Educated as a doctor, Aishwarya Lekshmi made her foray into Malayalam films by accident. Now, after spending five years in the industry, the doe-eyed beauty has an impressive filmography to her name including the magnum opus Ponniyin Selvan 1 that was released last month.
The 32-year-old was in Dubai to promote her latest film Kumari, a mythological fantasy film. City Times caught up with her to talk about her career, upcoming projects and the stuffed omelette that she comes to Dubai for!
Tell us about your entry into Malayalam movies.
Food is what brought me into movies. I had just finished my MBBS final exams and after years of grueling studies, I decided to take a week off to enjoy myself. I went to Kochi to explore food and try out some new dishes. While having meat croquettes at Café Seventeen, I saw the casting call for a movie directed by Althaf Salim starring Nivin Pauly and I applied just on a whim. That is how Njandukalude Naatil Oru Idavela happened in 2017. I never wanted to be an actor. However, after that movie I realized what a horrible actor I was and that I wanted to be a better actor. So I started watching more films.
You have now acted in various languages in India, including Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam. What has your experience in the different industries been?
Other than the production value and the scale of the film, I feel like every movie talks about humans, their emotions and their struggles which is very universal. That is the realization that came to me of late. In my initial years in the industry, I used to say no to other language films, thinking how could I act in a language that I did not know. Now that I have grown as an actor and I have become more aware of the process of filmmaking, I have found the confidence to take up other language films and I am enjoying it.
How much have you grown as an actor, according to you?
I would like to believe that I have become better. I have realized the priorities I have to set as an actor and as a person. When I started acting, the only aim I had was to get the next role because it was important for me as an actor. But now I have realized the importance of content. How much the movies I do matter to the audience and how it can impact their life. So now my priority is how to get the next subject that will matter to the audience. It is about bringing an entertaining or enlightening topic for my audience. So it is no longer about showcasing my acting skills. It is about showing a movie or a character that the audience will love and empathize with.
What was the experience like shooting for Ponniyin Selvan 1 and the star cast?
It felt like I was living a dream. For me, it all boiled down to one name- Mani Ratnam. I have always wanted to act in a movie with him, ever since I wanted to be an actor, which as I mentioned, happened after my first movie. I had watched all of Mani sir’s movies and there was a subconscious prayer that I said “Oh God, please let me be part of a film of his film, even if it is for one passing shot’. When I first got the call for the movie, I was super excited. I got offered the role of Vanathi but after the readings and look test I got cast as Poonkuzhali, who was Mani sir’s muse for over 40 years. I loved that character after reading the books, so I was absolutely thrilled.
The whole experience of shooting for the movie from the word go was a great learning experience for me. From how each actor performed, how they prepared for the role, how they are on set to what they did to make sure they give their best to everything that they do whether it is acting or promoting the film, I observed everything and I learnt a lot from it.
Aishwarya Lekshmi with Shine Tom Chacko in Kumari
Tell us about your connection to Dubai.
My best friend Jyothika stays here so I love coming here and spending time with her. I come here very often, and I have also applied for the golden visa. My favourite thing to do in Dubai is eating. I am a complete foodie, so I go around and try different cuisines. I also love the nightlife here. I am not talking about the clubs or parties, but even to walk in the city at night is so beautiful. I even have a guilty pleasure when I come here. You are going to laugh at me but it is actually something called Wild West Omelet from Denny’s. It is stuffed with cheese and lots of other veggies. As an actor, I have to be very mindful about what I eat but this one dish is my guilty pleasure. I never eat a stuffed omelet anywhere else in the world. I keep it just for Dubai.
Tell us about your latest release Kumari?
For me the most intriguing thing about the script of Kumari was the world it was set in. As a kid, I loved watching Manichithrathaazhu. I love stories about elements that we cannot see. So as soon as I read the script I loved it. It is based on Malayalam folklore and ancient beliefs.
Kumari is an immersive experience. She is the titular character but we have built this entire world around her. The cinematography, the music, the cast, everything together gives a unique experience. When people watch it, they will be transported to a completely different world. It is a very theatrical experience
I watched the film with the audience in Shenoy’s theater in Kochi and it was a very different experience. At some times, there would be pin drop silence and at other times, there were whispers about ‘oh, what happened’. Then there were claps during the high points of the film. It was a great watching experience for me.
It is telling that Javanese shadow plays (which borrow from Hindu mythology) feature a wide range of characters who do not fit neatly into categories like good and evil. One major advantage of this worldview is that it creates more opportunities for rival sides to seek peace