He was extremely reluctant to sign on the dotted line for the role and it took all the persuasive powers of the debutant producer, acclaimed singer M G Sreekumar, to get him to agree.
The role was that of an eunuch in the film Ardhanari, and the strapping Manoj K Jayan, a youth icon admired for his good looks, was apprehensive whether he could convincingly pull it off.
But the genius of National award-winning make-up man Pattinam Rasheed, coupled with the actor’s own research into the subject, ensured that Manoj did not take a wrong step, and the film’s strong point was his performance.
Manoj, son of the famous classical singer Jayan, had developed a penchant for films very early in life, opting for a career in cinema rather than following in his father’s footsteps and training in classical music. Now, with nearly 150 films under his belt, mostly in his native Malayalam, and a few in Tamil and Telugu, this accomplished actor, who had done a course in cinema at the Southern Film Institute in Trivandrum, has become much sought after for strong character roles, each of which he invests with his natural acting style.
He debuted on the small screen first in a double role in Kumilakal, and was soon noticed and picked up by director Ali Akbar for his film, Mamalakalkapurathu, which unfortunately never saw the light of day. It was left to directors like Hariharan to shape the actor’s fortunes and his Sargam, in which he essayed the role of Kuttan Thamburan, almost fetched Manoj the National Award for Best Actor. However, Manoj had to rest content with a couple of state and other awards.
Earlier, he had also turned up trumps with the M T Vasudevan Nair-scripted and Ajayan directed Perunthachan, where he managed to get noticed, while thespian Thilakan stole the thunder in the lead role.
Since then, the talented Manoj never had to look back and has never faced any dearth of good roles. The only regret perhaps for this one-time hero was that he had to play second fiddle to superstars like Mammooty and Mohanlal. But even here, Manoj has been fortunate that many of his roles have been significant, earning him critical acclaim.
One of the roles in Hariharan’s Pazhassi Raja, where Mammooty played the lead, Manoj’s role was almost a parallel to that of the main protagonist, and his portrayal was so convincing that he won a number of coveted awards too. His portrayal of the villain Digambaran in cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan’s horror film Ananthabhadram was again something out of the ordinary, and even though Prithviraj was the hero of the film, it was Manoj who hogged the limelight. The menacing looks, the costumes, and the fire in the eyes, all added grist to the role, and Manoj, with his distinct acting improvisations, easily rose to the director’s expectations.
There have been several outstanding films studding his career, and among them could be counted films like Palayam, Chamayam, Sopanam, Venkalam, Sukrutham, Kunkumacheppu, Ravanaprabhu, Natturajavu, Rajamanickam, Bada Dost, Mayavi, Madhyavenal, Thoovalkattu, Mizhigal Sakshi, and Seniors among others. Manoj has been a favourite with top directors including Bharathan, Shaji Kailas, Sathyan Anthikkad, Sibi Malayil, Lenin Rajendran, Blessy and Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Adoor’s film, though based on a female-oriented subject, nevertheless had enough meat for Manoj, and with the assistance of the master director, Manoj could get into the skin of the role.
However, the actor is now awaiting the completion and release of his film Kaliyachan, where, for the first time in his career, he has essayed the role of a Kathakali artiste. The film is directed by Farooq Abdul. His choice of this film is in consonance with his desire to take on challenging roles that bring out the best in him, as far as histrionic talents are concerned.
In recent times, he was seen in the hugely successful Thattathin Marayathu, directed by the young singer-director Vineet Srinivasan, son of veteran actor-director Srinivasan. Manoj is keen to be labelled as a contemporary actor rather than a seasoned one, as he feels that the latter tag reminds him of his advancing age, though at 46, he still has a long way to go. Manoj has films like Lokpal directed by Joshi, Kukkilayar helmed by Nemam Pushparaj, Sohan Lal’s Kadhaveed and Bhadrasanam in his kitty, and has also signed award-winning director Priyanandan’s next film.
Mani Ratnam’s Dhalapathi, starring two superstars Rajanikant and Mammooty, was Manoj’s launch pad in Tamil and in the wake of its success came a number of films where he was cast mostly in negative roles. Manoj accepted everything that was offered to him and luckily for him, the roles were usually well-defined. Hits like Dhool, Thirumalai, Azhagesan, Thirupaachi, Mannin Maindhan, Sringaram, Thimuru, Ellam Avan Seyal, Villu, Thiruttu Payale and Billa 2 endeared him to Tamil audiences. Manoj has also forayed into Telugu with films like Sarigamalu, Souryam Veedu and Nayudu LLB, and in Kannada with Ugra Narasimha.
A dedicated professional, Manoj has also been a big draw as a singer and has been an integral part of the industry’s music tours abroad. His preoccupation with acting, however, has hardly left him with any time to hone his singing skills, though he takes a great interest in the field.