I don't think in words,it's always images for me : Soundarya Rajnikanth

Soundarya Rajnikanth Ashwin, 28, would have loved to be called by her original name Shaku Bai Rao Gaikwad (Rajinikanth’s original name was Shivaji Rao Gaikwad). She has always been clear about what she wanted to do and chose directing over acting and animation over everything else. Being the younger daughter, she knows she is naughty and the biggest fan of her superstar father Rajinikanth. Her emotional anchor remains her mother, but even after three years of marriage, she blushes when talking about her husband Ashwin. She has her mother’s complexion, but talks just like her father. While she is as persistent as him, she hopes to be as patient as her mother. Ahead of her film Kochadaiiyaan, which is also India’s first performance-captured animation film, she talks to Chennai Times about her strong mother, a romantic husband and why her father was awkward being directed by his daughter. Excerpts:
You’re beautiful and Rajinikanth’s daughter, yet you chose to direct an animation film. Was acting not the obvious choice for you?

I was born and brought up in Chennai and studied in The Ashram, a school my mom has been running for the past 18 years. Right from my childhood, I always found text boring. I don’t think in words, it’s always images for me. I never read a novel and always needed illustrations, pictures and comics. My mum would often do these small doodles for me to remember and understand. When I returned after graduating in graphic designing from Perth, I had offers to act in films. Being a film child, the attraction of coming into cinema comes into every child. But, it has its advantages and disadvantages. My dad had an open discussion with me and he told me what he wanted for his children and was not too keen for us to be in front of the camera. Also, given my inclination to dictate rather than take instructions and my interest in animation, I chose to direct.

Who are you most attached to?
My mother. She is the strongest and the most positive woman you can ever meet. She is my everything for sure and is the anchor of our family. My father is 200% dependent on her. She handles multiple roles and has tremendous patience that I hope to get someday. She is now a full-time grandmother, with my sister’s two sons, and runs a school for 4,000 children. Also, with her two daughters who drive her up the wall and a husband who is a superstar, she has her hands full. She is the central figure in the house and is the boss.

What was your childhood like being your father’s daughter?
We had a great childhood, even though my father was a really busy man shooting three shifts. My mother made sure we did not miss not having our father around and did not miss doing what children do at a particular age, for instance, going to Disneyland or Universal Studios. My mother came from an upper middle-class Brahmin Iyengar family, while my father is a Maharashtrian, born and brought up in Karnataka. He had lost his mother when he was six and his father, after my elder sister was born. My maternal grandparents gave us a normal upbringing not allowing us to ever think we were born with a silver spoon, though we were spoilt with too much love and got away with tantrums. Also, being our father’s children, if we are not humble, we are idiots. He will probably talk to the driver of the biggest man the same way he treats the big man himself. My dad is my hero. Even if it sounds cliched, I am his biggest fan.

Let’s talk about your film Kochadaiiyaan…
I started Sultan six years ago and for various reasons, it was dropped. I want to make it clear that Sultan is not Kochadaiiyaan. However, there are three things in common — one, I am still in animation, second, it does feature my dad, and third, it is performance-captured animation. At that time, the animation technology available was basic and it would have turned out cartoonish. But God’s unseen hands were there and we stopped at that time and then Rana was launched and that had to be put on hold, as my father was not keeping well. But just because Rana was dropped, I did not drop and will not drop my passion for animation. KS Ravikumar, who has directed two films with my dad, was to direct Rana and we thought of a prequel to Rana. So Kochadaiiyaan is Rana’s father in the movie. Ko means king, Chadaiiyaan means a man with a lot of hair. It’s a fictitious story of a clan that worships Lord Shiva. It is India’s first performance-captured film. People perform, are captured and then put into their 3D version. Animation is a word, a process. In India, people think animation is cartoon. Avatar was animation, but is not a cartoon. Tintin is completely cartoonistic. I am creating Rajinikanth, where he has actually performed, it’s captured on a camera and then put into a 3D version. Avatar took seven years and so much budget and a James Cameron. There was always the insecurity of the unknown, but we have taken a road never taken in India and broken rules and have completed the film in just a year and a half.

You are the first daughter to be directing a father. How was the experience?
I used to watch films in all languages, but was always a Rajinikanth fan. So, first and foremost, it was such a blessing directing him in my first film. I would say ‘action’ but even when the scene was over, I would not say ‘cut’ as I just wanted to continue seeing him perform. I would see rushes and start clapping in my room. It was awkward for him, with me as the director. My mom once asked me what I was shooting and I said, ‘I am shooting a romantic scene with appa.’ It was cute, but awkward. I am extremely possessive and protective about him. I wanted him to take breaks and have his meals on time. The daughter in me came out at times like that, the fan in me came out when I enjoyed his performance and the director in me came out when I had to finish the schedule of the day. I was aware and conscious of his health. He is perfectly fine today by God’s grace and all the prayers. But when we were shooting, he had just come out of his illness, so it was too much on him. I am aware of the responsibility of directing him, as his fans want to see him as he is, I being one, too.

Let’s talk about your sister Aishwarya (married to Dhanush) who is also a director…
She is the opposite of me. I am more an extrovert, while she is not. When she went for the veena, I went for golf. Be it food or clothes, she is more Indian. We have a unique relationship, where we don’t talk all the time, but we are both directors and have a lot of discussions and make films in different genres. Once my dad saw the film and said, ‘Super, go ahead,’ the other two people I wanted to show the film to was my sister, and my husband, who is my worst critic.

Let’s talk about your husband Ashwin…
He is a Brahmin and runs a family construction business. We met in the gym six years before we got married, which was three years ago. For days, we kept working out and making eye contact with each other till one day when he was coming in and I was leaving. There was a staircase that goes down and I was walking ahead and he walked past me and turned around, looked at me, stuck out his thumb upward and said, ‘Rajinikanth’s daughter? Big fan!’ We eyed each other and he left. And I thought to myself, how can that be the opening line? I was so disappointed and angry. Cut to five years later, we met at a common friend’s place. And then things happened that should have happened earlier. He then took me back to the same staircase and proposed to me at the same place. I am emotional and, of course, I said yes. He told me after proposing, ‘By the way I was in your house yesterday. Your dad saw the ring and approved.’
I later got to know that my sister had briefed my dad that Ashwin and I were dating. And Ashwin took my dad’s permission before he proposed to me. It was a different experience for my dad, too. Dhanush and my dad’s lifestyle is similar. My sister’s transition post marriage was thus easier. For me, even after three years, I am still adjusting as it is a different environment. Apart from Ashwin being a good looker, he is a really simple and honest person. We are on the same page when it comes to our values pertaining to our families or our responsibilities. We both give importance to our families. I am extremely family-oriented and they come first. It’s important that they are happy and they approve of what I do.

Are you like your dad in any way?
I am extremely persistent like him and don’t give up easily. He was a bus conductor and did not know a word of Tamil, but was persistent about making a name for himself. And look where is he today.

Which was your lowest period emotionally?
When my father was not well, that was traumatic. Before that, my mother was not keeping well. My mum is 53 and my dad 62. For me, to see my parents unwell, affected me. We just dropped everything and were with him throughout. The second time I had got shaken up, was when some of the projects I started, did not take off but my mom remained my anchor.


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