Edited excerpts from a longer interview between Aishwarya Rajesh and Baradwaj Rangan:
BR: You mentioned that your brother was being asked to act in films due to his fair skin tone. But now, casting the fair North Indian actress has become a well-established trend. It is a fact that they will get good roles and salaries. Did you have the confidence that you will be able to establish yourself in spite of such a bias?
Aishwarya: I think it is changing now.
BR: Now, it is happening but I am talking about the time when you were starting out.
Aishwarya: No. I don’t know whether these things are happening from the beginning or happening only in my generation. When you take Bollywood, they use all kinds of actors and their work seems to be universal, which I appreciate. Almost all the actresses are regional. But things are not the same here. For instance, why do you want to cast a foreigner for a Brahmin character from Chennai? Also, if you have written a typical village character, why do you want to cast someone so fair? And then, their skin tones are sometimes darkened. If you go to places like Madurai or Coimbatore, you will find a lot of girls roaming on the streets and malls. They are not all dusky. For example, you can cast Janani Iyer for Brahmin roles. She is a Brahmin girl, right? We have a lot of Tamil speaking actresses like Dhanshika, Varalaxmi, Nivetha Pethuraj etc. If we need some personal makeup material, it will cost around Rs.15,000 to 20,000. But if someone comes from Bombay, one makeup man will charge that much. That actor maybe new or hardly a film old but they still use the term “market demand” to describe the casting. Heroes have big market shares but they want heroines whose movies have not done well in the box office. So I seriously don’t understand the calculation. We have to keep fighting for this.
BR: Why do think it happened? Because the thing is, obviously like you said, you are a known commodity. They come to you for “acting” roles like Dharmadurai and Kaaka Muttai. You acted in performance based roles even with big heroes like Vijay Sethupathi and Dhanush. Will that be sufficient for a sustained career today? Or it is necessary to do glamorous and fashionable roles with big stars?
Aishwarya: I think it is definitely necessary. An actress should able to balance both. I admire Simran ma’am for that. I admire Kushboo ma’am for that too. No heroines from the 80’s and 90’s are working today. Kushboo ma’am used to look glamorous but she is an extremely good actress too. The same with Simran. Sneha too used to balance both. We have to get the opportunities also. I did Lakshmi with AL Vijay where I played a mother of a ten-year-old. But I still looked glamorous in the film. I had nice make-up, nice outfits and hairstyles. Then if you take Dhruva Natchathiram, I look glamorous in that too.