Jayaraj – Acclaimed film director of Malayalam cinema with 7 National film awards

Jayarajan Rajasekharan Nair, professionally known as Jayaraj is a highly acclaimed film director and screenwriter of Malayalam cinema with multiple award winning movies to his credit. In a career spanning to three decades, he received 7 National film awards apart from 5 Kerala state film awards, 3 Filmfare awards and many other honours. He has directed more than 40 movies belonging to different genres.

Best known for directing movies in ‘Navarasa series’, till now he has made 7 movies in this series. His films are filled with breath-taking performances by its star cast, and Desadanam, Daivanamathil, Shantham, Kaliyattam, Bhayanakam, Ottaal, Karunam, Veeram etc are among his major works. 5 of his movies have won multiple international film awards. He has also done commercial hits such Thilakkam, Sneham, Johnnie Walker, Spoanam, Paithrukam, High Way, Kudumbasametham, 4 The People, The Train etc.

Jayaraj started off with commercial movies before exploring off-beat themes

Jayaraj was born in Kottayam in year 1960. During his engineering days at the capital city, he started watching world classic movies, and also attended international film festivals. Slowly he got drawn towards the world of cinema. Later he met acclaimed director Bharathan, who was a neighbour of his sister in Chennai during those days. It was his stepping stone to the new world of films.

He joined film industry in year 1986 as an assistant director to Bharathan, for the movie Chilamb, starring Shobana and Rehman. The director got impressed by his work. He worked under the director for 6 films which include Oru Minnaminunginte Nurunguvettam and Vaishali, before he turned a full-fledged director through Vidyarambham in 1990.

When he directed hit commercial films in a row in the first half of 1990s, no one might have imagined that he is to give some amazing contributions to Malayalam cinema in the next 25 years, and that some of his movies will become landmark works, earning him the title of director of top class.

His works of first half of 1990s include – Aakasha Kottayile Sultan, Johnnie Walker, High Way, Thumboli Kadappuram, Arabia, Kudumbasametham, Paithrukam, Sopanam etc. With movies such as Kudumbasametham, Paithrukam and Sopanam, he started showing new direction in his work, and all these movies chose Kerala’s traditional culture as theme. Many of his works later, such as Desadanam and Kaliyattam, and all works based on the theme of Navarasa, are deeply rooted in Kerala’s traditional culture, Hindu society and its culture etc.

Desadanam and Kaliyattam changed his path forever

Nandita Das starred in his 2001 acclaimed movie, Kannaki

Desadanam (1996) earned him the first National award. The movie bagged Best Feature Film in Malayalam, and also Kerala State Film Award for Best Director. The following year he earned his second National award through Kaliyattam, an adaptation of William Shakespeare’s play Othello. The movie bagged him National award for best director, and Suresh Gopi bagged National film award for best actor.

After winning two national awards in a row, critics began to count his name among acclaimed filmmakers of new generation. He never disheartened them later, and went on to direct highly acclaimed movies one after another, and also bagged 6 more National Film awards. Shantham earned National award for best movie, while Bhayanakam earned him the honours of best director and best adapted screenplay. Daivanamathil, Vellapokkathil – The Deluge and Ottaal were other National award winning works.

However he explored commercial themes occasionally, and received both commercial success and failures later. In commercial genre, his movies like Thilakkam and 4 The People became commercial hits. His high budget movies like Millennium Stars and Veeram flopped. His acclaimed offbeat movies like Loudspeaker, Makalkku, Anandabhairavi, Thalolam, Daivanamathil, Shantham, Bhayanakam, Ottaal etc were not commercially successful. Naayika, Pakarnnattam, Camel Safari, Of The People, Gulmohar etc were flops.

Jayaraj – Some interesting and less-known facts

1. His wife Sabitha Jayaraj is a costume designer of Malayalam cinema and actress. She is a recipient of state film honours for costume designing.

2. In 2015 his movie, Ottaal swept all the top awards in the 20-year history of the International Film Festival of Kerala. It is the first Malayalam film to reach this feat.

3. He holds B. Tech degree in Electronics and Communication, which he completed from prestigious CET, Thiruvananthapuram city.

4. He was deeply influenced by the movies – Kurosawa’s Rashomon and DeSica’s Bicycle Thieves, during his academic days, and later he joined film stream.

5. His first movie on the theme of Navarasa – Karunam was released in 1999. It was followed by Shantham, Bheebhatsa, Adbutham and Veeram. Among all, Bheebhatsa is the single Hindi movie.

6. He frequently worked with Suresh Gopi in many movies. In fact the actor earned his single National award for best actor for Kaliyattam, directed by Jayaraj.

7. He directed one Tamil movie, Sila Nerangalil starring Navya Nair, based on the theme of incarnation and revenge. The movie was a commercial hit.

8. Though he has worked with all superstars of modern Malayalam cinema, he is yet to work with Mohanlal.

9. Prabhudeva did the choreography of ‘Shantamee Rathriyil’ song of Johny Walker. Still then Mammootty has been criticized for his dance moves, especially after the release of ‘Kanalkattu’. But Mammootty earned praises for his dance steps of this particular song, which became a trendsetter. The song was shot at AVM studio in a single night, as Mammootty hesitated to shoot before audience.

10. Footballer I. M. Vijayan started his film journey as a lead actor through his highly acclaimed Shantham.

11. The movie Shantham also marked the debut of cinematographer Ravi Varman. As the movie belonged to realistic theme, the director provided natural lights only (no extra light). Yet Varman took the challenge, did a lot of hardships for his camera work and earned Best Cinematographer Award at EME France Film Festival. Later he did memorable works such as Anniyan, Vettaiyaadu Vilaiyaadu, Dasavathaaram, Goliyon Ki Raasleela Ram-Leela, Barfi etc.

12. Winner of 7 state awards (highest in state) and a single National award for best cinematographer, M. J. Radhakrishnan, Deshadanam was a turning point of his career. He did only two less-heard movies earlier. Deshadanam earned him the first state award. Azhakappan was initially assigned the project, who was not avail during the shooting. Jayaraj got impressed by two-day work of Radhakrishnan, and later assigned him the full project.

13. Cinematographer Nikhil S. Praveen first worked with him for a documentary film, followed by a short film. Impressed by his work, Jayaraj offered him the cinematography of Bhayanakam. The maiden work earned Nikhil National award for best cinematographer.

14. He gave opportunity to struggling singer-composer Jassie Gift through the movie 4 The People. The song, Lajjavathiye became a smash hit and trendsetter and there was no turning back for the singer after that. He also composed music for Jayaraj hit film, Rain Rain Come Again same year, and songs like Themma Themma Themmadikkate and Nillu Nillu became popular among youth.

‘Lajjavathiye’ Song from ‘4 The People’ became a rage across the Malayalam speaking population

15. Just like Navarasa series, he made two sequels for the movie 4 The PeopleBy the People (2005) and Of The People (2008).

16. He met his wife Sabitha for the first time when he was in search for a Brahmin ancestral home to be used as the shooting location for Paithrikam. He saw at the window of the upper stairs of the home. She was present at the home to celebrate her grandfather’s 80th birthday.

17. He doesn’t want to stay in films forever. He has a dream script and movie in his mind. When he completes it, he may leave film world and choose something else.


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A freelance writer and blogger by profession since October 2011, interested in writing over a wide range of topics. Hope you enjoy my writings. I belong to one of the beautiful places of the world, Kerala, nicknamed as 'God's own country'.

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