Aishwaryaa Rajnikanth Dhanush in conversation with Sudha Sadhanand
The Real Women Series presented by Dove
By Rushati Mukherjee, Official ZEE Jaipur Literature Festival Blogger
Aishwaryaa Rajnikanth Dhanush has a fortuitous name. Within it, the force of her individuality is shadowed by two men: men whose influence has shaped some of the most significant parts of her life. Thus it was no surprise that much of the session revolved around their impact on the real life of this ‘reel’ child.
‘Appa was a superstar’. This was the central reality of Aishwaryaa’s childhood, growing up under the shadow of her father actor Rajnikanth. She is more than aware of the privilege granted to her as a result. She concedes that the influence of her father’s fame was unavoidable, but that she had not got her publishing deal because of it. In fact, she wanted to use her book as an opportunity to break misconceptions about ‘celebrity kids’: ‘We are not abnormal.’
Thus, in Standing on an Apple Box: The Story of a Girl among the Stars, the central images are not of a glamorous adolescence and youth spent on film sets. In fact, Aishwaryaa spent most of her childhood in Bangalore. The strict separation of her father’s life from hers, she believes ‘helped’ her to build her individuality rather than to ‘taint’ it. But it also led to a certain alienation between the man and his daughter: ‘He was hardly around… I don’t remember him at home as a young girl.’
While Rajnikanth was under the pressure of completing at least 7 films a year, the influence of her mother worked its way deepy into her being. ‘I am sitting here today because she has been the supermom at home,’ she said. Her mother’s careful balancing of stardom and childhood is a model example for Aishwaryaa, the mother of two young boys herself. But in the age of social media, the uncomfortable aura of the public spotlight is harder to avoid. ‘It is a huge challenge,’ she rued. ‘I don’t want them to think that they can do or say certain things and get away with it.’ If she brings up ‘normal’ children, she will consider herself to have been ‘a good mother.’
Her responsibility as a mother is in accord with her role as a UN Goodwill Ambassador for gender equality. Aishwaryaa has borne witness to the positive changes that have come about in the film industry in the last decade, and is indeed a part of it: ‘Five years ago, it would have been close to impossible for a woman director to do more than one film, but now I’m about to direct my third.’ She declared that she does not want to make another film with her husband yet, as she does not want people to question her validity as a filmmaker by presuming she only works with members of her family. Gender equality, she clarified, is a collective effort: ‘It is a responsibility to ensure women do not fear to express what they feel.’
Aishwaryaa Rajnikanth Dhanush’s life is not suspended in a perpetual penumbra of the men in her life, whose names she has assimilated into her own. Her unique name is a celebration of the manner in which she has accepted the overwhelming responsibility of being a superstar’s daughter, and created her own niche in perfect harmony with that identity. Standing on an Apple Box: The Story of a Girl among the Stars is the story of this extraordinary journey. It promises to be just as engaging a read.
Photo Credit: Rajendra Kapoor