After ruling the box office charts in Mollywood, actress and model Aishwarya Lekshmi is also scoring the number game in the world of Kollywood and Tollywood. The model turned actress made her acting debut in 2017 with Njandukalude Nattil Oridavela and went on to appear in Mayaanadhi, Varathan, Vijay Superum Pournamiyum, Argentina Fans Kaattoorkadavu and many more blockbuster hits. The award-winning actress from Kerala, who is known for her super-duper hit films, has again been in the news for her upcoming action thriller. Aishwarya will soon be seen in a complete entertainer crime drama ‘Jagame Thandhiram’, written and directed by Karthik Subbaraj, alongside biggies like Dhanush and James Cosmo in lead roles.

When and how did you realise that this is what you want to do?
After I acted in my first film, I realised that acting is what I wanted to do. It had partly to do with the fact that I didn’t know anything about acting or cinema. I did enjoy watching films, but that’s about it. I didn’t know anything else, while I was acting in my first film. I was very naive then. There are some things you can’t really explain why they happen, but acting was something that I really enjoyed. There was a lot of emptiness before and acting really filled me up. Learning was a possibility there, especially because I felt very passionate about it. I wanted to act with Mani Ratnam sir and was fortunate to get a film with him. I loved acting with Mani Ratnam sir in one of the first movies; the movie was Iruvar.

What are the hurdles you had to face to reach where you are today or was it fairly easier for you compared to some others?
I’m aware of a lot of struggles that my co actors go through and also so many of them are struggling, but my story is comparatively easy, as it wasn’t tough for me to enter in the industry. My struggle has begun now though to ensure that I choose the right scripts or sign the right films. I’m struggling not knowing what the next step should be. Struggle can be for small things also, not only for big ones. These small struggles empower me for the better.

Please share some of the highpoints of your journey?
Emotionally it would be the last day of my first film. I thought it was the people who I was working with. Then I realised I did a bad job of acting. I felt I didn’t act well and that was the highest turning point for me. From then I decided to prove to myself to get better at acting. I had given myself a timeline that if till that day I had not mastered my acting skills, then I would go to Bombay and learn acting. In those days, I felt acting could be learnt, now I believe otherwise. Anyway, I tried and that gave me a lot of confidence. To act around who were complete strangers on the set. To hear and imbibe from others on the set. The biggest milestone for me would be me getting the film Mayaanidhi. It was a story in itself. The release was a success and then came the waiting for the next big film after this movie. It was Varathan.

I tried to learn as much as possible from the next project. There was a lot of memories and I felt there were some scenes where I felt I could have acted better. Next was ‘Jagame Thandhiram’ and both the projects were big. I thought I would never be part of these projects. I’m overwhelmed when I see the body of work and thank my stars to have made me a part of these beautiful stories.

What in your view do South Indian movies have that gives them an edge over other regional cinema? Which language comes closest to your heart?
I’m not a person who’s watched a lot of regional cinema other than south Indian cinema, but I feel what gives us the edge is the audience. Only when they give the kind of appreciation we need, will our work be complete. There should be the kind of audience that is willing to accept the kind of films we make. Only when there’s a continued audience, the makers will also think that we should do stories like this. Once the acceptance sets in, the makers who have been sceptical earlier, will decide to continue doing the quality work that they are doing. The stories around us influence films too. I feel there’s a touch of authenticity in most of our films. We try to show life in them, and emotions too. I also like larger than life cinema, but I also love it when we depict life as it is. Specially when there’s an audience connect, you love the film even more.

It’s not easy the way we women juggle around so many things- our work, homes, families, social life, fitness etc. How do you juggle it all?
I don’t know if I’m managing it all successfully. My parents were not very keen on me being an actor. Infact, they still are not very comfortable with me acting in movies. They’re very conservative since we never had any connections to the film industry. They have absolutely no connection in any division of the film industry. So naturally for them, as their only child, they were very against me acting in films. We went through a rough patch for a long time. They had spent so much money for my MBBS course and I was not using that education in the way that I should be. There was a rift for a while. But thankfully over time things got better. They were disturbed with me for a while, but now post Corona, things are much better. I got to spend good time with them and make them understand that this is what makes me happy. I’m at a happier space right now and so are my parents. I think such sides of personal lives should be told to everyone. Those going through a rough patch at home, should know that things will get better if you give it some time. I’m trying to find back my happiness with my family. That’s very important for me. They’re happy that I’m happy right now.

What is your fitness, wellness and beauty mantra?
We have to be very fit as it is a very competitive industry. To get in is a struggle and to be consistent is a bigger struggle, so you try to do things that are a way to be. Be on time, be disciplined, be kind to people and behave well. Fitness is not just to maintain health but also to look appealing. Everything is a trial and error for me. Sometimes I become lazy when I go on a diet. So, I get back to my normal routine. I’m very accepting of my figure and don’t like to punish myself too much. But when I think people are starting to notice, then I put in some extra effort to lose weight. I’ve not been very disciplined in that section though. My fitness and wellness mantra is to take that extra thought away from the head. Try and find a solution for it and not to dwell on anything for too long. When feeling lonely I always ask for help. Whenever there’s even a tiniest of things that’s bothering me, I’ve never hesitated to ask for help. I think that’s really helped me so far and I’m in a happy space. Talking to anyone who’s close to you really helps.

What is your fashion quotient?
I believe in comfort. I don’t believe in luxury products. But I do own a few as there are some brands that I wanted to own for a very long time, so those I got when I could. But otherwise I wouldn’t normally spend more than 5000 Rs for a dress. I might wear a designer piece, but it doesn’t mean I would be spending a lot for it. I do spend a lot on accessories sometimes. I like to splurge on luxury handbags, watches and sunglasses, but I’m usually low maintenance. I like to wear whatever is comfortable. It doesn’t matter if it’s a big brand or not.

What does cinema mean to you?
Cinema right now is the path that I’m travelling on. It’s also my career and my way forward. I’m still figuring out what it means to me. I can’t claim that I know everything about cinema yet. I’m still trying to act better and still trying to smile a different way, but I’ve not found it yet. Cinema is an ongoing process, but it’s more dear to me than anything else, that I’ve found in life. It’s everything to me.

What is your take on women standing up for each other, especially in the glamour and entertainment industry, do women really do that?
I value women a lot – I always stand up for women, be it from the industry or from outside. My mother is a very strong woman. She has always stood up for everything for me and her family and I’ve grown up seeing that. Specially the times we are in, we have to stand up for each other. Let them call you feminists. You just continue to do your bit. I’m proud of the woman I am today and of my other women friends too. I’ve heard a lot of times that actresses cannot be friends, but I feel that’s not right. We can be good friends and support each other emotionally if we want. Recently a few of my industry friends, we figured that talking to each other helps. Whenever the other one is going through a low phase, it helps uplift them. So, we decided to do it more often. Why only women, we should also stand up for men in the industry. I’m a little shy in connecting to new men, but I never shy away from connecting with women. I find it easier connecting to women, maybe because I studied in a girl’s school.

We loved your Jagame Thandiram trailer with Dhanush. Please share all the details about the shoot and also some fun incidents on the sets.
Karthik Subbaraj sir directed it and 80 per cent of the shoot was in London. It was my first time in a European country and I was coming back to an empty hotel room. I was new to everyone, but they were all very kind to me. Even Dhanush sir was very sweet and kind to me. If I needed help, he was ready to offer his help and advice. We didn’t feel that we were making such a big film. Every day was like exploring a new part of the city and working with a production crew from there. Also trying the food in London was exciting. I had 10 days with no shoot, so I went to Scotland alone and that was a very memorable trip for me. It was a great trip and a great film and I’m really looking forward to it, not just because of so many interesting incidents, but because of Karthik sir’s trust in me and giving me such a good lead role. I feel I have done justice to it. Now let’s see how the audience reacts.

Who are your close friends in the industry?
I have a lot of friends in the industry. Not just those who I meet for a party. I have close friends who I can call anytime, even at 2 am and I know they will be there for me. Among the closest ones are Steffi, a costume stylist in Kerala. Among the actresses there are Aditi Balan, Madonna, Anupama, Darshana, Anna Ben and a few others. These are close friends who I talk to on a regular basis and make my life so much easier. I’m hoping I do the same for them.

Indian women are known internationally for their dusky skin but there’s still a section that believes in white skin being beautiful. Although you’re not dusky we would like to know your views on dusky skin and your observations on the same in the industry?
I love dusky skin. I don’t know why our industry is not growing and opening up for those with dusky skin. I fail to understand why the dusky skin girls are reserved for village roles, while the fair skin ones are for commercial films. I personally think dusky is a very sexy shade to have. When I tan, I turn this really nice tan brown and I love it. I’m forced to cake up with fair makeup that is two skin tones down from my usual skin tone. I used to wonder why it doesn’t suit me and then I realised it was not the correct shade of foundation that was being applied. They were making me look fairer. But then I started using the right shade for my skin tone and it wasn’t looking bad at all. The mindset has a lot to do with the imprint that has been left on us by the society from everyone’s childhood. This might take a long time to change, but I hope that day is not far away. We are starting to accept people for who they are and not based on their skin tone. Let’s wait and watch for everyone to completely change their views on this.

Tamil, Telugu or Malayalam films – you’ve done them all. Which ones are you most comfortable doing?
I’m good with languages and I’m rather fast in learning new ones. I’m still learning Telugu and Tamil, so Malayalam is close to my heart, as I’m a true Malayalee. It becomes a lot easier for me to convey and express myself freely in Malayalam. English is also a language that would take the next preference, as I’ve grown up studying and speaking English in school and college. I’m learning Tamil and Telugu and the more I learn these languages, the more I find them beautiful. I absolutely love speaking in Tamil and Telugu. Fake it till you make it for now (she laughs). I’m improving every day and voila, some day soon, I’m going to perfect these two languages too.

Which are your favourite holiday destinations?
I’ve not travelled to a lot of places, as I was studying to be a doctor earlier. But my favourite country is Thailand. I love the country, as there’s a lot to it that doesn’t meet the eye. There’s so much beyond the touristy Thailand that I love to explore. I also love Bali and love Varkala in Kerala. I’m basically a beach person. Also, recently I explored Scotland and I loved it. I just wish I had visited when it wasn’t freezing cold, but it was beautiful nevertheless.

Did you master any passions or hobbies in the lockdown period last year?
I’m a jack of many trades. I love making wines and I’ve made wines from practically everything that contained a little bit of sugar. I also baked a lot of wine cakes. I made my father drink a lot of wine too. I brought a dog in May last year. I was a new mother to my pet and it was the loveliest feeling ever to have my dog around in those lockdown days.

What is in the pipeline in terms of your work currently?
Jagame Thandiram will release soon. There is also Mani sir’s project in Tamil titled Ponniyin Selvan. Besides that, I’m doing a small character role in Tamil for my friend’s film. I’m hoping some more beautiful scripts in Tamil come my way. I have some Malayalam projects in hand too – there’s Kumari, Kaanekkane, Archana 31 and Bismi special and in Telugu, I’m doing Godse.

Rapid fire

Your dream role?
It keeps changing. Not a dream role right now, but a dance number like Hello, Mr Ethirkachi from Iruvar.

Your favourite movie?
Recent favourite is Soorarai Pottru, E Naganaruk Emaayenti.

Your pet peeve?
I get offended when people pass sexist comments especially in the working environment.

Some essentials that are always in your bag?
I don’t go anywhere without my charger, earphones, wallet, my phone, home keys, perfume and a lip balm.

Yoga or gym?
I want to do yoga, but I love working out in the gym.

Indian food or global cuisine?
I love food from around the world, but I don’t think I like anything as much as I like Indian food.

Date someone from the industry or outside?
I don’t know yet, but I think I don’t want to date an actor. Maybe I want someone who has a wider knowledge of things and with someone who I can converse with. I’m a very volatile person, so I want someone who’s very understanding.

Beaches or hills?
Beaches. I’m a beach person.

Veg or non veg?
I love vegetarian food, but I eat non veg food also for my protein intake.

Fame or money?
Money, that pays the bills.