. I do 5-6 Malayalam movies a year,'' he explains. His latest superhits are `Malayalee Maamana Vanakkam' and `One Man Show' (playing in the city now).

``After `Tenali', I took a decision that I will do it only if it's different. I got so many offers with the same stereotyped comedy. Since I am doing Tamil only once a year, I am looking out for good characters'', Jayaram reasons.

Recently, he essayed a complex role in `Shesham' (to hit theatres on February 22). ``I like to do comedy, but not always. People come out of their houses to get a break from the monotony of TV serials. So we have to offer them something different''.

Jayaram's directors always seem to repeat him. Not only in Tamil (like K.S.Ravikumar has done), even in Malayalam. He has done 15 movies with Sathyan Anthikad, 14 with Rajasenan and 12 with director Kamal in Malayalam.

Now, what if we tell you that his mother tongue is Tamil. Believe it or not, Jayaram hails from Kumbakonam, Thanjavur district. ``I like small town characters, the ones that are rich with nativity. My tastes are also like that. They are very simple''.

When he's at home, Jayaram likes to stay indoors with his wife and children. ``I like temples, festivals, elephants. I have two elephants. Whenever I get free time, I go to see them in Ottapalam. I bathe them. My children Kannan (short for Kalidasan) and Malavika love to see them too''.

Talking of elephants, the actor is certain that one finds `latchanamulla aana' (elephants with good personality) only in Kerala. When he finds time, he goes to the Sonpur mela, the open market for animals where hundreds of elephants and thousands of cows are traded.

Shifting topic to movies again, he talks about his present projects. Rajeev Kumar's `Shesham' is what he is most excited about.

``The reward for that performance came when Kamal (Haasan) saw the movie and spoke about it for two hours. He said that this was a film that was bringing back the values of filmmaking from the yesteryear. And, he wanted to dub in this every South Indian language''.

`Shesham' is certainly among his best performances, but he is not ready to narrow down to one favourite among his own performances. M.T.Vasudevan Nair's `Theerthadhanam' was a memorable experience.

Then there's another Malayalam project coming up with Sathyan Anthikad and Lohit Das apart from two in Tamil. Manobala's `Naina', is ``a hilarious comedy'' with Jayaram in a double role, playing father and son.

And `Panchathanthiram'. ``No, it has nothing to do with Panchatantra. Five of us (Kamal, Jayaram, Ramesh Arvind, Yuhi Sethu and Sriman) play friends. I play Iyappan Nair, a Malayalee. What we five people do is `Panchathanthiram','' he reveals.

Finally, we ask him how old he is. ``Next year, I will be 18,'' the 37 year old actor quips.

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