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Manoj K. Jayan – The Character Actor

Acting is not just about dialogue delivery. It is a job that requires refined skill and ability to break down the scenes, characters, mannerisms, dialogues and interactions with other characters to play out a perfect scene. All actors play characters, of course, but only some are called a Character Actor. The concept of a character actor is changing these days. A new kind of performer has been raised, one who is defined by his skill and versatility. These actors disappear into roles completely while at the same time imbibe their performances with something memorable. They are the chameleons in the truest sense of that word. The weirder and more singular the role, the more unforgettable the actor stands to become. One such actor who reins the industry with his acting brilliance is Mr. Manoj K. Jayan, who has created a niche of his own for varied roles and characters. Three decades and hundreds of films later, Manoj remains one of the first choices for directors who need a charismatic character actor for their films.

From passion to profession

From his childhood days onwards, Manoj K. Jayan developed passion for movies. He used to imitate movie actors for his friends and their appreciation encouraged him to try his luck in acting. He enjoyed watching movies and would carefully analyse each characters. His journey towards acting began from Southern Film Institute, Trivandrum, where he enrolled to master the skills and techniques involved in acting.

Entering the film world

Actor Manoj K. Jayan garnered his acting skills at the Southern Film Institute. Acting classes provided him opportunity to self-discover his own strengths, style and areas of improvement. Hostel life, theory classes and video practicals in the institute helped Manoj to overcome his inhibitions and shyness. The training and direction he received from the institute transformed him into a more professional and polished actor adding wings to his creative expressions.

In the late 80’s, TV serials were a popular form of movie entertainment back then and several actors made the passage to cinema through serials. Manoj bagged his first role in a TV serial ‘Kumilakal’ (1988) which was telecasted in Doordarshan. The bilingual role in itself was a challenging one and the serial went on to become a super hit in the history of Doordarshan. The character of Rajasekaran portrayed by Manoj in the tele-serial became a household name and an unforgettable character for Malayalees adding a stepping stone for his entry into cinema.

His breakthrough movie was the ‘Perunthachan’ (1990), scripted by M.T. Vasudevan Nair, which turned out to be a milestone in his career. This role gave him numerous openings into film industry. Since, then he went on to master his acting skills acing numerous roles with perfection.

The finest characters

Quite early in his career, Manoj K. Jayan realised that craving for leading main roles only could cost him his career. This decision enabled him to shift seamlessly between genres and exhibit his versatility in the process. The handsome actor has since excelled in portraying a wide range of characters, some tinged with comedy, others more poignant and absorbing, but not one of them exaggerated or superficial.

One of the finest characters that Manoj K. Jayan has enacted on screen till date undoubtedly is the character of ‘Kuttan Thamburaan’ in the Hariharan directed ‘Sargam’, released in 1992.

The role of the diabolic ‘Digambaran’, a black magic practitioner in internationally renowned cinematographer-director Santosh Sivan’s movie ‘Anandhabhadram’ (2005) created waves across the industry. With his larger than life image, kohl lined eyes blazing like charcoals, large fingernails and giant strides; Digambaran was modelled on characters drawn from Kerala’s finest art forms Kathakali and Theyyam.

It was director Hariharan who gave the actor Manoj another pivotal role in his period film ‘Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja’ (2009). A lavishly mounted film with enchanting visuals, ‘Pazhassi Raja’ featured Manoj in the role of a local chieftain ‘Thalakal Chandu’.

The versatile actor’s performance as a hijra in playback singer M.G Sreekumar’s Ardhanari (2012), a highly charged, melodramatic film was also noted.

The hero turned character actor, also provided extreme care in donning the lead role of ‘Kunhiraman’, a Kathakali dancer in the film Kaliyachan, released in 2013.

Multilingual Films

Manoj K. Jayan is one of the few stars of yesteryear who has managed to strike a chord with the younger set of filmmakers and the actor continues to be in demand for strong, character roles till date.

The actor has also ventured into Tamil, Kannada and Telugu films. It was director Mani Ratnam who gave him his first break in kollywood in the Rajinikant-Mammootty-Arvind Swami film Thalapathi (1991). He remains always in contention for vibrant supporting roles. Well entrenched in the industry, the actor’s zest for films stands undiminished. Even though he has only won a few awards, Manoj K. Jayan has endeared himself to the audience with his portrayals in varied roles and along with his veterans.

Master of Versatility

Manoj K. Jayan always showcases versatility in his characters, which are marked by great individuality and fine insight. The actor, who is completing three decades in the Malayalam film industry, says he’s still perfecting the art. A rough scan through the characters he has played, one can’t help, but think if Mr. Manoj has acquired the mythical power of ‘Parakaya Pravesha’ – the act of leaving one’s body and entering another. Be it a ruthless cop, a struggling layman, a fierce warrior, a fearless rebel, an immature adult, an evil black magician, a brainless goon, devilish gangster or an egoistic singer — name it, this man has done it all, with such ease and precision. The actor, looks back with pride at having given his cent per cent to all his attempts. He says “I have never tried to market myself or considered myself to be an aggressive actor, but I have put my heart and soul into everything I have done so far.”

From full-length roles to cameos, Manoj has played his part very well. That’s because screen time has never been a criteria for him.  He believes that the focus should always be on the identity of the character and the trail it leaves behind.

A career of acting

The actor believes that acting is a balance of both good and bad roles. Experience is of great importance in this career, as experience leads to bigger and higher roles. Manoj considers himself to be immensely lucky to have reached where he is now. He owes his success to some legendary directors and scriptwriters. He was fortunate enough to have been associated with legendary directors such as Hariharan, Bharathan, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Sathyan Anthikad, Kamal, M.T. Vasudevan Nair to name a few. Although, he have done close to 150 movies, he is more recognised for probably about 10 great roles. Even today, he can feel their impact and see the change they have brought to his acting skills.

Director’s Actor

Right from the beginning, Manoj K. Jayan has been lucky enough to associate with legendary directors all of those, his best ones. Asked about his flawless performances as the Kuttan Thampuran of Sargam (1992), Anto of Chamayam (1993) or Kunjunni Namboothiri of Parinayam (1994), Manoj says it’s not his talent, but the director’s vision that made all those roles memorable.

“Directors like them make you do it and bring out your best. It has nothing to do with my talent.  Each one is a different school of learning — for Bharatettan, its perfection; for Hariharan, its strictness,” he recalls, adding, “while M.T. sir is someone who ensures that you know the whole script very well, Adoor sir doesn’t want any rehearsals and so, you get the script only during the take.”

Call Manoj an actor for all ages; he is quite at ease while working with both masters and new-generation film-makers like Alphonse Puthren, Vineeth Sreenivasan and Rishi Sivakumar. He adds that “the working style is different for any director, so there is no basis in classifying films as old generation or new generation. Movie making is the same process; it’s just that their attires are different.”

Quoting on his character selection criteria, Manoj says that he has always tried to break free of clichés. The actor who always opts for different narrative and challenging characters doesn’t wish to enact the same roles again and wait till the typecast spree is ended.  He is open to all kind of roles and likes eccentric characters which gives him space for creativity.

An actor turned singer

Singing is not new for actor Manoj K. Jayan. He has grown up in a family where music plays an important role. Despite being the son of a renowned Carnatic musician, as a child Manoj was not keen to learn Carnatic music. He however, chose to tread a different path. “Art and culture is in my blood,” he says.  He took up acting since he refused to make a name for himself riding on his father’s fame. He made the transition to the film industry while simultaneously registering a brief but successful stint in TV serials.

Later on he recognized his talent for music and still regrets for not sharpening his skills on the same. He has showcased his talent of singing by lending his voice as a playback singer in albums and films such as Ayyappatheertham, Saiver Thirumeni, Onnum Mindathe etc.

A Multifaceted Actor

Known for his subtle mannerism, the versatile actor has so far played varied villainous, heroic and comic roles enthralling the audience with his ‘unique’ style. He believes that a great actor should have keen insight into human behaviour, and then only he can effectively convey the emotions.

“My mind is like a blank sheet of paper. I think that’s how a good artiste should ideally be. I don’t feel the need to seek roles only for the applause. There’s a danger in doing that and failures may follow. For me, each film should be different from the other,” shares the actor.

Manoj K. Jayan says that for him, Acting is a balance of both good and bad roles. Despite earning a crucial name in the film industry, he regrets taking up few roles. For him acting is his livelihood and he took up some projects for financial considerations during hard-pressed times. But, when he saw the final result of some those films, he faulted his decision.

Stardom is just a Cliché

The cult of being a celebrity has pervasive influence on our lives. It is a surprising fact that, Manoj have never gone after stardom, though he have done about 40-45 main roles. The concept of a ‘Movie Star’ is and always has been a marketing tool created and perpetuated by the film makers. He doesn’t believe in the commoditization of actors and is least interested in self-marketing. He doesn’t want his career longevity to be tied to his celebrity status. According to him, “for stardom, you need to have a specific focus and inclination. You need to cultivate a good number of fans associations and much more. In my case, I just study my role, act and then go home.”


He has won three Kerala state film awards for Best Second Actor for films ‘Sargam’ in 1992, ‘Keralavarma Pazhassi Raja’ in 2009 and ‘Kaliyachan’ in 2012. Apart from this, he has won numerous awards including Film Critics Award, Best Villian Award, Bharath Gopi Award etc.

Impact of State Awards on Career

People of all profession want to be respected and valued for their contribution. Awards and recognitions add pride to their career. Manoj K. Jayan never expected that he would ever get even one State award and feel extremely happy about having received three of them. He feels extremely elated about them and says, “That’s well above what I had dreamed of achieving”. Moreover, the actor says that all this fame doesn’t ply his trade with awards. When it happens, it’s a great recognition”.

On directorial debut

After years of on-screen success, many talented actors decide to take their chances on the other side of the camera. With so many great actors taking to directing, Manoj have so far not made an effort into Direction.

It is so because, he feels Direction is not that easy. He says “One need to learn the craft well. I don’t feel confident yet to take up direction and would prefer to stick to acting for the time being.” On the counterpart, he also says, someday he might take upon direction by chance.

Upcoming projects

A couple of projects are lined up for Manoj K. Jayan. The actor is looking forward for his role in Prithviraj-starrer My Story and a guest appearance in director Suveeran’s Mazhayath. He is also involved in the Tamil thriller Pattinapakkam. A couple of history-based movies are also in the pipeline. He will also be reprising the role in Amal Neerad’s sequel to Big B titled Bilal.


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