Aishwarya Lekshmi’s last Tamil film was Action, after which she now plays Attila, a Sri Lankan Tamil refugee in London, in Karthik Subbaraj’s Jagame Thandhiram. She speaks about why she took up the role, her experience watching Asuran with Dhanush and the entire team in London and working with Mani Ratnam in Ponniyin Selvan, in this interview with Baradwaj Rangan. Edited Excerpts…
At what point in Jagame Thandhiram did you realise the title was the song name of a Rajinikanth movie?
(laughs) To be honest I realised it only during when we were doing our promotions. I didn’t notice until then because I am a person who has only seen a few movies in my life. When I was growing up, I had probably seen only six movies in total but I am getting better, I promise!
When you took up Jagame Thandhiram, it must have been, at many levels, a no-brainer — a big director, big actor. Was there something more than just this combination and this packaging, something about the role itself that made you take up the role.
Like you said the packaging was brilliant, the director and the actor, the production house and the fact that we were shooting the movie in London. So, I was all the more interested but more than all of these things, I think the story that they are trying to tell is beautiful, it has a soul, it is packaged in a good way. The story has gangster drama, gangster fights and all those things that are happening but still there’s a beautiful story that my character has. Actually every other character that’s there in the film has something that you just can’t ignore.
When Karthik Subbaraj narrated, he didn’t narrate only my portion. He actually told me about Joji chettan’s character, the Peter character. I got the whole story and I also learnt about every other character. Usually when they give narration to a heroine they stick to what the heroine does in the story but instead, for Jagame Thandhiram, I actually got bits and pieces from every other character. I realized every character was important during the shooting.
At some point during this whole shooting in London you managed to sneak away with Dhanush for a screening of Asuran?
Yes, all of us actually! So Asuran was releasing on that particular day, outside of India, and we were shooting in Kent. I think the producers and Karthik sir decided to just take us all for the film. All of us were very excited and Manju chechi was there, so I was whistling in the theater and I still remember Dhanush sir asked me, “You will whistle for Manju chechi, but not me?”
You’re working on Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvam now. What is his process like, how does he direct you?
The way he explains the scenes is beautiful! So, the next day we are going to shoot and sir is explaining how from the song it continues a scene and then I started tearing up, you know because it was Mani Ratnam explaining this scene and am part of this, which is again a milestone for me! He explains to the T, what the characters are feeling in the scene, mostly the emotion of the character. He does not enact. He first explains the scene and then he wants me to do it a particular way. So, that will be the first one or two takes and then if at all, I couldn’t get one thing right, then he would let me do it my way! So maximum 3 takes, he doesn’t go more than that, he will want me to perform it his way, be it dialogue delivery or looking at something and pointing because this movie is set prior to how we knew people were behaving, there is no recorded evidence, so we had to bring in a lot of imaginary things into it.