Aditi Rao Hydari: Great directors like Mani Ratnam and Mysskin don't spell out things
The actor, who will next be seen in Mysskin's upcoming thriller, Psycho, talks about her choice of cinema, participation in social media, and more
Francis Ford Coppola once said that movies and magic have always been closely associated. The willing suspension of disbelief about a make-believe world continues to drive cinema even now. This magic-cinema correlation works as long as you remain at arm's length from it, oblivious to how the tricks work. This is probably why it is refreshing to talk to someone like Aditi Rao Hydari. The actor, a decade old in the industry, still equates cinema with magic. "Even now when I read an interesting script, I have butterflies in my stomach. There is a mixture of fear and anticipation that drives me towards a film. For example, the sets of my Malayalam film, Sufiyum Sujathayum, feel like a magical land. It is almost like a fable. I have never done anything like this before. This surreal feeling excites me," says Aditi, who will next be seen in Mysskin's Psycho.
The teaser of Psycho, also starring Udhayanidhi Stalin and Nithya Menen, sent chills down the spine as Mysskin gave us a peek into the world he has created, a world whose inhabitants we are not yet familiar with. "I play Dhahini, a radio jockey who is empathetic and has a unique relationship with her father. I believe it would be a disservice to Mysskin's vision to tell you more about my character." One of the few actors to have worked with both Mani Ratnam and Mysskin, Aditi feels lucky to get to work with directors with distinctly different thought processes. "With incredible directors, the learning is not obvious and happens on a deeper level. They don't spell out things, you just learn it on the sets. It is about being a sponge and absorbing the incredible things around you."
While we might not know much about her character in the thriller, it is clear that Aditi leans more towards 'intense' films than the regular commercial films. "Intense", she says and laughs, "These boxes are so claustrophobic that I don't even want to understand these terms. These are not the things that matter to me while saying yes to a script. The director is the biggest priority. Then comes the script, and then, my character. I am always awed by how a filmmaker envisioned me acting those scenes he has written down." Is this the anticipation that drives Aditi's film choices? "Absolutely, it makes me wonder if I'd be able to live up to that challenge? That is the moment I want to do the film. All my choices have been instinctive," says Aditi, who adds that if there is any one type of film that she doesn't see herself doing, it is run-of-the-mill material. "I find them to be boring, and so will the audience. Why would I be part of such films?"
This instinct has worked out well so far in Aditi's second coming of sorts. Though she made her acting debut in Tamil with the 2007 film, Sringaram, it was 2017's Kaatru Veliyidai that truly put her on the map in South Indian cinema. "I joined cinema because of Mani sir, and to get to work in Kaatru Veliyidai was like a little girl's dream come true. It was the universe's way of saying my life has come a full circle," says Aditi. Her next Tamil film was Mani Ratnam's multi-starrer, Chekka Chivantha Vaanam, and she became just the second heroine to be cast in successive Mani Ratnam films after Aishwarya Rai. This is something that happened with the National Award-winning Telugu film director, Mohanakrishna Indraganti, too. After playing the lead in Sammohanam, Aditi is also part of his next multi-starrer, V. "I love being cast again by directors. I have a strong dance background, and I have immense respect for my gurus. I see the directors as my gurus. When people you enjoyed working with cast you again, it is an amazing feeling. It is a sign they trust my talent," says Aditi, who after just a solitary release this year is looking at releases in multiple languages in 2020. "I am an 'enthu cutlet' and I work at a hectic pace. I have a release in Telugu (V), Hindi (The Girl on the Train), Malayalam, and in Tamil, I'm part of Tughlaq Darbar, and Dhanush's next directorial, which seems to be getting delayed. I do hope it gets back on the floors."
Across multiple languages, Aditi has worked with filmmakers who have contrasting and distinctive styles of working. How does she incorporate her individual thoughts and identity into the narrative woven by filmmakers with a strong voice of their own? "I'm a director's actor. If the director is convincing, then I am too of their vision. When a grandma tells you a story, you are engrossed in what is being told. The logical errors don't bother you, but there are times when my creative impulses come to the fore. Having said that, I believe an actor should maximise a director's vision and not engage in self-indulgence."
While over-indulgence may be harmful, doesn't an actor require it to a certain extent in order to effectively portray a part? "My indulgence comes before I step into the set. I did not learn acting formally. For me, each character is like wearing a fresh pair of clothes after a bath. You have to iron out the details of the character even before stepping on to the sets. Establishing a character can happen in subtle ways. It can be through the costumes, make-up, dialogue diction, etc... I don't want to worry about all those things after I step on the set," says Aditi.
Despite all the pre-production work and the directorial touches, the end result is always in the hands of the audience. Even though she has done multiple characters since Kaatru Veliyidai, Aditi continues to be known as Leela. The Padmaavat actor recalls Mani Ratnam giving her a piece of life advice that she follows till today: 'The most important thing is to know why you did something and do something the way you wanted to do it.' "The intention matters most, the perceptions belong to others. That is not on you. So, why should I be sulking about Leela being a burden? I am a positive person, and I do understand Leela was a defining role for me, in many ways. Working with my dream director, creating a character that continues to remain in people's hearts, what more can I ask?" asks Aditi.
In contrast to the time she started out in cinema, being in people's hearts has got a bit easier with the advent of social media. For someone who is a bundle of positivity, how does she take to a space that is rife with trolling and shaming. "I can either complain about the trolling or look at the bright side that allows me to engage with the fans. I do agree that with all the sharing, the elusiveness of an actor becomes non-existent. But you do get to be closer to people who love you. My generation grew alongside social media. Social media is a work in progress, and so are we."