In 2017, Jikki Nair disappeared for three days. Three years and two web series (F*ck Buddies and Auto Shankar) later, that is still the image that endures on the Internet. Her photograph, carrying a bold, red banner, and the caption “Missing”.
Speaking to Silverscreen India in an exclusive interview, Nair remembers that as the time when it felt like all Chennai media descended on her house. She says, “One morning, I left for work but did not feel like I could enter my workplace.” The sequence of events is familiar – her life up to that point had revolved around her work (managing a salon) and her then boyfriend. But the relationship had fallen apart, and it had pushed her into a bad mental space. She says, “For the first time in life, I contemplated suicide even though I was attempting to talk myself out of it by switching off from the world.”
By the time she returned, social media had been trending with hashtags to locate her. Nair says, “I barely realised the implications.” The fans had been worried before. Now some of them were offended. Concern turned to blame.
She says, “When I was riding my scooter back, I was wondering how I would face my family. They accepted me and told me to get on with life. It was the others on social media that took offense when I came back unhurt.”
However, Nair says, “I was not particularly bothered about their opinion. I did not ask them to trend hashtags for me, nor did I seek the hate. This is why I did not feel compelled to tell my side of the story then.”
Nair has since been shooting for the second season of F*uck Buddies, a show that draws on her own life. She prefers calling it Fuck Buddies because, she says, the alternative is just censorship. The show is modern-day romance about two people who enter into an arrangement where the rules are clear – they are friends who do not romantically commit.
Jikki Nair in F*uck Buddies
The show is becoming popular in Hindi and Telugu, and Nair says she is happy to chart the story of her love life through it. F*ck Buddies normalises the idea of women taking charge of their own sex lives, including drinking and smoking. As co-writer, Nair controls how her body is filmed. She shows as much skin she decides on screen. Although there have been instances of close friends and family members asking her Nair to take down some of the more graphic photos from her social media profile, Nair says she never felt the need to do so, because she is comfortable in her own skin, just like she is in the show.
She says, “Liberation feels great and I have experienced it. It would be nice if other people could feel it too. We just wanted to make a show about our world, our love story and the people we are around. The acting too did not require new emotions as I was familiar with them.”
As an artist, Nair is clear that she doesn’t want to be boxed under any one category – writer, actor, director, or model. She says, “Do you really want to hear about my life? Apdi na kadhai kadhai ah pogume (If that is the case, then there are too many stories).”
Her father was an art director in the Malayalam film industry, and her uncle ran Anand Cine Services, a large platform renting modern motion picture equipment. But Nair didn’t think she would be in films and joined an Engineering college.
Soon though, she realised it wasn’t for her, and joined a course in Visual Communication instead, after a recommendation from her brother. But that too was discontinued due to health issues.
While getting treated in Delhi, Nair then began learning web design from her father, who encouraged her to become financially independent. “When my father was confident of me standing on my own feet, he asked me to find a flat of my own and begin earning. Although it seemed like he was throwing me out of my house then, I realised later that it was to ensure my own independence. This helped,” she says.
At 23, Nair restarted her undergraduate course in Visual Communication in Chennai. This was when she first began dabbling in filmmaking. After graduating, she began working in advertising while also managing a prominent salon chain in Chennai. A few years later, she met Jaytesh Calpakkam, a YouTuber who would become her partner and co-writer.
She says, “I had offered to help him on his sets one day as he is a YouTuber. When I arrived though, he asked me to act. I had always considered myself a bad actor and did not see myself in that space. After that, things changed.”
After F*uck Buddies, Nair began working on another web series, Auto Shankar. She is now shooting for F*uck Buddies 2. The writing for the sequel is tighter, she says. Nair is also making another web series, titled Pattam, which is inspired by her best friend’s life.
On sets, Nair says she’s still learning how to manage a male-dominated workspace. She says, “Sometimes when I ask the lightsmen to make a change, I feel like they do not even hear me.” She says the problem is structural though, It is not really their fault. They do not intend to give me a deaf ear. They are not used to it.” So how does she cope? She says, “Women have to work at least five times harder on sets.”
Speaking of her future plans, Nair says she plans to focus on making people around her happy. Describing herself as an emotional person, Nair says she is very comfortable talking about sex, nudity, abuse, molestation and mental health. And she plans to use her voice to make an impact, “I want to be an influencer in real life. I want to be heard and understood.”