Malayalam actor Jayasurya never thought he could act in one movie, let alone 100.
Sunny, which is now streaming on Amazon Prime in India and across 240 countries, just happens to be the actor's 100th film. But Jayasurya was blissfully unaware of the fact — a true testament to how unaffected he is by the stardom that surrounds him.
"I didn't even know this was my 100th movie. It was only after a discussion with (director Ranjith Sankar) that I realised: 'Oh, my god, this is my 100th movie,'" the actor said in a recent interview with City Times.
Sunny sees Jayasurya carrying the weight of an entire film on his shoulders in one of his most profound roles yet.
The one-man film, co-produced by Jayasurya and director Ranjith Sankar, is a much-anticipated film about Sunny, a failed musician who, after losing everything, flees Dubai at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and returns to his hometown in Kerala, India.
Cooped up in a hotel room, Sunny's thoughts wage a war against him as he struggles to cope with the loss of his wife, his best friend and his money.
The charm of a single-character film
Unlike the jingle-jangle of blockbusters that are saturating the market, Sunny's story is deeply rooted in reality and quietly pierces through the clamour — and that's exactly why Jayasurya gravitated towards the role.
"I have actually been waiting for this kind of movie, because I've seen one-act movies like Cast Away and 127 Hours," he said. "Sunny is a very normal person with emotional layers, but they're a normal person's emotions. That was the triggering part for me."
Though Jayasurya felt inspired by Sankar's script, he also had his reservations. The role almost went to someone else after Jayasurya told the director that he wasn't sure if he could pull off the character.
"I didn't get the vibe, in the sense that I didn't fully get the character's story. But a week later, I called Ranjith again and asked if I could revisit the story. It was because Sunny was still haunting me; I thought there was something there. So, we sat down together again and we discovered that there were so many layers to the character," Jayasurya said.
The film, which focuses entirely on one man's emotional journey, supersedes a conventional genre.
"I don't know how to bracket the movie. Over the course of seven days, what's happening in Sunny's life, that's the movie," Jayasurya said.
"He really wanted to be a great musician, but he couldn't reach that level. Maybe it's lack of self-confidence, maybe he never got that opportunity. He has family issues; he has money problems and all he really wants is to overcome the mistakes in his life."
Filming during Covid-19
Though filming a movie against the backdrop of a pandemic came with its own set of restrictions and creative challenges, Jayasurya used it to his advantage.
While actors and crew used to stay in separate hotels before the pandemic, everyone was confined to one hotel for the filming of Sunny, which took place in November 2020.
"It was a great journey actually, because for the first time, we could easily connect with each other after the shoot without having to travel to another hotel," Jayasurya said. "We would shoot until 9.30pm and after that, we would have a great discussion period until midnight or 1am."
The discussions were crucial for developing Sunny's character throughout the filming process, he added.
"Everyone on set was discussing Sunny's mental state of mind. Our cameraman would say, 'Oh, I don't think he would react like that.' They were all channelling his emotion — they're all versions of Sunny.
"I was just a tool, because every time we discussed the character, we unravelled so many layers from the discussion. I firmly believe that it helped me and that it was a really healthy way of shooting," he said.
Working with Ranjith Sankar
With Sunny, Jayasurya is marking another milestone — it's his eighth movie with director Ranjith Sankar.
"First of all, we are great friends, but he has also been coming up with good scripts that are unique. Maybe he has the confidence that I can pull off his characters, which are always very different," he said.
Indeed, in all eight films, Jayasurya has taken on strikingly different roles that have pushed his boundaries as an actor. From a transgender in Njan Marykutty to a man with a stutter in Su Su Sudhi Vathmeekam, he has proven his versatility.
"If we do the same kind of movie, either I'll get bored or he'll get bored. So, every time, we try to do something new and that's what we did with Sunny. It's a one-person movie, which is something I see so rarely," he said.
Before taking on any role, the actor only has two considerations and money isn't one of them.
"The story should be convincing and the character should be convincing. Only then will I commit to a movie. Otherwise, I won't do it. Maybe I can get money, but I'm not chasing money. All I'm looking for is a character with depth," he said.
This isn't the first time one of Jayasurya's films has been released on OTT.
His 2020 film Sufiyum Sujatayum was the first Malayalam movie to be released on an OTT platform. And from the first day onwards, the response was overwhelming.
"I received so many messages from all over the world," Jayasurya said. "Usually, with a theatrical release, I get messages mostly from Kerala or India, but with that, I got messages from Switzerland, Australia and even Dubai."
While many people around the world may not be familiar with Malayalam movies, Jayasurya said he is hopeful that an OTT release, which has the potential for worldwide reach, can change that.
"All are watching your movie, that's the great thing ... Once they watch one movie, maybe they'll watch another, too. I want (the response for Sunny) to be like that at least; that's my hope," he said.