The Kaanekkaane actress talks to us about her role in the Manu Ashokan directorial, her upcoming movies Ponniyin Selvan and Archana 31 Not Out and more
Aishwarya Lekshmi has made a habit of stunning the audience with her performances every time she does a Malayalam movie these days. The Varathan and Mayaanadhi actress’ latest standout role, as Sneha in Kaanekkaane, is probably her best so far. Aishwarya aces her character arc of an emotionally vulnerable woman who seeks ‘something resembling love’ to stave off loneliness and also takes charge of her life in the family drama-thriller.
In this exclusive interview with OTTplay, Aishwarya talks about how she could relate to Sneha, how her confidence as a person reflects in her characters and her upcoming films Ponniyin Selvan and Archana 31 Not Out.
What were your initial thoughts about playing Sneha?
I was sceptical because the ‘other woman’ was always shown in a negative light in our films. Nobody has really explored her point of view, her vices and virtues. I was actually advised not to do the role at this point in my career. I haven’t had any training in acting and neither do I know too much about cinema; I learn with each movie and as an actor, I have understood that I am not happy when I take up films where I don’t have much to do. So, when such a relevant subject comes my way and I am not courageous enough take it up, I thought I was being stupid. With a team like (director) Manu Ashokan, (scriptwriters) Sanjay and Bobby, I didn’t have to think too much.
It’s a role that required a lot of maturity. Even though she’s an expectant mother, she’s independent and career-oriented which is evident in the first few scenes where she is going out to complete a project that she had begun. Sneha is also going through a lot of struggles and so, how much did you have to internalise all those to play her?
Most of the characters that I play are the polar opposites of who I am. I am a very happy and spontaneous person, who doesn’t tend to overthink. But the characters I play are intense and mature, and are going through agony and struggles. Sneha, if you notice, doesn’t use pregnancy as an excuse to get anything done. She doesn’t even use that with her husband, who is emotionally detached from her. Even in the scene where she is talking to him in the car, she speaks about their careers and the child they already have. I think that’s a mature approach for a woman.
I would aspire to have some of her characteristics; Sneha is classy, she is well in control of what she’s saying and doing. So, a bit of internalising was required but I am still an actor who is beginning understanding what my process is. I am not a method actor. I understand the script by discussing it with the director and if it wasn’t for Manu sir, I don’t think I would have been able to pull off this character.
Not to draw parallels, but in Varathan, Jagame Thandhiram and Kaanekkaane, you play women who take control of their lives despite the challenges they have to face. Are these the kind of characters that excite you?
I get to play women I aspire to be and it also sort of helps me as a person. I have become more confident as a woman. I have accepted myself with a lot of my flaws. I am happy to be who I am. It’s like there’s a method to all this madness that is happening, but good things happen with every passing movie.
As an actress too you have become confident and that reflects on the screen.
That’s because I have become confident as a person. Now, if I make a mistake, I can accept it – both as a person and an actor. In the past, I would think, ‘Would my career be derailed if I acted in a movie like this?’ Now, if I make a mistake, I acknowledge it and at the same time I know that I am capable of doing a bigger, better role. I have got that maturity, which I also think comes with age.
There’s this moving scene in Kaanekkaane where Sneha breaks down with her father, who has been supportive. How much has your parents and support system had an impact on the person you are?
I have always had a special relationship with my parents. They have made me the independent person who I am today. Their methods are different, I have rebelled against them a lot, which is why I am independent right now (laughs). But I definitely need their support. At the end of the day, I know if something happens in my life, I can tell my parents. They might yell at me, but they will be there for me; they will fight the world for me. I also have friends who are like my family and would do the same for me. It’s essential for every person to have a sanctum – it can be your parents, friends or spouse.
You are also doing movies in Tamil now and you have a film in Telugu. This also allows actors to break from an image trap if they ever fall into one in a particular industry. Are you conscious about that when you take up roles?
I don’t know about that. But my strategy for every industry is different. I definitely want to do a film where there is a lot of fun, dance and masti. As an actor, I am yet to get an opportunity to do that in Malayalam. If I get such roles in Malayalam, I will definitely do it. In fact, I think we are missing such films with a lot of celebration in Malayalam. Tamil and Telugu give you a lot of opportunities to do a movie like that.
Apart from that, the moment I say I am from the Malayalam film industry, there is a lot of respect because of actors like Fahadh Faasil, who have now taken the industry forward through their films on OTTs and so the younger people are familiar with the films here. It also helps me when I say that I worked with these actors.
You also have Archana 31 Not Out coming up, in which you play the central character.
We are waiting for the theatres to reopen. All of us are confident about what we have made and we are hoping the audience also likes it. It’s my first female-centric film.
Is the pressure any different?
I feel happier, because I have been there from the beginning and I was aware of whatever was happening. We used to discuss everything and my opinions were given a lot more importance. It was a brilliant team to work with. A lot of things change with every film and Archana was a movie that gave me a lot of confidence as an actor. I knew I had to be present 24x7 while it was filmed. There was not even a single scene where I could be like, ‘It’s another person’s scene and I can relax’. That wasn’t the case. It’s not a film that required a lot of acting chops because the story steers the film forward and I just had to be present.
Archana 31 Not Out also has you playing a rural character, something that you have only done in Argentina Fans Kattoorkadavu before this. Did that offer a new challenge?
The aspirations of the character were different from my earlier roles. When I play urban characters, their education is a given, their next meal is a given. I haven’t played a character who is worried about money; maybe Maayanadhi’s Appu might come close but then we see her getting successful by the end of the film. The struggles of this character are different. Also, it was brilliant shooting the movie. We shot it in Palakkad, where the people are affectionate. My normal way of doing things was completely different from how I was while we were in Palakkad. I have a lot of cherished memories from that shoot.
You are done with shooting Mani Ratnam’s Ponniyin Selvan. How was the experience, especially because you had been shooting the film for an extended time due to the multiple delays owing to the pandemic?
It was amazing and it’s definitely a dream come true for me. Most often, you don’t get what you wish for, but in my case, I got exactly what I wanted. It’s a big deal for me to be in the film, irrespective of how big or small the role is. Thankfully, I got a big role. The movie is releasing in two parts, and we have completed shooting for both. We began shooting in December 2019 in Thailand and wrapped up the shoot in Pollachi. It was a beautiful experience. I was shooting for another movie and so couldn’t be there on the final day.
The biggest takeaway from me is that however big you have become, whatever films you have worked in, you have to be disciplined. There’s nothing else you have to do than follow the director. That’s what I learnt working with Mani sir.