Hindustan Times ST (Mumbai) - Brunch - - BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS -

THERE 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.”

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.

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