It’s clear to everyone who’s seen Gatta Kusthi that Aishwarya Lekshmi has landed a film that likely made heroines dizzy with envy. How often do you see a commercial film fronted by a heroine? Aishwarya who has had a tremendous year so far, full of interesting work, takes time off from shooting to discuss her career:
A Telugu debut, turning producer, and all the films you have got as an actor, including Ponniyin Selvan: I, Ammu, Kumari and Gatta Kusthi… It has been a good year?
I didn’t allow myself to think about it. On most days, the shooting involved difficult scenes, and so, my focus was there. Now, yes, it all seems too good to be true. My only prayer was that my roles should get recognised, and result in better ones.
In Gatta Kusthi, you play a wrestler. What was it like to pull off a physically demanding role involving stunts?
Anbariv masters did the stunt choreography, and as I was new to this, my body wasn’t moving as they expected it to. I suffered some injuries during the rehearsals. I tried to learn gusthi in whatever little time I had, to make the role look convincing.
The film had its share of patriarchal jokes to make sure the final message was delivered with a punch. How did you perceive them?
Though the story is about my character Keerthi, the second half is about the transformation of Veera (Vishnu Vishal). The way a film is packaged is to ensure mass appeal and entertainment. I think Gatta Kusthi has succeeded in doing that.
You have often spoken about the importance of validation from audience appreciation.
Whenever a film gets good reviews, my confidence goes up, and the decisions I take have had a positive effect on my career. I have also received constructive criticism for some of my roles but later realised that it was more about my characters than my performances. As an actor, we are expected to give variety. I switched to rural roles and thankfully, that’s when Ponniyin Selvan happened. All the criticism and feedback play a part in shaping the work I do.
On Ponniyin Selvan, fans of the novel weren’t happy with the limited screen time your character, Poonguzhali, received.
I keep encountering those comments, and how the introduction scene from the book wasn’t there in the film. I read something about Poonguzhali saving Vanthiyathevan from assassins as well. Even when reading the book, I wondered how it would be for certain ideas to make it to the film, and yes, I understand why some might feel upset. However, we had to bring down five books to two films; so, this is Mani sir’s version of Ponniyin Selvan.
As someone new to Tamil and Telugu, how do you get into the skin of a culturally rooted character like Poonguzhali?
Tamil and Telugu don’t come naturally to me, and I put in the effort to get the language right. But it’s not a barrier. For Ammu, I had someone pronounce every word and sentence for me. I would convert it into Malayalam to get it right. The process is hectic but helps me understand more about the character. I actually teared up while shooting one of the scenes in Ammu just because of the dialogue. I would listen to music and eat chocolates to get out of feeling low. I had a similar experience when I shot for my role in the short from Putham Pudhu Kaalai Vidiyaadhaa. I’m a spontaneous actor who doesn’t need to get into the groove for each scene.
Your first couple of Tamil films weren’t exactly received well. Did you find a need for course correction?
The strategy was to ensure that people could see I exist. Karthik Subbaraj sir and Mani Ratnam sir called me to work with them after seeing Mayaanadhi. That was a small film that did well and was spoken about within the industry. I opted for small roles to understand the language and the industry well. Each film has taught me a lot and I don’t regret any of them.
Be it Archana 31 Not Out, Ammu, Kumari or Gatta Kusthi, marriage seems to be a common theme.
I got Archana… when I was looking for something women-centric. There was a personal angle to it too, as I have had conversations with my family when they wanted to arrange a marriage for me. With the film, I was able to point out how we have progressed as a society but are still stuck to certain customs. Kumari was a different world, and as a fan of mythological and fantasy books, I loved it. For Gatta Kusthi, I didn’t think I could pull off the role of a wrestler. Three years back when I got the role, I wasn’t even sure I should do it. I was starting off in Tamil just then. But the success of my other films and the validation I have since received, gave me the confidence to try this film. I’m glad it worked.