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Spotlight > Aishwarya Dhanush
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Lights, Camera, Aishwarya

Over the years we have seen sons and daughters of the film fraternity carry the torch and do their bit to contribute something new to the industry. Some use the leverage of their backing and are not ashamed of it while some believe in being self-made and not cutting corners, because to them, success is one that is solely earned and not one that thrives under the shadows of influence. Here is one such woman who is very hard to peg as a superstar’s daughter, definitely not because she is in dearth of talent but only because of the sheer absence of even traces of vanity. Modesty defines her existence and her comportment exudes practicality – not a surprise at all considering she has witnessed it all through her life in the form of her father, Tamil superstar Rajinikanth. Filmmaking is her primary passion and she learnt the tricks of the trade by working under a handful of directors in the industry. Now, she is all set to release her debut feature film ‘3’ which has proven to be special to her on so many levels. Aishwarya Dhanush on her love for films, family, being a mother and more in a conversation with Vijetha Rangabashyam.
‘If people call me a balanced person today, it is only because of my upbringing’
In the formative years of her life, there was nothing fancy, glamorous or over the top about Aishwarya’s life. She and her sister were brought up in simplicity, as normal kids. “My mother never let us believe that we were raised in a home with the presence of a superstar.” Aishwarya claims that her upbringing was conservative and strict to a certain extent and one that was heavily influenced by traditions and customs. “We celebrated all the Hindu festivals and of course Christmas, considering I studied in a convent and I loved decorating the Christmas tree and going to the church.” Of all the conversations they used to have as a family, cinema never figured in any one of them. “Would you believe if I said that my first ever premiere of my dad’s movie was Thalapathi? Prior to that, we had not seen a single film of his.” With regard to watching films, she says that she never was allowed as a child to watch films that had been released recently; as a kid, her recollection when it comes to films are old, black and white English films. “My mother would play all the old classics at home, like the Sound of Music and Mary Poppins. My dad never used to come back home as a superstar. When he was home he was just my father.”

‘I am my dad’s pet. It would be an understatement to say that he is my friend, philosopher and guide because he is so much more’
Aishwarya thinks that every person as a child is inclined to believe that parents are partial towards their sibling. “I have felt that my mother had a soft corner for my sister and I am sure my sister felt the same way.” She unflinchingly admits to the fact that she was and is very close to her father. “What I share with my dad is very different. It is not just another father-daughter relationship. We shift roles according to the situation. I am his daughter when he needs me to be one, his friend when he needs a friend and his mother when he needs to see a mother in me.” Her rapport with her dad is one that beautifully changes in tandem with circumstances that define their lives.

Meenakshi Chittranjan is a second mother to me. Again, she is someone who just happened in my life’
Aishwarya has been learning Bharatnatyam for 15 years now and other than filmmaking, dance is her second passion. When she started learning dance, it was more because her mother wanted her to learn the art but when she got into it, she fell in love with the form. “I needed a teacher who understood my lifestyle and where I came from and my time constraints because I used to travel a lot.” According to her, Meenakshi understood her background perfectly well and worked with her anyway not because she was the superstar’s daughter but because she thought that Aishwarya was talented. “She was the one who made me continue dance after marriage and she insisted on calling Dhanush and speaking with him. After speaking with her, he said that I should not stop dancing and he said that Bharatnatyam does not come to everyone easily and that I was extremely lucky to have a Guru who was a driving force, so I went back to learning.” It has been a year and a half since she had her second son and she definitely wants to perform dance recitals in the future. “I want to take it easy though, considering I am full time into filmmaking now and it has become my first profession.”

‘My sister and I are like friends. I am glad she is my sister’
There is hardly any age difference between Aishwarya and Soundarya, perhaps why their relationship is more of friendship than anything else. “When we were kids, I was in Bangalore and she was living with our parents in Chennai. I think the distance drew us closer.” The sisters stand at either end of the spectrum when it comes to their personalities. “I am an introvert and have very few friends. She is just the opposite – extremely gregarious and has a lot of friends. She balances the extrovert quality in me and I the introvert quality in her and it works for us.” According to Aishwarya, they are just like any other sisters and the fights are restricted to trivial things like borrowing clothes. “Even today, after both of us are married, if there is something missing in her wardrobe, she would call me and I do the same thing.” Other than clothes, Aishwarya feels that there is no need for them to have sibling rivalry. “We both do something totally different in terms of profession. Even though the industry is the same, I am into feature film making and she is into everything digital which I have no clue about. We have married two people who are entirely different, so where is the question of rivalry?”

‘I have no regrets about my love life’
Aishwarya says that every girl has stories to tell and they all have histories and that is what makes them grow into a woman. “I think I have learnt the right things at the right time and my parents have been extremely supportive. I am very glad I married who I married and I am also glad I went through what I went through.” She believes that when it comes to love, it does not matter how many people you see fall in and fall out of relationships, you do not learn unless you are put in the situation. “I feel very blessed today with what I have and who I am married to and everything has been such a learning experience.”

‘Dhanush and I getting together is god’s will. It was just destined to happen’
When the news about their marriage came out, we were all pleasantly surprised considering it was all too sudden to which she agrees. “It all happened very fast and we were too young. By the time we realized there is something between us, we got married.” Aishwarya had gone to watch Kadhal Konden at Albert Theatre where the real and reel life hero was also present. “After watching the movie, I sent him flowers with a note saying he was extremely good and he called me to say thanks. That is how we started talking and within six months we got married. It happened just like how Kola Veri happened.” Did daddy dearest oppose? “His parents were apprehensive initially but that was because he was too young. But he was quite strong about what he felt and I do not think they regret it today. Likewise, my parents did not oppose vehemently; they just asked me if I was sure I was not rushing into things. My parents gave me their views and I had mine and I chose to get married to him anyway.”

‘I think I have done a good job as a wife and I am extremely proud about it’
Aishwarya thinks that it is hard to get to know a person in all of six months and what you see in those initial days is always the best side of the person. So what led her to get married to Dhanush so early – shall we say leap of faith? Perhaps, she says. “Dhanush and I figured each other out after marriage, learnt where our interests lie and discovered our temperaments over a period of time. The best thing about our relationship is the fact that we give each other plenty of space.” Their marriage is one that is defined by giving one another respect, be it values or sentiments. “Neither of us believes in changing for the other person just because we want to be together. When you are in your mid 20s your mind is set in terms of what you believe in and it is very hard to change yourself.” Their relationship as defined by Aishwarya is healthy where he gives her ample freedom, nurtures her passion and is extremely encouraging. Living and dealing with an actor is not something new to Aishwarya. She has grown up with an actor or at least grown up with a mother who has lived with an actor. “I have seen what my mother has gone through and I understand the kind of patience it takes to live with an actor. Their timings are not normal, their mood swings are at times haywire and an artist lives in someone else’s shoes when they are acting. While some take it back home, some don’t. But I feel switching personalities can be difficult and the actor in you leaves a residue and the personality lingers around even when they get back home.” According to her, it takes a lot of patience to be a wife to an actor considering she has to compensate for his absence to her kids and make them understand that he still loves them.

‘My boys are the best that has happened to me in my life. They are my strength and my driving force’
Aishwarya says that one can never learn from her mother about being a mother. “I do not think I have looked at my mother as ‘oh she’s been so nice’ (laughs). After bearing two children, I now see my mother in me.” She says that god has blessed her with two beautiful boys and that nothing else in life gives her more joy. “Something about them keeps me going. It might be something as small as feeling low or an argument with someone, but the minute I look at them play, fight, watch TV or even sleep, it all vanishes and I feel that everything is going to be fine. It is an unbelievable feeling.” She says no amount of money or success can give a person that sense of security you get while watching the kids and realizing that everything is going to be okay. “I want them to go to school and say that she is my mother. I want to make them proud. They are my strength when I am weak, my happiness and of course the very cause for my lack of sleep.”

‘The right terms to describe my relationship with Selvaraghavan would be friend, father and guide. I would not use philosopher since he is not one’
The adulation and respect Aishwarya has for her brother in law and guru is crystal clear when she talks about him. “Whenever I have been low, he has always been there to support me. He has always said that things are going to be fine. I can chat about anything under the sun for hours on end with him.” But when it comes to advice she never goes to him since he hates giving advice. “He is someone who can just listen to you. It is very hard to find someone who listens but never advises.” Professionally, she has learnt a lot of filmmaking from Selvaraghavan. “He is a hard taskmaster at work. He was never partial to me because I was his brother’s wife. In fact, I was late to sets more than once and he made me stand outside the sets from nine in the morning to six in the evening. I have never been late to sets after the incident, in fact, I am an hour early.”

‘When it comes to films, I cannot think non commercial. Creating characters and making someone do what they are not is like being god’
Aishwarya is a practical filmmaker and she admits to the fact that the entertainment factor is the most important element in any movie. “I do not like sad endings primarily because I think people go to the theatre to see something which is not present in their lives and that is why movies strike a chord with you. When people go back home, they should feel happy and entertained, at least that is what I expect from films.” Talking about the kind of genres she is fond of, her interests lie with movies where romance is portrayed realistically, thrillers and action films. “I have never watched a single horror film, they scare me to death. My all-time favourite movie till date is Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge – I think there is something very raw and real about the film. I could watch it on repeat even today. Sound of Music, the Rocky and Indiana Jones series are also a few of my favourite films.” In terms of filmmaking influences, she has only one person that comes to her mind; her guru Selvaraghavan. “Aayirathil Oruvan taught me what five films could have taught me. When you look at someone as inspiration, their shades naturally tend to seep into your work.”

‘More than what I learnt from Dhanush professionally, the kind of contribution he has made to my project is phenomenal’
By working with Selvaraghavan, Aishwarya learnt the nuances of filmmaking, the technicalities and the difficulties in making a film. “My first film is obviously a learning curve for me. You make your mistakes and learn from them. But Dhanush made it so easy for me because I never made mistakes but I kept learning.” He would take all her options and still give her more options to choose from because he would feel that they might work better. “It is not easy to work with someone like him. He moulds into the character and he warrants enough justification for his role. He says that I have to tell him what his role requires him to do so that he can do his homework. If it is a boy next door, he will practice being a boy next door.” Having discussed about the film and scenes in detail with him at home, by the time she went to the sets to shoot, she was thorough and she knew exactly what she wanted. “Directing the artists to perform was a bit difficult for a person like me who is closed. I had conceived these characters in my mind and he helped me portray them so beautifully to the artists.”

‘3 is my baby. It’s Yatra, Linga and 3’
The much anticipated film is expected to release end of March. The delay in the release is only because the team has decided to dub the film in Telugu and Hindi. “3 is something I have been waiting for. It gives me such a high and this is a dream come true situation for me considering the film has received such a phenomenal response even before its release.” Today, if everyone is waiting to watch her film, she believes that it is purely because of god’s grace. “When it comes to the film, everything fell in place. My kids were so understanding when I was shooting and so were my parents and in laws. I have to mention my friends who were so supportive of me through the course of the film. They would pick up my calls at 4 in the morning when I would feel low under stress and they would say everything is going to be fine.”

‘I penned the characters keeping Dhanush and Shruti in mind’
According to Aishwarya, 3 is a very emotionally charged romantic film revolving around two characters and the three stages of their lives. The film was meant to be a short film initially but when she narrated the script to Dhanush, he really liked it and asked her to improvise on the script to make it into a feature film. “I told Dhanush that he has to act in the film and he said just because you are my wife you cannot force me to act and that he would think about it if his dates free up.” As fate would have it, his dates did free up and he agreed to act in his wife’s debut film which according to her would have only 50 days of shoot. “I had asked Shruti (Hassan) if she would do the role but she was not free. We had to consider Amala Paul and she had agreed but she had date problems too. Finally, Shruti called back and said that she was free and asked if the role was still available.”

‘Everything about Kola Veri just happened and now I want people to recognize Kola Veri as part of 3 and not the other way around’
Aishwarya and Anirudh Ravichander (the music director, her cousin) were at her place, wanting to compose a song. She had described the mood of the track to him – a break up song where the girl ditches the boy. But she was very clear that she did not want a sad song that would urge people to walk out of the theatre. She was looking for a peppy tune but a mood that is sad. She loved the tune he had composed and asked him not to give her more options to evade being confused. “Dhanush came home and I asked him to give me dummy lyrics for the song to check how it sounds. He said why write, I will sing and the first thing he said was why this kola veri di. He kept singing the entire song and it was so catchy and I said let us keep this.” A couple of weeks later, much to her dismay she found out from a friend that a rough footage of the song had been leaked online. “I was so disappointed and I was in a complete dilemma whether to keep the song or look for an alternative.” But Aishwarya was already getting such raving feedback about the song on Twitter from everybody that her dilemma became deeper. “I actually called my cousin and asked him to think of a new tune but somewhere I felt too sentimental about the song and I did not feel good about replacing it. So I told Dhanush that we should give people the proper version by releasing a single and he agreed.” But amongst shooting and all the production work they barely had time to print posters and host an official promotion. “We called Sony and they suggested the idea of uploading the link on YouTube. The song is only a hit because of all those people who tweeted and re-tweeted it. In fact, I saw so many covers of the song done by other people and it makes me so happy to see the entire world affected by the song”.

‘It is disappointing that a performer like Dhanush will not work with me again’
Dhanush had explicitly stated that 3 would be the first and the last film he would act in under his wife’s direction. On asking her about the subject, she said that he might have said it and that he would have his reasons. “There is both good and bad in any decision. He wants me to be on my own and he is a criticizing husband who wants his wife to be a perfectionist. He wants to let go of me career wise and wants me to make my own decisions.” When asked about Shruti, she said that sees great potential in her career as an actor. “I cannot speak on her other films. When it came to my film she was extremely dedicated. For a glamorous actor like her, a completely de-glam role is very hard to perform. She asked me what her role would entail and she has given the role her best.” As a director, Aishwarya is extremely happy with Shruti’s performance. “She is very talented and takes her work seriously.”

Aishwarya Dhanush is a stellar example of a person leading a wholesome life surrounded by love, dedication and success. The world is still moving to the one-hit wonder, ‘Kola Veri’ – truly a larger than life phenomenon. We hope ‘3’recieves a similar path of recognition and success. In a 2-hour conversation with her, she was clear about the fact that she does not like sad endings when it comes to films – let the belief reflect in her life and may her God bless her with happiness that is timeless.

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