Five years ago, I was asked to 'adjust': Aishwarya Rajesh
The actress, who's fresh off making her Bollywood debut, is happy that the industry is abandoning its distasteful practices
Ever since Kaaka Muttai, Aishwarya Rajesh’s cup has been regularly filled with a variety of impressive roles including in films like Dharma Durai and Kuttrame Thandanai. The actress has now taken another step forward by making her debut in Bollywood with last week’s release, Daddy. She also has an impressive line-up of projects in Tamil including Gautham Menon’s Dhruva Natchathiram, Vetrimaaran’s Vada Chennai, Idhu Vedhalam Sollum Kadhai, and Mani Ratnam’s next. She won’t get carried away though, and says it all feels like “it’s just the beginning.”
Despite not being too familiar with Hindi, she didn’t have too many qualms accepting Daddy. “I am still working on my Hindi. I have done a lot of content-oriented films in the South; so I knew my debut in Hindi would have to be unconventional too,” she says.
She was offered Daddy after the film’s makers saw Manikandan’s Kaaka Muttai. “That film is the starting point,” she smiles, but says that Daddy didn’t come to her easily. “Arjun Rampal asked me if I knew Hindi, and I said no. They then decided to go with some other actress. One of the ADs, however, asked me to attend the audition. I was told that I looked very much like Asha Gawli (the character I played in Daddy). Arjun was finally convinced,” she says.
Aishwarya, who admits her Hindi is bad, had to learn her lines by rote. “I tried prompting but that didn’t work for me. So, I’d rehearse beforehand and then regurgitate my lines on the sets,” she says. “Acting, after all, is more about emoting. Eventually, I got the hang of the process. Some scenes required as many as 25 retakes, but the whole team was very patient with me.”
As there wasn’t too much information about her character on the internet, it was quite challenging for her. “Arjun managed to source Asha’s teenage pictures from her family, and we worked accordingly. I also wore prosthetic makeup to look like a 40-year-old woman for some portions,” she says.
Aishwarya says her choice of films is never based on screen space. “It’s better to appear in a few scenes of a good film rather than have a lot of screen presence in a bad film. My decision was vindicated when I went to rural areas, and had them recognise me as Anbu Selvi (her character in Dharma Durai),” she says.
I ask her about South cinema’s general obsession with fair skin. “Bollywood, interestingly, is not obsessed with fairness like South Indians. Deepika Padukone, Priyanka Chopra, Vidya Balan and Nandita Das are examples of this.” Aishwarya admits to being rejected by many filmmakers and producers on account of her skin colour. “Initially, I used to feel sorry for them, but now I don’t care anymore. Since when has fair skin been natural for India? Audiences, however, are encouraging good cinema. I’m gladdened to see this change,” she says.
In Dhruva Natchathiram, I play a US-based journalist. And in Vada Chennai, I play a thara local ponnu.
What has changed? Aishwarya says, “Well, let’s say actresses don’t have to ‘compromise’ to do films these days.” I prod her to reveal more. “Five years ago, when I was looking for opportunities, I was asked to ‘adjust’. I have faced such issues in the past, and I’ve always been vocal about this. Now everyone is scared because they are worried about getting exposed on Twitter and WhatsApp. When you speak s**t these days, it’s not private any more. It reaches millions of people,” she smiles.
What, however, hasn’t changed is the pay gap, she says. “It’s 2017 and we still discuss pay disparity, even though we do pretty much the same work that men do. Top actors earn `10 crore for a project, and a top actress like Nayanthara ends up getting paid only around `3 crore. As for me... (laughs) It’s nowhere close. Filmmakers think only actors sell. That’s a wrong notion.”
Aishwarya hopes that all her recent good work will result in her bagging a film like Kahaani, Queen or Pink. “We need more filmmakers who churn out such sensitive subjects in Tamil cinema.” She has been turning down roles, especially after the shooting of Dhruva Natchathiram and Vada Chennai. “The moment news was out that I was part of those films, I got flooded with offers. They were ready to give more money for scripts that didn’t really need me. I want to be part of one that does,"she says