Easwari Rao: I thought I was called to play Rajini sir's mother
The actor is making her comeback to Tamil cinema after more than a decade with Thursday's release, Kaala
Very few remember, but we last saw Easwari Rao in Tamil cinema when she starred as Jyotika's sister-in-law in the Simbu-starrer Saravana (2006). She has gone on to do a few Telugu films since, and featured in some Tamil soaps too. And seemingly out of nowhere, she's now played the female lead in Rajinikanth's Kaala.
Excerpts from a conversation:
How do you explain your break from Tamil cinema?
It was not just from Tamil cinema. I have stayed away from films for a while now. It's because I wasn't getting the roles I was looking for. Also, over the years, cinema has become more glamorous, and so, I have stayed away. There was also a lot of competition for roles, and I don't like to be a part of that.
You were doing Tamil serials though?
It was when I decided to take a step back from cinema, around a couple of decades ago, that the mega-serial trend began. Radikaa madam had just started Chithi and I was doing Kokila Enge Pogiral during the afternoon slot. It seemed comfortable in comparison with films, and I was happy to do such work for almost 10 years.
Where did Kaala suddenly come from?
It was accidental. I had quit serials and been away from the industry for about six years. I did a few Telugu films, but I had stopped that too, about two years back. Unexpectedly, I got a call from Ranjith sir's office and was called to see him. We met and did a screen test where I was asked to enact a scene from the film. The video was shown to Rajini sir who then gave his nod.
Did you know then that you were to be paired with his character?
I knew it was a Rajini sir film when I did the test shoot but I wasn't told which character I was going to play. After Rajini sir gave his approval, I did a lot of homework for about three months in which I worked on my physique and body language. After a point, I began wondering why they were prepping so much for my role, and who I could possibly be playing (laughs).
Truth be told, I really thought I was going to play Rajini's mother. I was doing a few mother characters in Telugu films, after all. Ranjith sir laughed out loud in response, and maintained the suspense for a while, before finally revealing to me that I was to play Superstar's pair.
What was your reaction when you heard it?
I couldn't believe it. I didn't know if I could tell others about it, and even if I did, I didn't think people would believe me (laughs). Till the shoot began, I didn't tell anyone that I was playing the female lead in Kaala -- including my children and other family members. Anything can happen in the film industry. Only when I saw my name below Rajini sir's name in the shooting invitation did I breathe a sigh of relief. That's when I felt reassured that I was indeed a part of the project. I told my family about it, and they were happier than I was. Friends of my kids keep asking them about it. They are quite excited.
Surely, you must have been curious about why you were picked?
Of course I was. Ranjith sir told me that the way my character was designed, it was important that it be played by someone who could have passed for a Balu Mahendra heroine -- someone thin, dark-skinned and deglamourised. I think I fit the bill perfectly. He felt I was too thin and wanted me to put on a bit of weight. He also wanted to darken my complexion a little. I did so, and also put on about seven kilos.
Do you think your role will result in comparisons to Kumudhavalli's (played by Radhika Apte) role from Kabali?
I didn't compare it with any other character and Ranjith sir too, I'm sure, wasn't really worried about any comparisons. We are convinced that the audience will not be tempted to do that.
Here's a question you have likely been expecting. What was it like to work with Rajinikanth?
In one word, superb. He is a humble artiste, and extremely easy to work with. It's easy to develop a comfort zone with him. All my scenes are ones where I'm with him, and it was quite a memorable experience. I also got to know about the man behind the actor, from my conversations with him.
Word is that you are a part of Arjun Reddy's remake, Varma?
Yes, and I can confirm that it's one of the main characters. Naturally, I can't tell you much else.
Looking at your roles in films like Virumbugiren, Sullan or Thavasi, it's hard to miss that you've always shown a preference for strong, independent characters.
It's not a conscious decision at all. Having said that, there are a lot of female actors out there who want to do glamorous roles. There are a handful who want to play deglamourised characters; that trend went away with K Balachander sir's films. I have been deeply influenced by films made by such directors, and such independent characters really kept me going, even if I was just doing a film or two every year.