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Aishwarya Lekshmi: I am still an actor who believes in spontaneity rather than the process

The Malayalam actress, who plays a Sri Lankan Tamil singer in Jagame Thandhiram, talks to OTTplay about working in the film, the evolution of her career and more

Aishwarya Lekshmi: I am still an actor who believes in spontaneity rather than the process

Last Updated: 06.37 PM, Jun 16, 2021


The pandemic has posed an excruciatingly long wait for a lot of people including Malayalam actress Aishwarya Lekshmi, who plays the female lead in Dhanush’s Jagame Thandhiram. The movie, which will stream on Netflix from June 18, marks her first big release in Tamil and on OTTs. While the Mayaanadhi and Varathan actress has already gone to bag a plum role in Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan, the upcoming Karthik Subbaraj directorial could arguably put her on the map in Kollywood. 

Aishwarya talks to OTTplay about working the big budget film, her career so far and her upcoming films. 


Jagame Thandhiram is a Dhanush-starrer that Karthik Subbaraj directed after Petta. What was your reaction when the makers opted for an OTT release instead of theatres?

Initially, I was very upset because it’s a movie that we waited an entire year to release in theatres. We were all hoping that after Master’s release, Jagame Thandhiram would hit the theatres. I was always in contact with the crew and producer, and all of us had big plans for the release day. Then we started hearing these heart-breaking rumours that it would be an OTT release. By October last year, I had asked the producer and he asked who is spreading these rumours. At that point of time, he didn’t even have a thought of selling the film to OTTs. But later, considering the situation, we understood there was no point in holding the movie, especially when so much money has been invested. So, that was the acceptance phase. 

Now, I think this is where the film should be. It’s getting a global release, reaching 190 countries and in 17 languages. It feels so good because suddenly the scale of the film has increased. 

The wait would have been tougher for you because your role in the Tamil movie Action wasn’t noticed as much and this was your next big release. How was it working with Dhanush?

In the past, I had auditioned for a movie that he was set to direct. This was almost during the time of Mayaanadhi’s audition. But it didn’t work out. For Jagame Thandhiram, my first audition was right after Varathan’s shoot. At that point of time, they called me and said they were going ahead with Rajinikanth sir’s film first. So, this happened much before Action. But that was my first Tamil film and I knew that even though it was a small role, I could test waters and understand if I can do a film in the language. So, there was room to take a risk. From your second film onwards, there are things that are expected of you. 

Jagame Thandhiram had a great team to work with. All of them were youngsters who had good knowledge about what they were doing and were raring to go. The first day, I remember being on the sets and it was almost 11 degrees Celsius. It was my birthday and no one knew that because we were just getting to know each other. It was really nice to shoot those scenes. As an artiste, if there’s noise, I wouldn’t be able to concentrate but I never say that. But the team was so silent when each scene was shot. 

I keep telling people that you would never think that Dhanush sir is a superstar. Before the shoot, I kept telling myself that I shouldn’t embarrass myself. Usually, it takes me 2-3 days to break the ice but I didn’t have to for this movie. With him, he gives off the vibe that, ‘Apart from the scene, it’s cool if you don’t discuss anything else with me’. I thought that was great, ‘I do my job, he does his and that’s it’. It was the same with Karthik sir, he doesn’t speak a lot. 

Aishwarya Lekshmi and Dhanush in a still from Jagame Thandhiram
Aishwarya Lekshmi and Dhanush in a still from Jagame Thandhiram

Those who have worked with Karthik say that he just asks you to act without prior instructions. But you have done films like Mayaanadhi where director Aashiq Abu and scriptwriter Syam Pushkaran were particular about what you had to do. So, was working in a new language where you are given the liberty to perform as you want, tougher?

Actually, a month prior to the shoot, we did a lot of groundwork. I play a Sri Lankan Tamil singer. My knowledge about the place is from the newspaper articles I read and it’s further removed from the characters that I thought I would get to play. I had never done any research on it. So, the ADs and I would discuss that and about immigration. This made it easy when we started the shoot. The freedom I get also helps in one way, because when the shoot begins, my priority is to get the emotions right and not the accent. But because we had already prepared, I didn’t stray too much from the language. 


Was it also comforting that another Malayali actor, Joju George, was part of the cast?

I got to know a month before the shoot that he was also there. After that, whenever we crossed paths in between the shoot of our movies, we used to say that we have to travel to the UK for Jagame Thandhiram. Also, somebody had narrated to me a story that had him and me as siblings. The person hasn’t narrated it to Joju chettan yet; but because I loved that story so much, that was the image I had of him. He joined the sets after almost half my portions were over, but as soon as I saw him, it was like I have known him for long and he reciprocated the same way. It was like finding another Malayali in a distant land. The editor Vivek Harshan was also a Malayali. It was fun and to suddenly speak in our mother tongue gives us joy. Joju chettan was also fun by the way. After a scene, he would go and ask Britishers, ‘Enganey undu? (How was it?)’ They would see his gestures and understand what he was trying to convey.

You have played some memorable characters in your four-year-old career so far – Rachel in Njandukalude Naattil Oridavela, Appu in Mayaanadhi, Priya in Varathan and Pournami in Vijay Superum Pournamiyum among others. So, were you extremely choosy when it came to picking the roles or were you lucky that these characters found you?

I was very lucky to find these characters, especially till Varathan. After I finished shooting for Mayaanadhi in September 2017, I didn’t get any role for almost three months. The first offer that came my way was Varathan and I jumped at it. So that role was something that came as a blessing. Post that, I have been choosy as well. But there were other reasons too for doing Argentina Fans Kattoorkadavu, Brothers Day and Vijay Superum Pournamiyum. Where I didn’t get to choose was that I never got offered a rural role and so I had to pick from what came to me. 

But not many people get to work with Mani Ratnam before they have completed their 10th movie. Tell us about being part of Ponniyin Selvan.

I was shooting for Brothers Day when I got a call from Madras Talkies for a meeting. I was confused about it when I went and met sir. But I knew what he was working on and so I ordered the book and began reading IT before the meeting. I had a slight hint about the character that I was called for. He had actually called me for that role and he wanted me to do a look test. After the audition, he told me about the role, but somehow in my head I knew it wasn’t the character that I would be playing. So, when my manager called to tell me that the character had been changed, I actually told him the reason. In my mind, I always felt I suited that character better and that thought manifested itself. That’s all I can say about the movie. 

You have collaborated with different Mollywood filmmakers over the years. One would think working with an accomplished director-scriptwriter duo of Aashiq and Syam in your second film would have been the toughest and prepared you for anything ahead. Is that true?

Actually, they were the easiest bunch of people to work with. From Mayaanadhi, I understood the kind of thought process that is required to perform a character. I have been using the same in every film; I am yet to learn more. 

I am still an actor who cannot take in too much of a process; if I prepare beforehand and then act, it becomes evident that I am acting. I believe in spontaneity. I get the energy from the sets, the costumes and my co-actors, and I find happiness in doing that. The movie that gave me a lot of confidence was Amal Neerad’s Varathan because he was stricter in terms of what he wanted. If you act in his movie, you get the energy to act in anything else. 

Uyare director Manu Ashokan, who worked with you in Kaanekkane, is someone who comes from a theatre background and believes in workshops and preparations. So, how was it working with him?

Manu sir was a mix of both Aashiq and Amal sir. When I did Kaanekkane, effectively I was shooting after a gap of almost seven months because we started filming in November after the lockdown was lifted. Manu sir is one of those directors who wants the actors to perform as per the script because they want what they have conceived. It’s again something that I learnt from Varathan and it has helped me in another film too. But he is a very cool director. He might be shooting a serious subject but then he cracks all these jokes and I have actually asked him, ‘Were you the one who shot Uyare?’


You are also part of Archana 31 Not Out, which has a lot of debutants.

Yes, it’s got a lot of newcomers. It’s the first film where I am closer to the production than the director’s team. Usually, you become more familiar with the director’s team because we are talking to the ADs, discussing the scripts and something or the other keeps happening. In this film, I knew Martin (Prakkat) chettan and producer Renjith (Nair) chettan, and then I am coming to the sets where the creative team and my co-actors are all newcomers. It’s also the first film where I am the lead and I used to tell them that like the dog in Boban and Molly (a popular comic series), I am there in every frame. I hardly had time to rest, but it was so much fun shooting the movie. You get this sense of importance as if you are doing something big. 

How has your support system evolved from the time you made your debut till now?

It has remained the same. I will be watching Jagame Thandhiram with the same bunch of friends I saw Mayaanadhi with in the theatre. Apart from them, I have also added a few people who have been very kind to me and whom I could look up to as mentors and best friends; whom I could share my secrets with and discuss my insecurities. Renjith chettan and producer Sophia Paul’s son Kevin are among them. They guide me in the right direction. 

Do you get a lot of calls from friends these days with you also completing your medical education?

A few friends call me, especially now with doubts on vaccines. I used to be very lazy but now I have read a few books and went back to my professors; so I know a lot about vaccines. 

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