Yesterday, at this time, I was waiting outside the ICU at the MIMS hospital, Calicut. I have only known him professionally and just for the past few years, but around me were those who have known him for decades. As we waited anxiously to know his condition after the accident, my thoughts rewound to the first time I met Jagathy Sreekumar.
It was on a busy film set and he had just packed up for the day. In a few minutes I narrated the story to him and asked him to be part of Manjadikuru. And he said yes. As simple as that. No pandering about, no “I have to check my dates”, no “Who is my co-star?”, no “Please discuss the terms with my manager” etc.
Closer to the date I wanted to reconfirm things but realised that he does not even carry a mobile number… he prefers to work on old fashioned trust!
Everyone warned me that with Jagathy Sreekumar, one has no idea what he will do once you call “Action”. This scared me a bit because I was quite particular about the character he was to play. But once on set it was clear that he was a director’s actor- completely adapting to the style of the director-in-charge. Very quick to understand the kind of film it was and sensitive to the kind of treatment we were creating, he fit right into the ensemble cast – not a mannerism was out of place. And within that scope he enriched and accentuated his character. A thorough professional.
After that ensemble experience, I was really keen to work with him again, on something that he could sink his teeth into. When Happy Journey (Kerala Cafe) was to happen, I had only one actor in mind. If he had said ‘no’, I wouldn’t have made that film.
Once again, I was on a busy film set narrating the story to him. This time his dates were completely booked out but he said that he would manage it along with the other shoots. Naively I said – “wont it tire you out?” He smiled and said “I promise you, it wont show in my performance”.
As we shot Happy Journey, I was in two minds about the climax – “should we reveal it was a joke or shouldn’t we?” He saw my predicament and reacted “Anjali, you can make your character a fool, but never make the audience out to be fools.”
Months later, I met him at Kerala Cafe’s screening at the Middle Eastern Film Festival. He was super excited as he told me all that had happened on the first day of the festival. I was shocked to know that it was his first Red Carpet experience – after some 1500 films! Surely he deserved better. As we watched the film, he sat next to me munching plenty popcorn and sipping cola like any movie-goer. When the audience broke into spontaneous applause during our segment – he turned to me “Anjali, this is the real award! Not those things you collect on some stage- enjoy it!”
Recently I was part of a biopic show Katha Ithu Vare (Mazhavil Manorama) on Jagathy Sreekumar. I went in all excited to surprise him but I was surprised instead. I think he spoke far more about me than I spoke about him! But I was really touched by the confidence he expressed in my work. Coming from someone like him, it mattered a lot to me.
A nurse interrupted my thoughts in the waiting room : “Are you from Jagathy Sreekumar’s family?”
I didnt know what to say. For a man who has given all he has to the industry, arent all of us his family members? It was clear that the audience too is a part of that family – when the doctors requested for blood, there were so many people, willing to offer it for him.
That’s when someone at the hospital said – “Jagathy Sreekumar belongs to everyone – He is a public asset.”
Prayers that you get well soon Sir.
From your family.