Aishwarya Rajesh has always been frank about her career choices and the discrimination she’s faced before she made a place for herself in the industry. Her film Ka Pae Ranasingam, directed by P Virumaandi, and co-starring Vijay Sethupathi, releases on October 2 on Zee Plex, in the pay-per-view format. Excerpts from a conversation between Aishwarya Rajesh and Baradwaj Rangan:
You are one of the few people who has actually had a blockbuster release during the lockdown. Before going to that, tell me… how was the lockdown? Did you like being at home? Did you get used to it? Do you want to get back to shoot now?
Actually, I started missing a lot of things. I am a workaholic, and have not spent much time at home for the past two years. In 2019, I started off with World Famous Lover and then I did Vaanam Kottattum, Namma Veettu Pillai and Bhoomika, and it was a very busy year for me. I was hardly at home for a month. This year, we got a six-month break. The pandemic has affected a lot of people. Even in the movies, we don’t have any releases, and theatres are getting converted into malls…. I hope things get back to normal. I was shooting for Vignesh Karthick’s Thittam Irandu before the lockdown. (Shooting has since resumed). I got used to being at home.
It has been six-seven months now, are you afraid of how you are going to shoot at the same pitch?
Yes, definitely, because I am usually nervous during the first two days of shoot. My hands start shivering when I see the camera and I am unable to say the dialogue. So, it takes me a while to get used to all this. I am even more scared now, because of this long gap. My director even called to ask if I remember the story. I told him I did but would have to brush up on the scenes. It is going to be a bit different for sure. Ramya Krishnan ma’am had put up a post where she said that she felt like a kid going to school after summer holidays. I think it is going to be the same feeling.
I find it very interesting that you said you are scared in spite of doing so many films, and even Bollywood films without knowing the language…
Any language that I do, on the first and second day, I am definitely scared.
But, at least you don’t have stage fright because you had a release during the lockdown, it was a blockbuster and your TedxTalk was released in May with four million views and counting. Most of the comments read, “So inspiring.” When you narrate your life story and it inspires many people, how does it feel to be an inspiration?
I was very nervous on that stage, because I spoke at IIM-Tiruchirapalli and most of them were North Indians and I was very nervous. When I saw TedxTalks by a few actors, I noticed they were very prepared. I was not prepared at all. My birthday was on January 10, and I spoke on the 11th. I was nervous, and felt I should honestly share what comes to my mind. I had shared a few incidents in my interviews, but not as a journey, or about me or my mother. Many people asked me why I mentioned that I hail from a lower middle class family. I felt that it could inspire at least a few people, because that is the life I have lived. I didn’t expect this much of a reach, and thought a few people might get angry with me. I have been in the industry for about eight to nine years, so if I had spoken this before, it would have been a different story altogether. But I thought that this was the right time to share it on such a stage. Even if you ask me a question, I get a certain visual in my mind. I speak by connecting to that visual. A lot of people mailed me and sent messages on Twitter and Instagram. One person wrote saying she had three brothers and that her mother had struggled, so that connection was there. I am glad people liked it.
Recently, there was news of your being part of the Mundhanai Mudichu remake. I am asking this with a curiosity factor, because I believe within the screen, everyone’s story is their own. When you found that this character is one who falsely accuses a man to marry him. Did you ever feel that at this point in time, with the #MeToo movement, this character could come about as controversial? Was there a slight struggle when you read the story?
Thank you for this question. I have watched this film earlier and didn’t remember it much. When I was approached for the film, I watched bits and pieces of the film. When Urvashi accuses the man of molesting, she is so in love with him that she somehow wants to get married. But, I will definitely take this as a good point to consider, and, maybe, we should make slight changes. This is an eye-opener. I think it is Sasikumar sir who will be directing this film, so I will definitely get this point across to him.
I am asking if you felt there was something wrong about it…
When I played Padma in Vada Chennai, many people asked me how I felt when I used cuss words in the film. Even if I don’t use such words in real life, the character in the film was like that and Vetri Maaran sir had justified it as well. When he has designed a character like that, it is the director’s choice, isn’t it? Likewise in this film, Urvashi ma’am feels that this is the only way she can get married to him, so if it is justified, I think anything is fine. But I will definitely put this point across and if I feel there is justification for it, then I don’t mind.
You have spoken in interviews about your complexion and how many people didn’t offer you films in your early days. Also, despite Kaaka Muttai being a phenomenal film and acting experience, somehow, roles did not happen after that. Later, you did Kanaa, which was a proper heroine-oriented film, and people recognised you. Then you did Namma Veettu Pillai, which was a blockbuster. Have things gotten better for you as a heroine?
There are a lot of changes now. Around five years ago, when I was trying for opportunities in movies, there was a typical concept about how heroines should look. But now, corporates have come in, there are new directors, writers, scripts. I am doing a film in Telugu. When you look at Telugu, they are considerably more colourful and glamorous. But in World Famous Lover, I told director Kranthi Madhav that I want to be realistic, just like how my character in the film is. In Tamil too, there is a huge change and they are casting according to the role. There are very well-written roles and they are casting us.
Speaking of World Famous Lover, I heard that unlike others, you don’t use glycerine to cry but you can cry just by drinking a glass of water. Is that true?
Can you guess who told me this?
(laughs) Is it Vijay? (Deverakonda)
Yes. He said, “It is so amazing, she just drinks a glass of water and starts crying, I don’t know how he does it.”
He noticed! Whenever there’s a crying scene, I would gulp a glass of water. Even I don’t know how it happens.
You are doing Ka Pae Ranasingam with Vijay Sethupathi. I was happy seeing the poster because both your faces are almost at the same size and your names were almost on the same line. What kind of a film is it?
It is an emotional hard-hitting film. Usually after a film when we go back home, we discuss the film, irrespective of it being a good or a bad film. But a few films we remember for a long time and they haunt us for long. This is one such film, I believe. I haven’t seen the film yet, but from what I have done, I feel this way. It is a proper heroine-centric film and we were glad that Sethu was a part of the film.
Is it a small role?
Initially, when we started the film it was a five-day cameo. But, after narrating the story, he wanted a few changes and it went to 10 days. Later when he began shooting, he said that he’d give us five more days and to add a few more scenes. In the process, I think he has acted for about 25 days. It is a non-linear narration. His presence makes a huge difference.
You have worked in a few films with him. Were you comfortable working with him since the beginning or did you develop that comfort over a period of time?
You won’t believe it, but I am very scared. It is very challenging to act in combination scenes with him.
Why is it challenging? Is it because he is someone who improvises a lot?
He is someone who improvises, and if you don’t do well in a scene, he is someone who will tell you that it didn’t work. So, you will have to be very clear. If you do a scene with him, it will undoubtedly turn out to be superb. He is an actor who takes care that everyone should be comfortable. He makes sure every scene comes out very well. He is a very positive person and brings in that positivity to the set as well. We began missing him after his schedule. It is because he had created a vibe when on set.
I am going to do a small rapid fire round. I am going to list people you have worked with, and you should tell me what strikes you first when you hear their name.
A very nice person and human being and an extraordinary actor.
He is a phenomenal performer and gives a lot of importance to talent. He wouldn’t talk to me much when we were shooting for Vada Chennai, but when he saw the teaser of Kanaa, he got my number and told me that this will be a ‘next level’ film. He was very upset that I didn’t get the Best Actress Award at a show.
He is very sweet, calm, reserved.
Nivin is very fun loving. He can’t diet. During Sakhavu, he would get diet food because there were variations within the film. But whenever he saw parotta and beef, all the diet would go away.
I have known him for some time because he comes from television and so do I. I can connect a lot with his journey. For me, Kanaa was a very important film and he took a risk by casting me in it because I didn’t know cricket. I am very happy that he is a big star now.
Was Namma Veettu Pillai a reunion?
Of course. Siva was doubtful that I would play his younger sister. He didn’t tell me anything about the film and said that Pandiraj will narrate the script. I loved the script. It was a nice character.
He is one of the coolest actors. He never takes anything seriously and is always cool. It was a very nice experience working with him.
When I told him about Kanaa, he immediately asked me who is playing the coach. I told him it was Siva. Later, he called after watching the film. He is a brilliant actor and a great person. It was wonderful working with him in Dhruva Natchathiram.
Speaking of Dhruva Natchathiram, I believe you were brought in blindly to the sets and you even had to do a big, emotional scene on the very first day of shooting. How was the experience?
On the first day at around 6 in the morning, I was given an emotional scene. I was nervous, but I believe that scene has come out well.
What was your look like?
It is an NRI kind of a look… Gautham sir has a typical style, wherein he uses a lot of English. After the first day of shoot when I asked him how my scenes were, he said that it wasn’t his style but that I could go ahead with it (laughs).
What kind of role are you playing in Bhoomika?
Bhoomika is a film connected to Nature. It is about how Nature takes revenge.