Aishwarya Lekshmi talks about testing positive for Corona, lockdown actives and her upcoming projects
Within a very short span of time, this beautiful diva has carved a niche for herself in the Malayalam Cinema with super hits to her credit like Njandukalude Naatil our edavela, Mayaanadhi and Varathan. Now she is poised to step into the Tamil and Telugu film industry with big names like Jagame Thandhiram, Ponniyin Selvan and Godse! Ritz is in conversation with the free spirited young star, Aishwarya Lekshmi, for whom there is no looking back now!
Interview: Riya Sonny Datson
How does it feel to be a South Indian Star just three years into your career?
I would not call myself a star as I am just a beginner, especially when it comes to the Tamil and Telugu industry. My first Tamil film ‘Action’ gave me much needed confidence to work in an industry inspite of not knowing the language. I was very apprehensive about it for I had never stepped out of Kerala. As I always say, you can never take the Malayali out of me. But I felt it was a great learning experience working in another industry, for it taught me not just nuances of Cinema, but also about how people work in another culture, their style of art, way of life and work etiquette which was an amazing learning. I am glad more interesting roles are coming my way.
Over the last three years, how do you think you have evolved as an actor?
When I started out, I didn’t know much about acting, narration, work etiquette or even what a script really meant. With every film, I have learnt something new and I have become more aware of my mistakes. So much so that, today I have a hard time deciding about script or a character. I am more aware of what can go wrong and what might work.
How difficult was it learning Telugu for Godse?
I remember asking Dulquer Salmaan how he learnt the dialogues for Mahanati and he told me that he had always been good with languages. I was just floored. Somehow I didn’t think I would ever be able to do it. But thankfully, for Godse I had a great language coach who was there to guide me constantly. It turned out that it wasn’t as bad as I had expected it to be. Once I got a hang of it, I didn’t even need prompting. I was able to believe my dialogues and deliver them with confidence. I think it also helped that we spoke the language on the sets , so you are left with no choice but to learn it.
How did you prepare for your Tamil roles?
For Jagame Thandhiram, I am doing the character of a Tamilian who is settled in London. Since I had never been abroad, it was a totally new experience for me. I depended on my director completely to understand the character and the script. Karthik Subbaraj is someone who believes that everyone should look and feel healthy, especially women. He strongly feels that women should not go by norms set by society to maintain a slim figure and deny themselves of food. In fact, I had to put on weight for my role in Jagame Thandhiram for he felt I needed to look healthier. But for Ponniyin Selvan, my character required me to look slim, so I had to tone down within a month. So I did all that I could in the limited time. I learnt swimming, tried my hand at Kalaripayittu and did a bit of double sculling.
How was the experience working with Mani Ratnam for Ponniyin Selvan?
I had never even dreamt of working with Mani Ratnam. I feel it was even beyond the scope of my dream (Laughs). It felt so surreal working with him. He was very clear about every little detail, he knew each and every character in and out – what they should be doing, their emotions, internal thoughts, every minute detail. Considering that Ponniyin Selvan is such a huge film with multiple characters, it was just brilliant to watch him work. He amazes us every single time and I feel that his life revolves around Cinema for that is all he thinks about. He is very chilled out and wonderful to work with.
Weren’t you tensed at all?
Oh yes! The first day especially seemed like a nightmare as I was extremely intimidated. It was Brinda Master who kept inspiring me and telling me that I can do it. Once I settled in, it was much easier.
You also tested positive for Corona recently. How did you fare through it?
I was shooting continuously from October so I knew it was just a matter of time before I got the infection. It came as no surprise when I was informed that some of the crew members had tested positive. I had just reached home after wrapping up shoot when I heard the news. I got tested immediately and it turned out positive. Though I had mild symptoms, I went into quarantine and started medication immediately, following every advice of my doctor. I did steam inhalation and took all the medicines I was prescribed and I recovered without too much trouble. But post Covid, I had severe migraine for over a week, along with insomnia. Your body also takes a beating when you are infected with the virus and needs time to recuperate. I practised yoga and I strongly feel the breathing exercises helped me to improve my lung capacity. My advice to anyone testing positive would be to strictly follow the instructions given by your doctor, even if you don’t have any symptoms. Please don’t take the virus lightly.
How do you handle the suspense of now knowing the fate of your film?
Sometimes the films we expect to fare well, don’t do well and ones we don’t count on too much, may do very well. I have had both experiences. But when you watch a film in the theatre, we get a feel of what the fate of the film is going to be based on the reaction of the audience. I am an emotional person and I find myself extremely happy when a film does well and if it doesn’t work, I feel awful about it too. I have faith in my capacity as an actor but sometimes when that is criticised, I do feel bad. My biggest stress buster would be talking to my friends. I have good friends in the industry who really care about me and help me to tide over difficult times. I am tensed about Jagame Thandhiram, that is expected to release on Netflix on June 18th. We were really waiting for a grand theatrical release and it is a disappointment that it won’t hit theatres but we are happy to be on the OTT platform,.
How has the shift from the theatre to OTT affected you has an actor?
I think for actors, OTT is a brilliant opportunity. Content is king on this platform and as we have a wider audience, we don’t have to focus on what really works for a theatrical release. There are better characters, better options, better scripts and I feel the geographical barriers are blurring. Everyone has more time on their hands due to the lockdown. As an actor, I am getting opportunities and multiple content, which is great. But when it comes to the business aspect, it is difficult to gauge how it is all going to work out in the long run.
Owing to the lockdown, do you feel peer pressure?
I am someone who is never relaxed or patient, I need to constantly do something. But when it comes to work, I know what belongs to me will come to me eventually. As I said earlier, I am an emotional person. I don’t have any social media apps installed on my phone for I realised after the first lockdown that negative comments have an impact on my mind and I don’t have time to waste on social media. I appreciate my co actors, enjoy their performance and their film and then wait for my roles to come. What good can pressure bring? We can’t control our future anyway.
You already have two titular roles in your kitty, tell us more about it.
Yes, one is ‘Kumari’ which is fantasy film that also involves folklore as well. We haven’t started shooting for it, so I can’t reveal much but it is a different kind of film. ‘Archana 31, not out’ is the second project which is in post production stage. Both are female centric films and I am happy that the market is opening up to such roles thanks to actors like Nayantara, Parvathy and Manju Warrier. I got the offer of this film within the second year of my film career but I was not confident about committing to it. At the end of the day, my main concern is that the producer should not run into a loss as the pressure is very high when you are doing the titular role. But Martin Prakkat, who is the producer and director Akhil Anilkumar were convinced that I fit the bill. I am doing the role of a primary school teacher and the film has been shot in rural Palghat. This was definitely very different from the urban roles I usually portray so it was a great break. Working in Palghat was a lot of fun, the film has a great cast and lot of characters. It was a memorable experience.
You also have projects with Nivin Pauly and Tovino lined up!
Yes, we havent started shoot for Bismi Special with Nivin Pauly but we are almost ready with ‘Kaanekkaane’ which is an unusual family drama. It is a different school of film making and I am working with Tovino Thomas, Suraj Venjaramoodu and Shruthy Ramachandran. It was great fun working with Shruthy and towards the end of the shoot, we were inseparable.
How do you stay motivated during the lockdown?
There are good days and bad days. Post covid the insomnia bit was really giving me a tough time but now I am more settled. I think after a long while, I am getting to spend quality time with my family and I am enjoying that. I finally got the time to redo my home. I also make it a point to workout as when I am home, I am prone to binge eating. I have started to maintain a journal or rather a ‘things to do’ list, I do chores around the house and do animal training for my pet. And yes, I watch a lot of content – sometimes Oscars, sometimes Vampire theme movies (laughs). I am having fun!
So is it time to say goodbye to your medical career?
Well, as of now I am in a very comfortable space and I am focussed only on films. So I don’t think I will be pursuing medicine anytime soon.
What is on your Bucket list?
After lockdown, I have promised myself that I will not sit idle. I want to travel with my friends whenever I get time off work. The last time we got together was for New year of 2020 and it was so much fun. Travel tops my list!
Is Marriage on the cards?
My parents are definitely keen but I don’t think I am ready yet! I am single and happy to stay that way for now!