Patcy N in Mumbai
Noted director Mani Ratnam's Raavan, releasing June 18, is more than just one of this year's most anticipated Hindi moves -- it is also being made in Tamil as Raavanan and dubbed in Telugu as Villain.
The Hindi version stars the husband-wife duo of Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan along with Tamil legend Vikram.
The Tamil and Telugu versions don't feature Abhishek. The film revolves around a married woman being abducted -- reminiscent of the epic Ramayan.
Aishwarya plays the abducted woman. She tells Patcy N why Raavan is the most special film of her career yet. Excerpts:
You have said the character of Ragini is special to you. Why?
It has been exceedingly challenging physically to play the character. Ragini is abducted. She is pushed, pulled, tied, thrown, put through trying situations; and I had to do all that. If I was thrown in water, even if I knew how to swim I had to behave like I am drowning. Not once or twice but on a number of occasions -- depending upon the number of takes we took each time -- and then do it for both the versions.
Mentally, it was stressful and challenging because Mani (Ratnam) likes to shoot an entire scene in one go. So, often we would shoot the Hindi scene first and after the scene was done, we would do the Tamil version. But this time we would do it faster as (cinematographer) Santosh (Sivan) would want to capture the scene in the same light. To switch onto some other language in a short time -- that too a language that I don't speak -- was obviously tough. I had to be mentally very alert. We had to recreate the scene without looking like you are challenged to remember your lines. So, if you are shivering, it gets worse. Plus, if my hair dried out, I had to again wet my hair to look the same.
Creatively also, it was challenging for me as an actor. It is not about how many takes you do. It is about the moment of magic that happens when you are giving a shot. Once we had hit the moment we would have to redo the scene in another language.
'I think it is clever of Mani to title the film Raavan'
Does Ragini have strong faith in Dev?
Though she is newly married I think every woman will have faith that your man better come looking for you to rescue you. Not only is Dev my husband in the film, he is also a police officer. So he has another reason to come looking for Ragini. She uses that as her strength against Beera. She tells him that he can't get away with it because Dev will come and get even with him.
She also discovers Beera along the journey, which is why Ragini is an intriguing character. That is why Mani also established the fact that Ragini is an artist who has a strong opinion of her own and she is open-minded. Because of this nature of hers she discovers Beera, despite the fact that he abducts her. She discovers the insight into his persona -- the truth behind why he has committed the so-called crime.
Do you transform the bad, cruel Beera into a good man?
Not as a mission. What Mani is trying to say is we are all humans and everybody has reasons for becoming who they are and what they do. Ragini discovers that Beera is perceived as the bad man or the villain or the abductor from Dev's or Ragini's perspective.
Beera is also considered as a protector, provider and saviour of the have-nots of the society. There comes a point in the narrative when Dev is obviously on the right side of law. But after a while he starts becoming a man on a mission. He is more about going out there and getting Beera because he has abducted his wife and because the man in Dev wants to get even with the other man.
So it also somewhere becomes a battle of ego for Dev, which Ragini recognizes. Everybody has black and white and grey in them. Through Ragini, the audience will also discover different facets to Dev and Beera's characters.
I think it is clever of Mani to title the film Raavan. Abhishek's character is not called Raavan; it is Beera. When you think of Raavan you think of his 10 heads but when you are watching Beera you see the 10 different facets of Beera.
An interesting thing that Abhishek and Vikram have done while performing is that they were talking to themselves in the film very often -- which could possibly mean that they talked to the 10 different voices within themselves. The 10 heads of Beera are obvious but somewhere there are equally as many heads to other characters -- whether it is Ragini or Dev. We all have multiple facets to our personality. That is why the title of the film is so relevant.
'Chemistry is never between the actors, it is in the screenplay'
You are working with two heroes in this film. With whom do you think was your chemistry better?
Chemistry is never between the actors. It is in the screenplay. Chemistry is about the scene. It is not necessarily about two people. I would like to believe as an actor I have been as honest while enacting the Hindi version with Abhishek as Beera or with Vikram as Dev and enacting the Tamil version with Vikram as Veera and Prithviraj as Dev.
Santosh once said that -- and I think that is true -- when you see Abhishek and me on screen from the audience's perspective, you see much more of an intense connect. I don't know whether that is us or the way the viewer sees it. I will never be able to say that because I believe I was sincere in creating the scene with Vikram as I was with Abhishek.
Abhishek and Vikram have said that you are the hero of the film Raavan.
I want to say a huge thank you to them; they are being very sweet, generous and very indulgent of Ragini. The admiration also works the other way round as much, if not more.
I would want to give credit to the entire team that is behind the making of Raavan; they are true heroes -- whether it is the director of photography, the screenplay writer, the set designer, the costume designer, the set workers, the unit hands, the music composer, the assistants or the director -- they all deserve immense accolades.
'Mani has the special place of being my first director in my career'
What do you think of Vikram as a performer?
Vikram is not a new name in cinema at all. Yes this is the first time he is working in a Hindi film. I call him Vikram but Abhishek refers to him as Kenni Sir.
He is obviously a very accomplished and experienced actor. He is our senior. But when you are working with Mani, everybody comes to the table as though they are working in a film for the first time. We are all just dedicated actors. Today I am way more familiar with Tamil, but it was Vikram's first Hindi film. I know exactly what he must be experiencing when he was playing Dev.
Fortunately, Mani did not shoot that simultaneously. He did not have to really switch between Dev and Veera. They were very separate schedules and that was a good thing about him. We all supported each other.
This is your third film with Mani Ratnam since he launched you in Iruvar.
Mani is a very special person in my life. Mani is my guru. In fact all my directors are my gurus because I go to my sets like a student. That has been my approach to work till date.
But Mani has the special place of being my first director in my career. Mani calls me Kanna and he calls Abhishek Mappilai (son-in-law in Tamil). We are very, very close to each other. Though the familiarity is that much more intense and more special with time, as an actor it is a major aspiration to work with him. Any actor who does not confess to this is lying. He gave Abhishek Yuva, which was a turning point in his career. Working with Mani is fabulous experience each time.
'What's wonderful is coming home to your spouse at the end of the day'
How did Abhishek help you during the shoot or after it?
We are professionals in front of the camera. We are just actors doing our jobs. And as actors we both genuinely love working with each other.
And people ask this question about how is it working with your husband. We have worked together before we got married. It's not like now we are married and now we are in front of the camera. We know that fine difference when the camera is rolling.
What's wonderful is coming home to your spouse at the end of the day, with a sense of comfort, irrespective of what location we were at. I would be exhausted because of the dual films being made and I would not get a minute off on the sets. So it was wonderful to come into the arms of love at the end of the day.
That apart, both of us have an adventurous spirit. We like to push ourselves beyond the norms and we know that about each other. So it is great to not have to explain that to each other and that's another big plus.
I would like to add that we were one big team working on this film. We acted like a bunch of college students out on camp or like a big family who were all there to help each other.
'I was offered Bombay and Raja Hindustani'
You are a well-known face in India and abroad. How will your presence help the film in India and internationally?
I am grateful for the kind of opportunities that I have got as an actor in my career. While people think that Miss India is the natural route to come into films, my story was different.
I was reluctant then because I was not sure about giving up my studies. Later I came to know from my friend Rajeev that Mani had asked (about me) even for Bombay. Dharmesh (Darshan) had asked for Raja Hindustani, Yashji (Chopra) wanted to launch me. Subhashji (Ghai) wanted to make Shikhar with me and all these offers were before I won the Miss India title.
Yashji teased me, saying, 'You can do your architecture and then you can come and design sets. Later, we will make you an actor.' Everybody believed that I wouldn't be here.
After Miss World, I had six months before I could join college again. At that time Mani spoke to me and I took the plunge and joined movies. And I am glad about it. I am totally at home and I am happy being an actor.
When I chose to work with Mani first, it was not that I was not getting any work and so I did a Tamil film. I wanted to break pre-conceived ideas. Iruvar was not a typical launch film. I had to play two different roles. The film was not all about me, but I still chose to do it. Those who watched Iruvar loved my work and gave me good films to work in.
I tried to strike a balance between Tamil and Hindi and later I also tried to do a film in Bengali with Rituda (Rituparno Ghosh). When I did English films they said I am moving to Hollywood, and I always said that when I did Bengali or Tamil films I did not move to Kolkata or Chennai!
I have a very strong international audience and I am very thankful for their support. Cannes started with Devdas. The French gave me a very special place. When I went to Berlin, it was insane.
The audience gets to see different Aishwarya each time, but every film has its own fate. If the film does well it is good. If it does not, then I at least get the chance to do something different each time, such as this film Raavan.
'I would be lying if I said that criticism doesn't affect me at all'
Does it hurt when the media criticises you for small things, say, for your Cannes outfits?
The moment you say that the media criticises you for small things, you have actually put it in perspective. And probably because of my upbringing, my family, my support system, I have the ability to look at it exactly that way. These are small things; they are not really relevant.
The larger picture is what is really happening in terms of constructive work, work that creates an impact and a productive journey moving forward. I am very thankful to god. Fame is relative to the kind of support and appreciation you get from the audience. That love is huge and immense.
In comparison this percentage of negativity (media criticism) is minimal. I know this sounds philosophical and strong, but having said that, I am human. Initially it did hurt me a lot more.
Today too, I would be lying if I said that it doesn't affect me at all. Of course it does, because I am sensitive. Creative people and actors are sensitive people. So it hurts when someone out there is criticising you. You work to do your best, you work to receive appreciation. So any kind of negativity does affect you but it hurts me much lesser today because I have strengthened my ability to look at things as I just said.
Such criticism doesn't make sense to me because it is not like I am going into my wardrobe and pulling out a dress. Professionals who are famous designers and stylists dress me. I don't even have the time to go and look into my cupboard, I don't take it half as seriously as most people do.
They (the Cannes Film Festival) have a daily magazine called Gala and they put me on their cover and call me the Queen of Cannes. I had no idea that two or three people back here are even saying something. Actually you are being celebrated, and suddenly Paa (Amitabh Bachchan) said, 'Arey, Yahaan pe kuch logon ne toh shuru kar diya (some people here have begun )'. But Paa also says 'Ignore it because it is so silly'.
Now, that was for an Indian film that I was doing. Each year I can't come back and explain that there is a dress code that I have been asked to maintain in Cannes. Nine years to be repeating yourself is bit too silly, na?
It's exhausting to even answer something like this. It does not even touch me.