Twinkly-eyed star

Twinkly-eyed star

Her big breakthrough was in the immensely popular 1996-97 TV serial Mayamruga as a vivacious, twinkly-eyed girl who enchanted thousands of Kannada television viewers. Enter Jayashree Raj as the popular Sharada. She worked simultaneously in two other popular serials of the time, Janani and Samagama. Her quiet debut was in Kathegaara, a collection of short stories adapted to the small screen, in P Lankesh’s Umapatiya Scholarship Yatre. But her role in Mayamruga marked the beginning of her whirlwind yatre, with 50 serials and 28 films till date. Serials ran to 13, 26 or 52 episodes at the time she entered the scene. ‘Mega’ serials had not yet come into vogue. When they did, Jayashree played lead roles in mega serials that crossed 1,000 episodes, including Rathasapthami, Guptagamini and Punyakoti.

Starting early

Jayashree began acting in school plays at Nehru Smaraka Vidya Kendra in Bengaluru. She completed her 10th standard, but could never get a formal college education. “I regret that. My career took off really well when I was just a school girl. I haven’t experienced what every young kid should…attending college, bunking classes, memories of hanging out…I don’t have a ‘college buddy’ or ‘best friend.’ Whoever I know are from the industry. I was busy, sometimes in two serials a day. I completed my BA through correspondence courses purely to keep my parents happy.” Ironically, one of the three subjects for Jayashree’s BA degree was Education.

“The only time I physically entered a college was when my mother Jagadamba was studying D.Pharma at PES College. She was a rank student. I was a two-year-old who was allowed in with her. My daughter can’t believe it. ‘Seriously, you didn’t go to college, amma?’ she asks. I didn’t regret this until my daughter reached high school. Now I feel that I have missed an important part of my life,” she says wistfully.

Her daughter, Anagha Abhivandana, is now 13 years old — the exact age her mother was when she entered the TV industry.

Jayashree is married to Rakesh Chandru, who is also an actor and producer in the Kannada industry. He has worked in over 25 serials and 10 films as an actor, and has handled over 20 TV productions. Her initial interactions with Chandru were stormy. He was the production manager of Brungadha Benneri, a successful TV serial that she was doing the lead role in. “Chandru would deliberately get my dates wrong and create confusion. We used to have heated arguments. I would not budge since I knew what dates I had allotted. He kept trying to get me out of the serial.”

Why her future husband had done all that would fit any film script. “Chandru debuted opposite me in Samagama as a waiter who had to serve me coffee. He wanted to rehearse the scene since it was his first time in front of the camera. Without meaning to hurt him, I told him that such a simple scene required no rehearsal. He was furious. As production manager, he had to drop me home after shooting. He told his future mother-in-law that her daughter had too much 'attitude'. Later, when some of the team members of Brungadha… also mistook my practice of keeping to myself for 'arrogance', they were easily able to influence him against me!” she laughs.

Things got better when Chandru needed her help with props for the serial. And the same Chandru not only started reworking shoot schedules to suit her, but also proposed to her — over the phone! Jayashree was travelling in a car with others for a film launch function, and there was little that she could say except answer in monosyllables. Fast forward to a happy ending – they have now been married for 14 years. Their inquisitive daughter “seems more interested in technical details and in being behind the camera.” But her mother is making sure that she gets a formal education first.

Behind the camera

Jayashree's shift to direction was fulfilling a passion that she had nurtured for years. “After a certain age, an actor would naturally be relegated to playing older characters. I wanted to do more than that,” Jayashree explains. It also followed a bewildering drought of offers that followed the simultaneous culmination of three serials in January 2014 in which she had played a lead role – Muktha Muktha, Rathasapthami and Shubhamangala. This for an actor who had been much sought after for close to 18 years.

She sees 2014-16 as years of struggle and self-doubt. She has still not understood why roles stopped coming her way. Anchoring the reality show Seere Beka Seere for Kasthuri TV kept her going until the couple got the nod from Udaya TV for producing and directing Aramane, currently on air on Udaya channel. “Aramane came like an oasis for a thirsty traveller in a desert,” she says. The couple’s dreams include making a feature film.

Jayashree’s parents Rajanna and Jagadamba used to run a tiny but popular pharmacy in JP Nagar until 2003, dispensing drugs and friendly advice. It certainly seems to have rubbed off on Jayashree, who seems to have found the right prescription to fight the odds. Her eyes continue to twinkle as brightly
as ever.

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