Aishwarya Lekshmi: We should be politically correct, not films

The actor, who currently has a host of projects across the South, talks about her acting process, headlining films, and more
Aishwarya Lekshmi: We should be politically correct, not films

A doctor-turned-model, a model-turned-actor, and now a pan-Indian actor... Aishwarya Lekshmi's cinematic journey might seem like the stuff of dreams, but it has not been easy. With apprehensive parents and a lack of real contacts in the industry, it took Aishwarya a while before she could establish herself. "My parents, both of whom were government officials, are still not very pleased about me being in cinema. However, they don't say anything anymore because they see that I'm happy. Their problem right now is I don't find enough time to be with them," says the actor.

Interestingly, over the past two years, it is this 'time' that she had in abundance during the pandemic. For an actor who is used to travelling and meeting new people, the confinement was quite hard. Aishwarya recalls that the first couple of months were extremely difficult, but with time, she became more patient and used the time for retrospection. "I did a lot of things to keep myself engaged. I became more aware of how to spend my energy. I decided on a course of action regarding balancing my work. I have a certain strategy now as opposed to how I used to blindly take up offers. In a sense, the pandemic helped me grow," says Aishwarya, who harbours hope of returning to the 'old' normal.

During this phase, three of her films had a direct digital release — Jagame Thandhiram, Kaanekkaane, and Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa (PPKV). In Kaanekkaane and PPKV, Aishwarya played characters that are deeply engulfed in grief and agony. The actor, who was initially known for her happy-go-lucky characters, wanted to break out of them. "Initially, I was not very confident about pulling off such roles. I've turned down a few such offers. Even for Kaanekaane, people warned me not to do the "other woman" role fearing society's outlook towards such characters. In fact, I wanted to play Sruthi Ramachandran's role, however, the writing convinced me that there is no 'right' or 'wrong' in such complex characters."

Agony, Aishwarya believes, is not an easy emotion to express. "I recently did a Telugu film, which deals with domestic violence, and my mind was clouded with agony and trauma for a long period. There was a particular instance where I couldn't stop crying even after the director called a cut. It hasn't happened to me before, probably because my acting process is different."

While there are actors who do extensive research and homework for their roles, Aishwarya's acting process involves her developing a sense of empathy with her characters. "I believe in acting that seeps in subconsciously. Even as a student, I was someone who liked to process what was taught rather than just mechanically taking notes. As an actor, I prefer having conversations with people to help me understand situations that I might not have gone through in real life. For instance, to understand how grief works, I spoke to a couple of my friends who lost their dear ones. I noticed quite a few things in common between them and it helped me enhance my performance."

Aishwarya's last release in Malayalam, Archana 31 Not Out was her first film as a solo lead, and the actor is quite aware of the responsibility of shouldering a film. "Archana was a small-scale film with a young team. Even when the pandemic delayed our release plans, we were sorted businesswise. However, my next, Kumari, which is also a female-centric project, is in complete contrast to Archana. When I started shooting for the Nirmal Sahadev directorial, I was shocked by the film's scale. Although it is definitely a huge pressure, we're hopeful about how the film will come out."

With cinema being one of the most popular art forms, there have always been concerns about its impact on society. Nowadays, artists too are cautious about the projects they choose and the kind of message it offers. In her breakout film, Mayaanadhi, Aishwarya's character was lauded for her choices, but it also received backlash. However, Aishwarya asserts that it is the audience who needs to be politically correct and not the films. "While I choose a project, I make sure that it doesn't say anything stupid. But I'm also aware that certain films are purely made for entertainment, and utmost discretion is required while consuming such films. There shouldn't be an ultimatum that every single element of a film should be politically correct. I don't think art can be made under such restrictions", says the actor, adding, "The change should happen from us. As individuals, we should try to be politically correct and not discriminate. Films should be left alone."

After making a solid start to her career, Aishwarya is now putting her foot on the pedal with her upcoming slate of films, which includes Captain, co-starring Arya and Mani Ratnam's big-budget multilingual project, Ponniyin Selvan. Her Telugu debut Godse had her in an action-packed avatar wielding guns. "It is a proper commercial Telugu film, and I wanted to do something in this space. I could see that the sensibilities were different. For example, the way I walk in this film is different from how I usually do for a Malayalam film. It needed a certain style because I play an investigative officer and she had a sense of purpose. It was challenging because I'm usually a very sloppy person. But in Godse, my hair and styling had to be on point throughout. It was a different experience."

Though she dabbles in multiple languages, Aishwarya feels she is most comfortable in the Malayalam industry. "I'm well aware of my limitations. Though I've done a few Tamil films, I'm still very bad with the language. It might sound unusual but I think my Telugu is better than my Tamil. While doing other languages, my focus is mainly on the dialogues, and the emotions become secondary. So I've told my directors that I'm not dubbing my lines till I improve my language. With Malayalam, it's easier because I connect to the stories, the culture, and the emotions."

How can a chat with Aishwarya be complete without questions on Ponniyin Selvan? Even though she is hesitant to delve too much into it, Aishwarya shares that it was a memorable experience just watching all the magic unfold. "I never imagined I would be part of a Mani Ratnam film. It's quite an experience to just see him do what he does best. He keeps things very simple and doesn't believe in filming anything that isn't needed for the film. It was almost like he was filming a 'small' film, but trust me, Ponniyin Selvan will truly be a spectacle for the ages." 

Related Stories

No stories found.
Cinema Express