Thiruvananthapuram-born, Brisbane-based engineer turned film-maker Jay Janardhan says ‘Howdy’

One of ZEE5 Global's latest original film is called Howdy, which premiered on the OTT platform on October 7. The comedic treat has been directed by Australian-Malayalee director Jay Janardhan and unravels the story of Winston Wilberforce III aka Win III. 

Australian-Malayalee director Jay Janardhan (extreme left), from Thiruvananthapuram now based in Brisbane, Australia is the director of Howdy, a comedy that showcases diversity. Photo Courtesy: ZEE5
Australian-Malayalee director Jay Janardhan (extreme left), from Thiruvananthapuram now based in Brisbane, Australia is the director of Howdy, a comedy that showcases diversity. Photo Courtesy: ZEE5

Janardhanan hails from Thiruvananthapuram in India but has been in Australia for 17 years. Connected to India caught up with the Brisbane-based director for a virtual chat about his journey as a filmmaker as well as his latest movie.

Thiruvananthapuram to Australia and Engineering to Film-making

It has been quite a journey for Janardhan both geographically, from Thiruvananthapuram to Australia, and professionally, from engineering to film-making. 

“It was a memorable journey where I left Kerala in the year 2002 after completing my engineering and haven't looked back since, ” Janardhan told Connected to India. 

“I am proud that I found myself a second home here in Australia. It's a beautiful country, lovely weather, multicultural and holds a special place in my heart”, he added. “My transition from being an engineer to a director has been a long one but I have always been connected to movies and my elder brother too is a movie buff”. 

Howdy is a light hearted comedy and should make people laugh out loud in these bleak times says Janardhanan. Photo Courtesy: ZEE5
Howdy is a light hearted comedy and should make people laugh out loud in these bleak times says Janardhanan. Photo Courtesy: ZEE5

Janardhan used to watch a movie every week with his family and continued the tradition even  when he was doing his degree in engineering, making sure he kept himself up to date on the movie world.

“I have always been watching international as well as regional films across different languages from India”, he said. 

A Second Degree - from a Film School this time

“While working as an engineer I felt that I needed to challenge myself so I enrolled myself in a film school. It was a natural transition”, shared Janardhan. 

“Slowly I started getting more confidence and I could possibly think of this as my career and here I am”, he said. 

Janardhan graduated from the Queensland School for Film and Television, winning the Best Director Award for his short film LUCA. 

He has also won several international accolades, including the prestigious Los Angeles Film Awards for the Best First Time Director.

Doing Justice to an Immigrant Story

“Being an immigrant myself there were a lot of things going on - like trying to adapt yourself to new cultures and new places”, explained Janardhan. 

“Dirk and I put together the screenplay and the dialogue and spent a lot of time getting the script right during the pre-production”, he added. 

Janardhan could provide a lot of personal input from his own experiences, both positive and negative.

“Like funny experiences when I got things wrong. I have been able to do justice by bringing all of those experiences into the building of the three characters for sure”, he said.

The film's Malayalee character Naveen, for example, is portrayed as a typical cliche, which might not necessarily be evident right away but grows as the film progresses. 

“We are using comedy to put this across to the audience in a lighter way without offending them”, explained the director. 

The comedy genre is not Janardhan's first love. He is a much bigger fan of thrillers he told Connected to India. In fact, his go-to entertainment includes the likes of Narcos, Breaking Bad and Godfather.

Dramas and thrillers are more to his liking as they “engage me when I'm watching them and bring out the emotion in me”, he shared. “I absolutely love thrillers. All types of thrillers - psychic, mystery, investigative you name it". 

“I love drama as well. So it's actually funny that I ended up making a comedy which is lowest in my preference scale”, he added wryly. 

India and Australia - Film and Television Industry

The entertainment industries of India and Australia are quite different, explained Janardhan, adding that the Indian TV and movie scene is much bigger than that in Australia, perhaps even larger than Hollywood. 

“The number of films and productions are enormous, of a huge scale and many more in number in India”, he said. 

However, “there have been some lovely productions coming from Australia with very good technical and production values and in that, I believe Australia is ahead of India”, he added.  “The similarities are that there is a lot of regional content coming from both countries. Stories from households and from what's happening next door rather than fantasies that come out of Hollywood”. 

There's a lot of commercial content coming from North India, explained Janardhan. However content coming out of South India, especially from Kerala, has been very real with many even being remade into other languages in the north of India, he noted. 

OTT - the current and future trend

“I believe that the OTT was definitely on the rise even before COVID happened”, said Janardhan. “But due to the COVID lockdown much more of it has come out especially with the theatres shut down and movies not coming out”. 

It's a fabulous opportunity for anyone to tell their story on a small production budget through a movie, web series, or shows, Janardhan believes. 

“Everyone deserves a chance to tell their story if they have one and I have always backed OTT due to it offering platforms to people - not all of whom can make it to the top in the movie industry”, he said. “It's a great opportunity to show your story to the world so everyone should make use of the OTT platforms if they have a story to tell”. 

Currently, Janardhan is working on a few scripts, pitching stories to OTT platforms and speaking with production houses as well as actors. “So there are a few projects lined up which could be either OTT or theatre releases”, he said. “It's an interesting phase. I'd like to finish the Howdy series before working on possibly a horror series and one or two full scripts”.  

Howdy - Promoting Unity in Diversity

Howdy tells the story of Winston Wilberforce the Third - rich, white, and very much part of the exclusive One Percent. Then his wife took him to the cleaners and his accountant took off for parts unknown. Now all he’s got left is his Nanna’s old house - and the rent from the three weird foreign caretakers who live there too. Somehow, they’re going to have to learn to live together.

In the midst of Will III’s challenges is Shaina, his young, educated and thoroughly non-conformist daughter, expecting to inherit his dazzling millions. Instead, she’s facing an uphill battle just to keep off poverty.

The 40-minute film stars Shaun King as Win III, Chenaya Aston as Shaina, and Naveen Leela Ananta, Mike Zarate as Jonnie ‘Chopsticks’ Chow, and Marco Minici as Aziz Khan Dogen. 

“Most of the team is not professionals in the media industry but have come together on this project making it a truly multicultural coming together of 30-40 people from many different parts of the globe, working together behind the scenes”, said Janardhan. 

The film was also officially submitted to the Toronto International Film Festival under the ‘International Shorts’ category.

Howdy aims to push the idea of unity in diversity but keeps it light-hearted to make people laugh out loud in these bleak times. 

Author
Lakshmy Iyer
Lakshmy Iyer – Senior Correspondent, ASEAN & Entertainment

Lakshmy has been contributing regularly as a freelance writer since 2012. Her writing has been an amalgamation of the language, literature and rich cultural experiences of India as well as South East Asia. An Instructional Designer by profession she is passionate about lifelong learning. Art is her medium of reflection. She participates in art exhibitions thus contributing to the local art scene and using this platform, supports social causes in Singapore as well.

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