There is a scene in the 2004 film Sullan that has Dhanush looking at a Rajinikanth photo stuck on a wardrobe and asking Easwari Rao, “Enna thalaivaraye sight adikariya”. Little did she know that 14 years later, she would land a role that would have the Superstar calling her ‘Thanga Sela’, and to top it, the film would be produced by Dhanush himself. “I don’t even remember doing that scene. I only recalled it when it was played during recent interviews,” admits Easwari. “I wouldn’t have even imagined that I would act with him. Not just then, even a year back I wouldn’t have guessed that I would land a role with Rajinikanth,” gushes Easwari.
When Easwari was initially approached, she thought the offer was to play Rajini’s mother. “Not just me, my family had their doubts as well. It is a common thought right — ‘40 years aachu, Vijay sir oda ila Rajini sir odayum duet paadava kupda poranga? (At this age, they aren’t going to me call me to sing a duet with Rajini sir)” recalls Easwari. She had also told Pa Ranjith that it wouldn’t be appropriate for her to play Superstar’s mother as well. But she was pleasantly surprised to know that she was cast opposite the Superstar in the film. “Not that I am against doing mother roles. Just because I have done a film against Rajini sir, it isn’t fair to expect similar roles. The subject required that kind of a heroine,” she adds with a chuckle.
Kaala saw Easwari Rao make a comeback to Tamil films after more than a decade and with a role that ruled everyone’s hearts. With her sparkling, innocent smile, bittersweet but affable sarcasm and an adorable chemistry with Rajinikanth, one didn’t see Easwari Rao. It was Selvi all along. It was even more refreshing to see her boss around Karikaalan in a sensible romance track that Tamil cinema can be proud of. “Ranjith is a director with immense clarity. The woman he wrote will not care about anything — ‘Kaala might be a don but he bows down before her. Naalu pasanga pethalum geth-a irupa. Oor la apdithan irupanga. Enakum adhan venum.’ (She might be the mother of four, but there is no doubting her swag. That’s how our women are and that is what I want). Ranjith thought I would be able to give him his vision.”
Easwari did prepare a lot for the role. She gained a few kilos and grew a few shades darker. But the actress discloses that she had no references for her immensely rooted performance. While the film has opened the pandora box of discussion, the verdict on Easwari’s performance has been unanimously astounding. “I knew it was an important character but I didn’t expect the audience to relate to Selvi to this degree. I have been receiving calls not only from Tamil people but from across languages.”
Easwari takes no time to acknowledge the support and confidence Rajini and Ranjith gave her during the shoot. “I was quite nervous. I was worried that I shouldn’t be the reason for extra takes when there is a senior artist like Rajini sir. But he would tell me, “Idhu unga scene. Idhu nalavarum. Pannunga, pannunga pannunga. (This is your scene. It will be good, do it)” she says, doing an impression of Rajini’s trademark fast-paced speech. “That gave me a shot of confidence in the arm. If you’re telling me I have done those scenes well, its due to the confidence that Ranjith and Superstar gave me,” she adds.
Kaala marks Easwari’s comeback in Tamil after over a decade. After playing the heroine in several films, she stuck to acting in Tamil soaps and a few Telugu films. In earlier interviews, Easwari admitted to taking a backseat from acting as heroines increasingly were required to be glamourous. But now the winds are changing and more well-written roles that are worthy of our older actresses are coming up. In a way, this is also equality, says Easwari. “Cinema took more commercial paths. The lifestyle of audiences changed and so did their tastes. Cinema followed suit, choosing a path towards satisfying these expectations. It makes me happy that such women characters are cropping up now. Ranjith has shown that one can act as the female lead even when she is 40 years. ‘Ava kuda kadhanayagi than; heroine than’.” With her next film being the Arjun Reddy remake, different kind of roles is what Easwari is looking for. “Easwari Rao’s role in the film should be spoken about,” she signs off.