Iruvar, Jeans, Raavan, and now Robot. After her fourth film, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan admits that she’s finally comfortable working in Tamil cinema. "Earlier when I was doing Iruvar (1997) with Mani (Ratnam) and Jeans (1998) with Shankar, delivering my dialogue in Tamil was like sitting for an examination," she reminisces.
"I used to write my lines in English and mug them diligently the day before the shoot. Although I now understand the language better, I still wouldn’t risk a conversation with a local because my grammar is rusty." The actress plays Sana, a medicine student, in the film and insists she was like a student on the sets too.
"Irrespective of whether I’m doing a film in Hindi, Tamil, Bengali or English, for me the director is like a teacher. I would watch Shankar as he reviewed a shot on the monitor and wait for him to break into an ecstatic smile to know that the moment had worked for him cinematically," she says.
She adds that for all the technical wizardry in Jeans or Robot, Shankar is not trying to make a Hollywood film. "He’s only trying to weave a fantasy that would appeal to the aam janta here."
From larger-than-life superstar Rajnikanth, Rai Bachchan claims to have learnt lessons in humility. "Rajni sir is so unassuming," she marvels. "He never cribbed about the long hours he had to spend on the sets owing to the technical detailing.
I completed three other films — Raavan, Guzaarish and Action Replayy — in these two years but he was completely focussed on Robot.”
Did she learn to flip sunglasses and cigarettes, Rajni style? “Nope, but I got to see him do it ‘live’. And it was a jaw-dropping experience,” she says. However, she did brush up on her technical know-how: “During Jeans, Shankar exposed me to multiple imaging. Robot took me a step further.” Who did she enjoy romancing more, the Robot or a regular Rajni? “I was spoilt for choice,” she laughs. “Both the man and the machine were irresistible.”
Her last Tamil film, Raavan, didn’t live up to expectations even though it fared better than its Hindi version. Will Robot conquer the box-office? The actress has her fingers crossed and is quick to add that she enjoyed Raavan too: “But when the audience doesn’t like something, we strive to do better next time.”