Jayan was a Master Chief Petty Officer in the Indian Navy, before he came to films and rose to fame as an actor in a very short time, appearing as an action hero in numerous films during the 1970s. He died at the age of 41, at the peak of his popularity, as a result of an accident while filming a dangerous stunt involving a flying helicopter that crashed while he was hanging on to it. He has since then become a legendary symbol of daredevilry and masculinity with numerous inspirations, imitations, his unfading popularity being widely used to promote new-age movies, actors and brands and an ever-growing fan-base spanning generations.
His superhuman image has also transformed him into an iconic figure of popular culture among Malayalis around the world with widespread impersonation on stage and television programs based on his screen persona. It was accompanied by a cartoon, email and SMS phenomenon in the early 2000s, portraying him as a comic superhero with unique quotes of superhuman strength attributed to the action star becoming widespread. These movements were fuelled by a renewed fascination with his style of dialogue delivery and his machismo image. These were claimed to honour his memories but were also criticised for parodying the legendary actor years after his death.
Jayan was born in Kollam, Travancore as the first child of his father Thevalli, Kottaram Veetil Madhavan Pillai and mother Bharathiyamma. His birthname was Krishnan Nair. He had a younger brother named Soman Nair. Malayalam actor Jayabharathi who was his first cousin introduced him to the film industry. Jayan's formal education ended at 10th grade at Kollam Govt. Boys High School when he joined the Indian Navy. The first accolades for his acting skills reached him when he was a naval sailor. He used to act in plays at various functions like anniversaries. The encouragement from his friends and colleagues in the Navy gave him the desire to act in films. Jayan served in the Indian Navy for 16 years, culminating in the rank of Master CPO. By the end of his navy days he had begun efforts to start small businesses at Ernakulam and became a regular inhabitant of the Cochin Tourist Home. During his life at Ernakulam he would meet some of his lifelong friends. It was such a chance meeting while on leave, with Rajan Prakash who is the veteran Malayalam actor Jose Prakash's son, who owned a dry cleaning shop in Cochin, that eventually landed him a role in the movie Shapa Moksham. A year later, he left the Indian Navy and started trying his hand at various civilian jobs, working for companies in Cochin for a few years till his acting career began to yield.
Jayan did make a few random uncredited appearances in some movies of the early 1970s first of which was in Postmane Kanmanilla. These minor appearances were before he attained the screen name Jayan. According to his nephew, he had the role of a vampire like character in an unnamed project costarred by Vidhubala, which was never released. His first appearance with the name Jayan was in the movie Shapa Moksham which is usually credited as his first film.
The name "Jayan" (English: "The Victor") was given to him by veteran Malayalam actor Jose Prakash on the sets of Shapa Moksham. Jayan started his career by acting in minor roles starting with Shapa Moksham (1974). Jayan got his first major break appearing as a villain character in Panchami (1976) playing the role of a forest ranger. Jayan's performance in this film was appreciated in the industry and his physical appearance was also noticed for the first time. His next notable role was in Thacholi Ambu (1978) in which he appeared in a supporting role. In the same year, he acted as a sage in the Sreekumaran Thampi film Etho Oru Swapnam which was well received by critics. But what made Jayan a superstar was his antihero role in Sharapancharam (1979, Bed of Arrows). He catapulted to fame riding on machismo roles that endeared him to the masses, and he established himself as one of the most popular Malayalam film actors of his time. He is generally regarded as the first action hero in Malayalam cinema.
Sharapancharam broke all records set in the Malayalam industry till its time and became the highest grosser of 1979. Its records were broken by another Jayan film Angadi (Market) in the following year which cemented his popularity among the masses. In films like Manushya Mrugam, Aavesham etc. he played double roles. During his career, he received only a few critically appreciated roles perhaps partly due to his commercial hero image and partly due to the lack of films that garnered critical appreciation at the time. The focus was always on his unmatched drawing power as an action star and by 1980, at the peak of his career, he had attained a genuine superhero image. Movies exploited Jayan's masculine physique and he appeared bare-chested in numerous scenes. His on-screen attire (most famously his Elvis bellbottoms), his masculine image and later the nature of his death transformed him into a legend in Kerala. Jayan was also known for his unique method of dialogue delivery and he has contributed many memorable lines to the Malayalam film history.
Jayan acted in several multistar movies mostly with Prem Nazir. The duo acted in films like Nayattu, Love in Singapore, Chandrahasam, Thacholi Ambu, Kannappanunni, Palattu Kunjikkannan, Mamangam, Prabhu etc. all of which were top grossers at the box office. He also acted with other popular actors of the time like Soman, Sukumaran and Madhu in many films. In early films before 1979 (like Thacholi Ambu and Panchami) he had negative or supporting roles. But later films in the beginning of 1980 relied heavily on Jayan's drawing power as an action hero and placed him as the central character. In 1980, the duo jayan and Prem Nazir were cast in Ariyapedatha Rahasiyam by P. Venu, that showcased the famous fight scene in Malayalam cinema. Prem Nazir agreed to play a supporting role in "Nayattu" very unlikely for a superstar of those times. He had agreed to do this as a token of friendship with Jayan and the director Sreekumaran Thamby.The duo had many actions films together like 'irumbazhikal" "love in Singapore" etc. where the box office draw was huge.
On 16 November 1980, Jayan was killed in an accident on the set of the movie Kolilakkam (English: Shockwave). The climactic scene of the movie was being filmed in Sholavaram, near Chennai, Tamil Nadu. Jayan always performed his own stunts, and for this movie he was performing a particularly dangerous stunt that involved him boarding an airborne helicopter from a moving motorbike. The shot was accepted by the director in the first take; altogether three shots were filmed.
According to the film's production executive, Jayan insisted on yet another re-take as he was not satisfied with its perfection. During the re-take, the helicopter lost its balance and crashed along with Jayan who was hanging onto the landing skids, and later succumbed to his injuries.
After his death was confirmed, a slide was added during the theatre show of his movie Deepam which was running in packed houses, informing his death to the viewers who witnessed it with absolute shock and disbelief. A large number of his fans burst into tears and ran out of the buildings while many continued to watch the movie, refusing to believe it and taking it for a genius promotion for some upcoming project.
Jayan's dead body was taken to Thiruvananthapuram via aeroplane and later it was taken to his home in Kollam, where he was cremated. Thousands paid homages to the late actor, and the police had to take huge measures to prevent the flow. His mother Bharathiyamma became bedridden after this incident, and she too died two years later.
Some conspiracy theories emerged regarding the circumstances of his death, primarily because the pilot and his co-star Balan K. Nair, who was in the helicopter, survived with minor or no injuries. Nevertheless, it has been confirmed as a genuine accident.
After Jayan's death, several films were released claiming to be his last film, including the genuine one, Kolilakkam. In all these films Jayan's voice was dubbed by Aleppey Ashraf, a popular mimicry artist of the time. Many projects meant for him were recast like "Thusharam" by I.V. Sasi, P.G. Vishwambaran's "Sphodanam" and Sasi Kumar's "DhruvaSangamam". Numerous other projects were cancelled entirely. One stunt scene and two songs were already shot with Jayan for C.V. Hariharans "Garjanam". But after his death it was recast with Rajanikanth becoming his second film in Malayalam released in 1981.
Due to his unrivalled popularity that continued many years after his death, random bit scenes were added to numerous films that showed random gestures or shots of him walking by the side during fight scenes. Attempts were made to bring in imposters who tried to imitate his style and mannerisms enabling several artists from the field of mimicry to show up in the big screen. But these experiments failed miserably and proved especially ineffective in fight and stunt scenes. Then directors and producers started a search for new actors to replace him. This movement led to debuts of actors who resembled Jayan in physical appearance (like Ratheesh), those with stage names sounding similar to his (like for example, his own brother who came as Ajayan) and those with similar mannerisms and style (like Bheeman Raghu). One of them, Mammootty who started with the stage name Sajin, would later go on to become one of the popular future stars in the industry.
However all these attempts to replace Jayan with a new star with a similar image yielded disappointing results. It is now one of the most popular quotes in Malayalam cinema "Jayan's throne remains vacant and will forever be so".
In the late 1990s and early 21st century, there was a resurgence of Jayan's screen persona in Kerala and his old movie scenes came to prominence again. It owed mostly to programs by popular mimicry stage artists in the State, whose imitations of the star's mannerisms caught on and soon became commonplace in college stage events, television programs and mimicry stage shows along with quotes of superhuman strength known as Jayan quotes. However it has been pointed out that many grotesquely imitated screen dialogues of Jayan are not actually his, but that of dubbing artist Aleppey Ashraf who dubbed for many of his characters after his death.
The "come back" of Jayan and his renewed popularity lately may taken as an affirmation that Jayan has not been replaced even nearly three decades after his death. Today Jayan is best remembered as the first and best action star of Malayalam cinema, so far, besides his trademark colourful attire, risky stunts, machismo mannerisms and unique speaking style. He has rightly won immortality in the hearts of the Malayalam film fans as a martyr in his yearning to thrill and entertain them even by putting his life at stake. Madhu, a famous actor prominent in the 1960s, once stated in an interview, "Jayan will forever be young and alive. No one can ever visualise him as an old man."
A film titled Avatharam presently under production, is attempting to bring back his screen persona using advanced technologies. A documentary on Jayan's life and death Jayan – The Man behind the Legend is nearing completion for release in the near future.
Jayan is perhaps the only actor thus far in the history of Malayalam film industry who remains a marketable superstar decades after his demise, to this day. In the state of Kerala, he is a true icon of popular culture whose life and image has made him a legend over time.
Through his machismo roles and staggering stunt feats, Jayan had attained a reallife Superhero image amongst the fans, masses and colleagues alike. His colourful attire and unique base voice also helped him capture the imagination of the average viewer as the manly action hero. Along with these, his trademark styles and mannerisms made him a campus hero and youth idol of his time. Summing up, Jayan's image among the masses was that of a daring superhuman who would perform seemingly impossible deeds and accomplish extraordinary feats.
Jayan is the most commercially successful superstar till date in the Malayalam industry with a near 90% success rate. The years 1979, 1980 and 1981 became known as 'Jayan years' in the industry due to widespread release and success of his movies. His films Sharapancharam and Angadi, released in 1979 and 1980 respectively, were record breakers and became the highest grossers of their respective years. His final film Kolilakkam was the highest grosser in 1981. The noteworthy point is that a large percentage of films released during his peak years lacked a strong plot and were mostly cheap low budget remakes of successful movies from other language sectors of Indian cinema. Many of these films came out astoundingly successful due to his sheer presence and some avoided failures due to his small cameo appearances. Thousands of fans used to visit theatres repeatedly just to see his fascinating stunts and fight scenes.
Jayan was a high risk taker and throughout his career, he was popular for stellar performances in fight and stunt sequences. Dangerous and thrilling stunts were often featured in action films with Jayan in the lead. These were usually highlighted during fight scenes as added promotions to his machismo image and daredevilry. Numerous movies in which he has acted have one or more notable stunt performances.
A few prominent examples may be Puthiya Velicham ('New Light',1979) in which he performs train stunts jumping onto and from a fast running goods train, Aavesham ('Inspiration',1979) which shows the actor swimming through the dangerous waters of Hogenakkal Falls through a major part of the climax sequence without using any kind of safety measures. Movies like Thadavara ('Prison',1981) and Sharapancharam (1979) demonstrate his brilliant horseriding skills performing almost effortlessly on horseback while films like Mamangam involved dangerous fights with wild animals. In a film called Moorghan ('Cobra', 1981) he broke through a brick wall riding on a motor bike (a Royal Enfield Bullet) and it also featured sequences that had the actor sliding through ropes tied at high elevations. Perhaps the most famous movie stunt featuring Jayan came in Chandrahasam ('Moonsword',1980) in which he held on to the UV clamp of a massive ship crane and was elevated to a height of around 200 feet before jumping off to the top of the vessel. In one of his final stunt scenes, in Ariyappedatha Rahasyam ('Secret never known', 1981) he was involved in a fight scene with an elephant.
The meteoric rise of Jayan had literally a texture changing impact on the Malayalam film industry. It changed forever the hero concept that existed previously for many years and gave rise to a new genre of film characters with more manly characteristics.
Most critics often consider Jayan's main hero role in Sharapancharam, Angadi, Venalil Oru Mazha and Puthiya Velicham to be his best. His most popular character may be the educated labourer in Angadi. The sage's role played by him in Etho Oru Swapnam was well appreciated by critics and would easily feature among his memorable roles. The supporting role in Kannappanunni, Thacholi Ambu, the villainous ranger in Panchami and the rapist in Kanthavalayam are also critically acclaimed characters. Some other popular roles were in films like Ithikkara Pakki, Mamangam, Puthiya Velicham, Karimpana, Ariyapedatha Rahasiyam, Chaakara and Kazhukan. While acknowledging his undisputed popularity as a commercial superstar that has never faded over time, general critical opinion on his skills as an actor is divided. While there are criticisms from some corners that he depended more on his features like catching physique, base voice, personal charisma, unique style and mannerisms to garner attention, many others rate him as a great actor who developed his own unique style to leave a lasting impression on every single role he took up. The fact that his peak time as an actor lasted only a couple of years is often pointed out in reply to criticisms and considering the short period of his active film career, he may have delivered more critically appreciated performances than most of his contemporaries. But these were always under the shadow of a large majority of films that were able to achieve commercial success capitalising on his drawing power but had weak plots and less critical acclaim. Some believe if he had a longer career, he would have eventually transformed into a great character actor over time who could excel in commercial and parallel streams alike after a period of decline in Malayalam films that followed Sathyan's demise. His most popular films like Sharapancharam and Angadi were both critical and commercial successes. Though he is remembered as an icon of commercial cinema, due to the short span of his career and the generic nature of commercial hero roles of the time, his actual acting talents may have been largely underutilised.
Film songs are an integral part of Indian cinema and the same is true for Malayalam films. Jayan has acted in several memorable song sequences which bring about nostalgic memories about the actor. Song sequences in Jayan films also helped shape the future film song sector in commercial cinema. The song Kannum Kannum in the film Angadi presents one of the most popular song sequences in Malayalam cinema involving Jayan and Seema. Its success led to teaming together of this pair in numerous movies. Another popular song involving the Jayan-Seema pair is Kasthuri Manmizhi from the movie Manushya Mrugam. A song that hit tremendous popularity was Cham Chacha Chum Chacha in Love in Singapore. The mass popularity of this song sequence later inspired a whole new category of film songs with lyrics that lack any particular meaning but with fast beats & dance that came to be known as 'Adipoli' songs. There is a song in the film Etho Oru Swapnam called Oru Mugham Mathram Kannil which became popular due to its melodious & nostalgic nature. Ezham Malika Mele from Sarppam directed by baby was a superhit song paired by Jayan and seema. Another hit in this team was Pournami penne in Arifa hassans "Benz Vasu" was hummed by the youth of that time.
There is a Jayan memorial Arts & Sports club functioning at Thevally near the actor's hometown. The residential area at his birthplace has been renamed 'Olayil Jayan Nagar' in his honour.
Jayan Samskarika Vethi or Jayan Cultural Forum has been established recently which constitutes his fans and well wishers. It is headed by the actor's nephew Kannan Nair and aims at uniting his diverse fanbase consisting of young and old people from several generations under a single platform. Activities include organising anniversary functions and memorial programs, facilitating his coworkers, maintaining the actor's website and official profiles and charity work.
In 2009, an 8 ft high statue of the actor was erected in front of his house at Olayil, Kollam which is now a nursing home. Efforts are being made to construct a permanent memorial at Mulankadakam where he was cremated, and also to open a library & museum near his home.A book titled Jayan Americayil? (Jayan in America?) came out in 1981 and had record sales at the time. It circulated the rumour that Jayan was alive in America with an injured eye and that it was a look alike dupe who was killed in the accident.
Another book Jayante maranam kolapathakamo (Jayan's death, a murder) was also published in 1981 and capitalised on the conspiracy theories & mystery surrounding the superstar's death.
The actor's life was serialised in a Malayalam film magazine and then brought out as Jayante Katha.
An elaborate biography named Jayan : Abhralokathintey Ithihasa Naayakan is being completed and will reportedly be published in 2011.
A documentary Jayan-The Man behind the Legend is under production and is set to be released in 2011.
The actor's domination and commercial success in the 1970s is mentioned in the book Because I have a Voice. It focuses on Jayan's masculine image.
Jayan's famous emotional English dialogue in street slang is included at number 7 in Outlook magazine's Terrific 13 lists published in the 13th anniversary edition of the magazine, in the section '13 Cheesiest Chalkiest dialogues in Indian Cinema'.
In the movie Aye Auto, there is a reference to Jayan's English dialogue in Angadi.
The movies Dupe Dupe Dupe and Aparanmar Nagarathil had Jayan impersonators in the lead.
In the film Pattanathil Bhootham, the popular Jayan song sequence Cham Chacha Chumchacha is played out with impersonation. The horse oiling scene from Sharapancharam is also reconstructed.
In Chotta Mumbai, a Jayan-Nazir mixed song sequence is played out with Jayan attire used in the song sequence of the popular Nazir song Chettikulangara.
In the film Shikkar, Jayan's image is used in the sets of a fight scene in a bid to stress the adventurous setting of the film.
In Thanthonni, Jayan's voice and dialogue tone is imitated.
The film Valiyangadi was promoted as a sequel to Jayan's Angadi.
In film Ennu Ninte Moideen", Jayan's stunt sequence and the celebrated row with 'Alavalathi Shaji' from the film Lisa (1978 film)' is shown in a theatre scene.
The famous song Kannum Kannum from Jayan's film "Angadi" is included with Mammooty impersonating Jayan's style in the fim Venicele Vyapari
The recent hit Kattapanayile Hruthik Roshan has the actor Siddique acting as an ardent fan of Jayan and impersonates his style for seein.g his movies
In December 2010, on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of his death, it was announced that a new movie with Jayan in the lead is in the works, using advanced animation and graphics technologies. The movie, titled Avatharam (Incarnation), will be directed by Vijeesh Mani and scripted by T. A. Shahid. The project is inspired by the star's posthumous popularity as an action legend. It was announced that the actor would be brought back to the big screen by twelve top technicians from Hollywood.