Aishwaryaa R Dhanush's earliest childhood memories surround a film set. It comes with the territory when you are superstar Rajnikanth's daughter.
And the people she observed are now the focus of Cinema Veeran, a documentary that doesn't have a release date yet. "I grew up watching how films are made. I've seen men jump off cliffs and shatter glass. I've witnessed dangerous car chases, and heard of horrific accidents," she says of the stuntmen who are the backbone of the industry.
Aishwaryaa R Dhanush
While the 34-year-old producer-director has chosen to focus on those who give action films their death-defying glamour, her next project, a sequel to this documentary, will explore the work and lives of dancers and junior artistes. The film is an attempt to give a voice to, and salute a community that isn't recognised in India by the National Awards, nor in the West. "Cinema Veeran is the real story of fighters and stunt coordinators and what goes on in their minds when they are putting themselves at risk. The treatment is realistic and emotional," she shares.
Dhanush has been working on the movie for a year now, but started the research for the documentary eight years ago. "I kept hearing stories of accidents during daredevil stunts at shoots."
A poster of the film
It was Film News Anandhan, a Chennai-based historian and one of the oldest PR person for Tamil films, who helped her. "He was an encyclopedia of information," she says.
The project took her to several sets, including one where Stunt Silva was the coordinator. "Stunt director Judo Rathinam, who choreographed my father's earlier sequences, is very close to my heart. He worked in times when there was no computer-generated imagery, and everything was live and pre-rehearsed. Then there is Ponnambalam (a fighter who became a character villain artist). I used to get scared around him as he was always the bad guy."
The documentary has made her rethink the ways of the film industry. "We are a great entertainment industry, but it would serve us well to get organised, have a formal insurance system in place for technicians and the faceless artists." Dhanush isn't aiming for a commercial release right away. She, like most docu makers, hopes to premier the film at an international film festival first.
She isn't new to filmmaking, although this is her first attempt at the documentary genre. She shot to fame in 2012 with her debut, 3, a Tamil romantic-psychological thriller starring her actor husband Dhanush and Tamil superstar Kamal Hasan's daughter, Shruti Hasan. Since then, she has directed Vai Raja Vai (2015), and launched Ten Entertainment, a digital platform to promote short film content.
The other intellectual pursuit that keeps her busy is an autobiography, Standing on an Apple Box. Some may say is ahead of its time given her age, but she thinks it timely because it discusses all the roles she has to juggle as a celebrity child, star wife, filmmaker and mother. "I prefer to call it a memoir since it's a collection of memories and incidents. In a nutshell, it summarises how it is to be me. How normal or abnormal is it to be a superstar's child," she says, pausing. "Actually it's all about being a multi-faceted woman in today's time."
The two men who occupy bulk space here are Rajnikanth, the father who first belongs to his fans, who revere him like they do God, and Dhanush, her husband. "I am a mini version of him," she laughs, referring to her father, who even at 65 has the pull of a 35-year-old, which is the average age of characters he plays. "He has taught me not through lectures but by example."
Dhanush, or the voice behind the viral 2001 track from 3, Kolavari Di, she says is the one to encourage her to take a risk and try new experiments.
"We try not to discuss work at home, but it's great to have someone right there to keep bouncing ideas off," she says.
He is also collaborator on Ten Entertainment, offering a platform to those unable to get their content out before their audience. "So many short films are released on YouTube every day. We want to provide a professional platform that promotes good content. It is one of our main criterias while selecting films."