Like her grandmother and parents, Aishwarya too joins the team of UAA for ‘Irandaam Ragasiyam.’

As UAA gets set to sprint its way to success with ‘Irandaam Ragasiyam,’ it is both interesting and intriguing to note that the cast has gained another value addition with actor Aishwarya, the popular heroine turned character actor and well-known face on television, foraying into theatre with the play. Interesting, because Aishwarya’s grandmother, actor Rukmini, played pivotal roles in UAA’s theatre endeavours, and later it was on the UAA stage that her mom Lakshmi was nurtured. Intriguing because actors generally graduate from theatre to cinema and not vice versa as Aishwarya has set out to do!

‘Irandaam Ragasiyam’ is written by Venkat, popular playwright and household name among soap watchers. His television serials such as Cho’s ‘Engay Brahmanan,’ stand testimony to his calibre. The play is directed by Y.Gee. Mahendra.

Several queries come to mind as Mahendra, Aishwarya and I settle down to talk about ‘Irandaam Ragasiyam,’ which will be inaugurated on September 8. Excerpts:

Y.Gee. Mahendra: “It’s not just Aishwarya’s mom and grandmom, even her father, Bhaskar, was part of our troupe. I see his intelligence and Lakshmi’s skill for grasping nuances in acting, in Aishwarya.” But how did he even think of Aishwarya for the role? “‘Irandaam Ragasiyam’(‘IR’) has a very strong female character and I needed an imposing personality,” Aishwarya butts in and raises her hands cheerfully, “Mahen uncle is a martinet at rehearsals but, Hey! I’ve not been pulled up even once!”

Right attitude

Mahendra is delighted at the co-operation Aishwarya has been extending. “She is punctual for rehearsals, has learnt her lines in a jiffy, and in short, has the right attitude. Getting back to your question, I first thought of Lakshmi because it is a strong role and she can pull it off with aplomb, and my next choice was Aishwarya who has the talent, looks and demeanour required for the character.”

When Venkat came up with the line of ‘IR,’ Mahendra had already decided to revive UAA’s ‘Pareetshaiku Naeramaachu’ (made immortal by the classic performances of Sivaji Ganesan and Sujatha in its film version). “I have a story which I will work on, only if UAA is interested. Otherwise I’ll shelve it for now,” he told Mahendra. “I found it extraordinary and in just three days he completed the script. It’s an absorbing psychological thriller that combines philosophy and metaphysics, and of course, comedy, UAA’s staple. Suppini plays the station master and I, a politician. Aishwarya’s role is suspense.”

‘IR’ has four main characters. If ‘Flight No. 172,’ UAA’s immortal stage-treat by Mouli, takes place at the lounge of the Madras airport, ‘IR’s scene of action will be a waiting room at a remote railway station on a dark, stormy night. “I’ve named it ‘Yedho Okka Ooru.’ It has a Durga Temple in the background. The thrill of myth and occultism begin there.”

Aishwarya: “I’ve worked in more than 50 films, and now I do soaps too. But roles such as the one I played in ‘Abhiyum Naanum’ are few and far between. I had reached a point of saturation. Actors use numbers to indicate sad, happy, shocked and other expressions. For me, it was like whether I had to do a 36, 38, 42 or 45 for a shot. I felt burnt out. I needed to revive the passion for my profession but didn’t know how to go about it. I vividly remember – it was a Thursday morning and I was just about to go for a take when I got a call from uncle. He asked me whether I was game for theatre and my immediate response was a loud, ‘Yes.’ I’m glad I’m with UAA because theatre, I find, is a really rejuvenating experience and I’m learning so much all over again. Every established actor should get back to the stage now and then.” I sense her enthusiasm, when she pulls out a gorgeous sari from her bag and tells Mahendra, “I’ve borrowed it from Devasena aunty (director Sridhar’s wife) for that important scene.”

When she posted the news of her stage pursuit on Facebook she was flooded with congratulatory messages. “A reiteration that my decision to join UAA was right,” she laughs.

Is the huskiness in her voice a plus for the role? “Very much,” says Mahendra. “Watch ‘IR’ and you’ll know.” The cryptic tone arouses curiosity.

It’s not that Aishwarya didn’t think of theatre earlier. “I did register for an English theatre workshop. But when for more than an hour we were only asked to practise a very unnatural gait, I fled.” She imitates the funny walk and I double up in laughter. “Where was the spontaneity? Just because the language is English, can everything sell?”

Venkat: “Venkat’s on the line. Caught in the traffic, Could you talk to him,” suggests Mahendra. “UAA is very special to me,” says Venkat. “YGP gave me a break with ‘Ragasiyam Parama Ragasiyam,’ and after a good 62 plays I’m back. The timing was perfect because UAA was planning its 61st venture. I wanted to re-create the mood and sentiment of ‘Ragasiyam …’ and the result is ‘IR.’ When I thought of this plot, I knew only Mahendra can handle it. Such is his passion for the stage. I’m a great fan of Lakshmi and I’m glad her daughter is a part of ‘IR.’”

That reminds me, how does UAA survive despite little encouragement for Tamil theatre? “That’s thanks to sponsors such as Medimix and Besten Pumps. Otherwise we would wilt,” acknowledges Mahendra. And about ‘IR,’ he adds with confidence, “It’s a crisp play that runs to an hour and 40 minutes. The suspense is in the league of an Agatha Christie or a Hitchcock.”