The first camera that I had seen live in a location was in 1993, nineteen years before, shooting my face too, when I was just nine years of age. I was a fifth standard student of Nirmala English Medium High School, Aluva, and was interested in arts especially dance, more than the academics. Youth Festivals often announced my names in the winners’ list and I enjoyed being somewhat a school celebrity in the competition seasons. There was nothing more of interest about that just average student of the class named Jyothy S S.
One day evening in that year, there was a surprising question to me- “will you act in an advertisement?” The question’s voice is now vague in memory, and I guess it was that of my neighbour- friend Dominic chettan. I don’t really remember about what happened then. But by night, I was said that I was supposed to act in an advertisement of Malabar Coconut oil, the shoot of which was scheduled to the next day. My brother was to accompany me, along with this Dominic chettan. At that time, when media was not a big thing as it is now, and also when I was in that very small age, the terms as ‘act’, ‘ad’ etc. appeared awkward for me. I was totally ignorant about what was to happen, but I happily opted to go, just because it could avoid my going to school the next two days. Some persons in the crew came very late in the night to my home just to see me. They checked my normal costumes and discussed with my brother the time and place of shoot. I slept in the happiness of bunking two school days that I imagined to be filled with utter boredom. Nothing else bothered me in my sleep or in my dream.
The day came. I had to wake up early morning and we got ready for the shoot. The car came. I, along with my brother and Dominic chettan started the journey for something that was unknown to me. But we had an excursion mood then. Tracing back the memories now, I remember to have heard only two locations- Chithrappuzha and Fort Cochin, but there were other places too where we were shot. I was given a normal full skirt and top and they poured oil in my hair as though I was to be bathed in that oil. My brother and Dominic chettan were walking all along the green location taking photos and enjoying the beauty of nature. I was inexpressive but was quite surprised at seeing a number of people rushing around and some sort of equipment carried to and fro. They all seemed to me as doing meaningless things, and I wondered what was going on and what I was meant to do.
Sometime later, a beautiful woman came in, dressed in a light yellow plain chiffon saree with a very fair complexion and a very beautiful hair that appeared brownish in sunlight. I stood like seeing an angel in front, and wondered whether someone could be as beautiful as her. Atleast, I hadn’t seen such a beautiful girl or lady till then and I couldn’t believe that it was reality. I gazed at her beauty standing still with a little open mouth. She sat in a chair looking down. Two ladies came and attended her, making her hair and face perfect. Someone introduced us to each other- “This is Jyothy and this is Isha”. I got a little shy to even stand near her, as just a someone who gets invisible due to her beauty.
I felt I had to enact exactly what I had felt when I saw her. The wonderstruck normal village girl and the gorgeous modern woman from the city- these were the contrasting characters in it like what we see in today’s advertisements as well. I don’t remember the first shot, but the story went on like, me running behind her to touch her hair and getting surprised with her beauty especially of her wavering straight hair. Then I was taught the most difficult dialogue (as it sounded then to me) – “hai, na?” as a reply to some of her dialogues. I studied it by continuously telling “henna henna henna…”, assuring myself that there wouldn’t be any tongue-slip.
In the different scenes, I had to tell that single dialogue, in variant tones as told. One shot appeared so funny to me. There was an aquarium-like thing kept, half- filled with water. I was asked to look into that water and tell “hai, na”. I looked deeply into it checking whether something was kept in that water that was waiting for my dialogue, and seeing nothing, I was telling myself “fools, what are they doing!” And then, camera on… someone made the sign of shot. I shouted to the water “HENNA!” and continued to repeat that dialogue in different locations and in different actions.
It was in Fort Cochin location that I could speak to that beautiful woman. She, a non- Keralite asked me something and I replied in broken English. But taking that as a start, I began to communicate to her and she too did that to me in the same scale. We were asked to run through the rocks in the beach and we both took trials for that. The moments started to get funny for me, since when she started interactions with me. I started calling her Isha chechi, and she heard it with a smile everytime. When the shot was getting ready, we ran off to the waves and took the weeds that had got deposited in the shore. How beautiful it was… The plain yellow saree, the gorgeous woman, the hair that got brownish in the sunlight, the white bare hands, the beautiful smile, the green weeds in her hands…the scene will get more beautiful when you imagine that a dark girl dipped in oil was standing beside her with a half-open mouth seeing her beauty. I remember that scene in my evergreen memories. I refer to her as the first beautiful lady whom I have met in my life.
Apart from her, there was a man named Sijoy almost of the age of my brother, who took special care of me. He was one among the crew members and I remember to have seen him speedily walking to and fro in front of me. But there was affection from his part that I remember even now. I don’t know even the names of others in the crew and I don’t remember other faces too, even vaguely. I remember the travel in the boat with the whole crew, when it was uppumaavu and chadni for breakfast. I had food with this person speaking about the food and I told that it was my first experience with that particular combination. But I loved the taste and it is one of my favourite combinations even now.
It was Chithrappuzha that I loved, as a location. It was a plantation or so and there was a river too in between the greens. The cool atmosphere there still becomes a breeze in the memories. I was asked to sit in a vanchi, and one man was moving it forward with his oar. In between the shoot, the oar slipped from his hands that hit then on my head partly. I started a loud cry, and the people around was stunned and confused. And then this Sijoy came and took me in his hands, carrying someway around consoling me, making me forget the pain of that hit. I was all fresh and smart after that. The shot continued without any interruption. I also overheard people telling that it was Revathy’s sister who was there as the lady in charge of the costumes and all. But we didn’t speak anything, as there wasn’t any need for it.
The shoot ended as casually as it had begun. We then went to a hotel to wait for our car to go back home. I looked around and saw Isha chechi sitting in a sofa in the reception of that hotel. Looking at her once more, her hair caught my eyes. It was almost curly and short and was laid loose. I looked again and again to reassure myself that it was Isha chechi only, and no other girl. She smiled to me, seeing me looking at her and waved her hands, bidding farewell. The great moment of realisation it was, giving me the knowledge about a thing called ‘wig’ for the first time! Also, I got introduced to the ‘heavy make-ups’, even though she looked so beautiful even without that. With the last look of the first beautiful lady in my life, I went back home with her face in my eyes. There were only two persons to remember from that ad shoot. One was her who amazed me, and the other was Sijoy who pampered me.
Days later, the ad started coming in Doordarshan, especially between the Tuesday afternoon Hindi films. In the holiday Tuesdays I used to sit and wait for the ad. But as soon as it comes, I just run off with some sort of shame. Even in school, I was asked about the ad by many, by even students who were unfamiliar to me and some teachers too. I then started getting a shame whenever that ad was referred to. I didn’t know how to reply to such questions too. The peeping looks often distracted me though in a small scale. But that recognition got faded by and by and I started getting back to normal comfortably. Slowly that ad too vanished from the whole scene. Along with Malabar coconut oil, there was another brand which launched their coconut oil product with a competing ad. That was Parachute coconut oil which is relevant even today. And years later, sometimes I used to get jealous of Parachute, as I understood that Parachute only defeated Malabar. And I wanted to see the ad again in the later days, when I started to understand about what exactly I had done for the shoot and what the whole shoot was about and moreover about what really an advertisement is.
Years later, cameras telecasted my face in different channels making me an anchor of various programs. Camera fear was absolutely vanished somehow and I could do anchoring as one of my part- time passions. I got into good friendships with many famous personalities in the media- television and films, with the kind of programs that I have done, specially the interviews. And I got offers from two advertisements in between, from my celebrity friends. But even now I occasionally think about that ad and laugh in my loneliness for the foolishness I have done on screen. I missed the video and the photos of the shoot days. Sometime before, I saw some photos in the album of Dominic chettan when I went to his home one day. But I miss the video to see the ignorance that I was carrying in me in front of the camera. Almost three years before, one day my brother casually told me that the Isha chechi is someone who is known as Isha Koppikkar, the actor and model. Even when I look to her images on Google, I am confused as the image in me had blurred enough to give a self- confirmation.
Two days before, after an afternoon nap, as I woke up, I suddenly got reminded of the ad. I don’t know how I got struck at the name Sijoy. Then in a sudden realisation, I got a thought to ask a Sijoy in my Facebook friend list, whether it was him who was in the crew. I messaged him on Facebook with one line of enquiry. To my surprise, he replied ‘yes’ getting followed with a number of exclamations. He still remembers “the small girl in the boat”, but we both were equally too surprised enough that we fell short of words. I had to send him the album of my childhood photos in Facebook to make him believe that it was me. The point of surprise was that he was a person known to me for the last 4-5 years, due to his friendship with my two close friends. And we had interacted and had met in person too one day. Still, it took this much time for me to realise that it was him! But, better late than never!
I would love to conclude this write- up about a small experience with dedicating lines for my mind who did the magic. Mind is not a silly thing. It has all the questions and all the answers stored perfectly. It tells us about something over and gone, it points to some events of the past with such coincidences, and tells us the most surprising thing in the most surprising time, in the most surprising manner, after laughing at our ignorance for a long time! Or else how could I get the thought about this person, when I haven’t thought of him anytime in the recent past and that too just after an afternoon nap! I owe you, my mind, for this cute information. No Google can beat you ever for sure! Honours!