India Today - - COVER STORY -

house­hold”, she in­sists. Her mother, Latha Ra­jinikanth, was very par­tic­u­lar about shield­ing her chil­dren from the pom­pos­ity of pub­lic per­sona and took ex­treme mea­sures to give them “as nor­mal a life as pos­si­ble”, she says.

The book, much like her, is earthy, sim­ple and sin­cere, a heart­felt at­tempt to de­con­struct the life of a celebrity child, wo­ven together like a di­ary of mem­ory se­quences, much like you would ex­pect in a movie that plays out through a se­ries of flash­backs.

Books, she ad­mits have al­ways been a refuge. A self-con­fessed in­tro­vert, she in­sists, “It’s just so much eas­ier to gather my thoughts on pa­per; later, I may even tear up what I have writ­ten, but at least for the mo­ment I have man­aged to ex­press it and it’s found a way out of my head. That’s the thing about writ­ing; it’s cathar­tic.”

Writ­ing may pro­vide so­lace, but the multi-tal­ented au­thor wears many hats ad­mirably. The 36-year-old is also a film­maker, who has just an­nounced her third film, a bilin­gual biopic ti­tled

Mariyap­pan, on the life of 21-year-old Tamil par­a­lympic high jumper Mariyap­pan Thangavelu, a tal­ented Bharat­natyam dancer, play­back singer and more re­cently, the UN ad­vo­cate for women’s rights and em­pow­er­ment. If asked to choose her favourite, it’s be­ing a mother to her boys, Ya­tra, 10, and Linga, 6, that she en­joys the most.

But grow­ing up in a strict house­hold, she has im­bibed a lot of her mother’s par­ent­ing style. “When we were young, I had a lot of com­plaints, as any­one that age does, es­pe­cially when you see your friends do­ing cer­tain things, which you were sim­ply not al­lowed to do. My sis­ter, Soundarya, and I have never had a sleep­over at a friend’s place. Our cur­few was 6 pm, and even if we did step out, we al­ways had an es­cort, ei­ther a rel­a­tive or a staff mem­ber, com­ing along.”

But to­day, she says she un­der­stands the things her mother did and does the same or maybe more with her chil­dren. “They’ll prob­a­bly call me Hitler, if you ask them,” she adds. But “things are much more chal­leng­ing as a par­ent these days, so it’s im­por­tant to make them un­der­stand why it’s nec­es­sary to strike a bal­ance be­tween be­ing as nor­mal as pos­si­ble and yet be re­spon­si­ble for their sta­tion in life.”

While chil­dren are clearly her pri­or­ity, she says dance is what comes to

her most nat­u­rally. “It is very em­pow­er­ing, it’s an art form that lends it­self to self-expression through per­spec­tive that al­lows you a bit of lever­age, with­out stray­ing from the bound­aries of tra­di­tion.” That’s why, “my mother in­sisted that I learn clas­si­cal dance.”

Of course, film­mak­ing seemed like a log­i­cal op­tion be­cause “I was born in the in­dus­try and then mar­ried into it as well,” but whereas her fa­ther and hus­band chose to be in front of the cam­era, she opted to ex­hibit her tal­ent be­hind the cam­era. “That needed a bit of prac­tice, of be­ing around and learn­ing and ob­serv­ing,” she ad­mits. While hus­band Dhanush is a mul­ti­fac­eted Tamil film lu­mi­nary, who has acted in over 25 films and is due to start work in a Hollywood pro­duc­tion early this year, Aishwaryaa is all of two films old. Her first film, a psy­cho­log­i­cal thriller, 3, in which she di­rected her hus­band, Dhanush, was a rather se­ri­ous film that spoke about bipo­lar dis­or­der and a love story re­volv­ing around that predica­ment. Apart from the un­usual plot line, Dhanush sang the in­fin­itely hummable Why This Kolaveri Di, which in­stantly went vi­ral and be­came an an­them of sorts. Her sec­ond ven­ture was more of an ad­ven­ture that fo­cussed on deja vu and pre­mo­ni­tions. “I am very in­trigued by the mind and my films tend to ex­plore some as­pect of psy­chol­ogy. What­ever the plot, I like to work in dif­fer­ent gen­res; when I sit down to write, I want to do some­thing new, present some­thing unique.”

Of course, com­ing from the in­dus­try made cinema a fa­mil­iar forte, but she in­sists it isn’t as easy as peo­ple make it out to be. “Peo­ple think we have ev­ery­thing laid out for us on a sil­ver plat­ter. But that isn’t true. For in­stance, if I have a good script and I ap­proach an ac­tor, his first re­sponse is, why haven’t you asked the two in your own house. But that’s not how it works.”

So, what is it like to be ‘Tha­laiva’s’ daugh­ter? “He is re­ally just Appa to us,” she ex­plains sim­ply. “But, it’s all about find­ing the right per­spec­tive; it’s a pack­age deal. There are some things you get and some you don’t. Pri­vacy is a huge prob­lem as is ex­pec­ta­tion. Mis­takes and slip-ups are hu­man frail­ties that are a lux­ury we can scarcely af­ford. If we go wrong, there is a dis­pro­por­tion­ate amount of back­lash and crit­i­cism.” Of course, there’s al­ways the thought of be­ing over­shad­owed by “such loom­ing per­son­al­i­ties; ev­ery­thing you ever do is, and al­ways will be, mea­sured against their stu­pen­dous achieve­ments, which is a daunt­ing task.”

Then there are those who can’t un­der­stand why she wants to work at all in­stead of re­lax­ing at home and tak­ing care of the chil­dren and shop­ping. “It’s so dif­fi­cult to ex­plain that it’s about in­di­vid­u­al­ity, about do­ing some­thing for your­self; find­ing your niche in the world, how­ever big or small.” “I can’t match up to what my fa­ther has achieved or even my hus­band for that mat­ter, but the very fact that I am out there writ­ing books, making films, danc­ing, rep­re­sent­ing re­puted or­gan­i­sa­tions such as the UN, is in it­self a show of strength and sup­port from my fam­ily, in­clud­ing my sons. The men in my life are true fem­i­nists, and that’s how I am rais­ing my sons too,” she says.

“Fem­i­nism is not the same as it was two decades ago; it has to re­late to the chang­ing cir­cum­stances. We are al­ready equals; the minute you ad­mit that you are not on a level-play­ing field, you paint your self as the vic­tim. It’s not about bat­tling for equal­ity; it’s about spread­ing aware­ness that we are equals.”

Clearly, de­spite her shel­tered up­bring­ing, the multi-tal­ented and multi-lay­ered, Aishwaryaa has dis­cov­ered her spot in the sun. Truly, the ap­ple has fallen far from the tree.

Aishwaryaa with hus­band Dhanush

Aishwaryaa with her fa­ther Ra­jinikanth

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