AISHWARYAA RA­JINIKANTH DHANUSH

What is it like to have su­per­star Ra­jinikanth as a dad, and sen­sa­tion Dhanush as a hus­band? South In­dia’s most fa­mous daugh­ter tells all

Hindustan Times - Brunch - - Breakfast Of Champions - Text by Supriya Sharma Pho­to­graphs shot ex­clu­sively for HT Brunch by Subi Sa­muel

Plus! Aishwaryaa’s favourite Ra­jini joke!

“Our trips abroad were the only time we could do or­di­nary things with Appa, like walk on the road or go to a gro­cery store.”

T HERE ARE cheers as Ra­jinikanth knots a hand­ker­chief around his neck, straight­ens the col­lar of his shirt, and breaks into a sprightly dance. The au­di­ence at the 1991 pre­miere show of Tha­la­p­athi, the Mani Rat­nam-di­rected adap­ta­tion of the

Ma­hab­harata, goes berserk. Some peo­ple rise to dance with their hero, oth­ers fling coins at the screen.

Sit­ting in the VIP en­clo­sure, next to the su­per­star him­self, is a wideeyed nine-year-old girl wit­ness­ing this frenzy for the first time. Out­side the theatre ear­lier, Aishwaryaa Ra­jinikanth had watched hordes of fans burst crack­ers and per­form aar­tis be­fore her fa­ther’s posters.

“Ini­tially I was star­tled by all the noise,” she re­calls. “But soon I be­gan to en­joy it. It was like a fes­ti­val. It was the first time that I had watched Appa’s film in a theatre. Be­fore that we used to at­tend pre­view shows.”

It was also the first time Aishwaryaa Ra­jinikanth re­alised the mag­ni­tude of her fa­ther’s su­per­star­dom.

Twenty-five years later, the mag­i­cal pop­u­lar­ity of Tha­laivar (leader) — as Ra­jinikanth is fondly called by fans — has only grown. The hys­te­ria that sur­rounded the re­lease of the 65-year-old ac­tor’s film Ka­bali in July is tes­ti­mony to his cult sta­tus. Many com­pa­nies in Chen­nai and Ben­galuru gave their em­ploy­ees the day off to watch the film. By the first week of Au­gust, the movie had done busi­ness worth ` 670 crore world­wide.

“There is a lot of ex­cite­ment and ten­sion in the house be­fore ev­ery film re­lease,” says Aishwaryaa, “Ir­re­spec­tive of how many films he has acted in [154 in a four-decade long ca­reer], for Appa, ev­ery re­lease is as if it were his first.” UN­DER THE LIME­LIGHT We’re at the Chen­nai of­fice of Wun­der­bar Films, the pro­duc­tion com­pany that Aishwaryaa co-founded with her hus­band, ac­tor Dhanush, in 2010. Aishwaryaa, 34, has just wrapped up a three-hour photo shoot for Brunch. Dressed in an orange sweat­shirt and black jeans, she is talk­ing about why she never wanted to be an ac­tor.

“I wanted to be a script writer and a di­rec­tor,” she says of the dream she re­alised in 2012 with her di­rec­to­rial de­but 3, a thriller star­ring her hus­band Dhanush and ac­tor Shruti Has­san. “The only time I act is when I have to ex­plain a scene to my artistes, oth­er­wise I am very self-con­scious in front of the cam­era. Even for a sim­ple photo, I go stiff and act like Chan­dler from F.R.I.E.N.D.S.”

The two-film-old di­rec­tor has now also turned writer. Her me­moir,

Stand­ing on an Ap­ple Box, will be re­leased next week. The book, she says, was born out of her love for writ­ing and a de­sire to rec­tify the myths peo­ple have about the lives of celebrity kids. “It is a com­mon per­cep­tion that we’re snob­bish, and get things easy. It is not like that.”

Morn­ings in the Ra­jinikanth house­hold be­gan with the chants of Venkateswara Suprab­hatham (a San­skrit hymn) that played non­stop while the girls got ready for school. In the af­ter­noon, they had tuition, fol­lowed by ten­nis, veena, and dance classes. By 8pm, they were in bed.

“Our mother kept our days so jam-packed that we had no time to think about any­thing else. Maybe she did that con­sciously so that we didn’t feel that Appa was not around,” says Aishwaryaa. “We saw very lit­tle of him be­cause he was very busy, do­ing seven to eight movies a year. Our mem­o­ries of time spent with him as kids are richer in qual­ity than quan­tity.”

It was the rare fam­ily trips abroad that she most looked for­ward to. “That was the only time we could do or­di­nary things with him like walk around on the streets or go to a gro­cery store.”

Aishwaryaa cred­its her mother, Latha Ra­jinikanth, for not let­ting their fa­ther’s fame go to their heads. Their pho­to­graphs were never re­leased to the press and the fact that Aishwaryaa and her younger sis­ter, Soundarya, stud­ied in the school run by their mother (The Ashram) also helped. Far from be­ing treated dif­fer­ently, she says, the two of them had to be on their best be­hav­iour.

“We were quite bor­ing,” says Aishwaryaa. “We never got the chance to do any­thing mis­chievous be­cause our mother al­ways knew what we were up to. We trav­elled to school in a car with an es­cort. There was no space to be naughty.”

Be­ing a su­per­star’s child meant not hav­ing the lit­tle free­doms most peo­ple take for granted. “I was never al­lowed to stay overnight at any friend’s house. When I got into a pres­ti­gious law col­lege, I wasn’t al­lowed to go be­cause my mother didn’t want me to study out­side the city.”

In her me­moir, she writes of the time she wanted to go to a dis­cotheque on her 18th birthday and her fa­ther of­fered to take her him­self. When the fam­ily and friends (packed into eight cars) ar­rived at the disco, cops had to be called to con­trol the crowds. Fif­teen min­utes later, when the clock struck 12, her fa­ther wished her a happy birthday. Then he said, “Shall we leave? You wanted to see a disco…I have shown you one. Let’s leave now.”

But be­ing fa­mous did not stop Aishwaryaa from forg­ing strong friend­ships. In her me­moir, she writes of pic­nics at “beaches, parks

“My fa­ther’s fans look at me as if I am their own daugh­ter. What­ever I do is en­cour­aged.”

and tem­ples”, of the first friends she made at her ma­ter­nal grand­par­ents’ flat in Ben­galuru (play­ing “rob­ber po­lice and lock and key”), and of two child­hood friends who are now her 3am bud­dies.

There is also a men­tion of how she once snuck out for a ride along the Ma­rina Beach in a girl­friend’s open-top car (her first “in an open ve­hi­cle on a pub­lic road”). Much later, she learnt how to drive on the sly. Not so bor­ing af­ter all.

LIFE COMES A FULL CIR CLE

Aishwaryaa was 21 when she met Dhanush while at­tend­ing a screen­ing of his film, aptly-ti­tled,

Kad­hal Kon­den (I Fell in Love). They were mar­ried within a year. “My par­ents are very con­ser­va­tive. They didn’t want gos­sip about us to be splashed in tabloids. They were like, ‘if you think you guys are meant for each other then get mar­ried’. There was no choice of ‘take your time, date for a while, fig­ure it out’,” she says.

Now that she is a film­maker mar­ried to an ac­tor, and re­spon­si­ble for rais­ing two lit­tle boys (10 and six) in the shadow of their fa­ther’s and grand­fa­ther’s pop­u­lar­ity, Aishwaryaa says she can bet­ter un­der­stand her par­ents. “The rules which I thought were un­rea­son­ably strict make sense to me now. To­day, even I wouldn’t let my son stay overnight at a friend’s place.”

Her boys are fans of their fa­ther’s and grand­fa­ther’s cin­ema and keep­ing them grounded, she says, takes ef­fort. “I try to ex­plain to my sons that act­ing is a job. Dhanush and my dad have earned a lot of love, and it is not some­thing to take ad­van­tage of. So when they start mak­ing state­ments like ‘You know who my dad is or my grand­dad is’, I tell them off,” she laughs. And she keeps them away from the me­dia so that they don’t draw at­ten­tion ev­ery time they step out. “I send my kids to the tem­ple, to the beach, with friends and cousins to do the or­di­nary things that all chil­dren must do.”

MY DADDY, THE SU­PER­STAR

She’s just as pro­tec­tive of her fa­ther. “When we’re trav­el­ling for work, I am like his body­guard.” Her fa­ther, she says, val­ues her opin­ion on pro­fes­sional mat­ters and spends his free time with his grand­chil­dren. “I guess, at some level, he missed out on us grow­ing up. So he en­joys watch­ing his grand­kids grow up around him.”

Al­though Aishwaryaa will be pro­duc­ing the se­quel to his re­cent block­buster Ka­bali, she says she has no de­sire to di­rect her fa­ther. “It would be too much pres­sure, first of all. I don’t think he would be com­fort­able ei­ther.”

Tha­laivar is as much an enigma on-screen (no one can ex­plain why a bald­ing, 65-year-old ac­tor com­mands such de­vo­tion) as he is off it (he re­mains staunchly pri­vate). Some at­tribute it to his larger-than-life on­screen per­sona, and his ragsto-riches story (born Shivaji Rao Gaek­wad, he was a bus con­duc­tor to be­gin with). But Aishwaryaa be­lieves the big­gest se­cret of his stardom is his hu­mil­ity and sim­plic­ity. “He keeps it real in real life. And he keeps to him­self,” she says.

Ra­jinikanth’s fans are ev­ery­where. Many of his fan clubs (es­ti­mated to be over 1,50,000) do com­mu­nity work (blood do­na­tion drives, pub­lic kitchens, etc) and hold prayer cer­e­monies on the ac­tor’s birthday and be­fore the re­lease of his films.

Aishwaryaa is not of­ten both­ered by her fa­ther’s fans, but does get an­noyed when they get pushy. “Those are the ones who have al­ready come up to you, said hello, taken a pic­ture, but keep click­ing more from a dis­tance, or bring other peo­ple over for photos,” she ex­plains.

Mainly, she’s touched by the fans’ un­con­di­tional love. “My fa­ther’s fans look at me as if I am their own daugh­ter. What­ever I do is en­cour­aged. If I am mak­ing a movie or writ­ing a book, there’s so much sup­port.” She quickly adds, “Though I won’t get the chance to make a movie just be­cause I am his daugh­ter, be­cause that in­volves peo­ple in­vest­ing their money in me.”

LONG LIVE RA­JINI JOKES

The con­ver­sa­tion turns to Ra­jini jokes and the cor­ners of Aishwaryaa’s mouth be­gin to twitch. “He hears them, smiles and moves on,” she laughs. And which is her favourite? “There was one re­cently about de­mon­eti­sa­tion: When Ra­jinikanth goes to the bank to de­posit money, the banks need to show him their ID.”

Aish­war aa on her wed­din da with hus­band Dhanush. On left: With her fa­ther, su er­star Ra inikanth

Aishwaryaa wears a Rohit Gandhi + Rahul Khanna top with Zara pants

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