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Iruvar turns 25: When J Jayalalithaa said Aishwarya Rai would be perfect choice to play her on screen

By: Entertainment Desk | New Delhi |

January 14, 2022 1:41:14 pm





Aishwarya Rai and Mohanlal in Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar.

Aishwarya Rai made a dream acting debut in 1997, with Iruvar. Directed by Mani Ratnam, shot by Santosh Sivan, and with music by AR Rahman, Iruvar received critical acclaim upon release, and was listed among the 1000 greatest films ever made by the British Film Institute in 2012.

Inspired by the lives of three chief ministers of Tamil Nadu — MG Ramachandran, K Karunanidhi and J Jayalalithaa — the film examined the intersection of politics and films. Iruvar, which translates to ‘The Duo’ in English, also featured Mohanlal (in his Tamil debut), Prakash Raj, Gautami, Revathi and Tabu, among others.

It celebrates its 25th anniversary on January 14. The film paved the way for Aishwarya’s career, which includes films across several languages, and even a brief foray into Hollywood.

Aishwarya’s character in Iruvar was inspired by Jayalalithaa, and in an interview with talk show host Simi Garewal, the late politician was prodded to name one actor she felt could play her on screen. After initially saying that she wouldn’t want a film to be made on her — the interview took place two years after Iruvar’s release — she relented. “I think Aishwarya Rai would be very suitable to play me in my younger days. But then to play me as I am now, or I’m likely to be in the future, I think it would be a little difficult,” she said.

Years later, actor Kangana Ranaut played Jayalalithaa in Thalaivii, which released to muted critical response and negligible box office returns at the middle of the pandemic last year. Iruvar, too, was a box office failure, for that matter.

Aishwarya was introduced to Mani Ratnam by cinematographer Rajiv Menon. “I had worked with Rajiv on a number of ad films, and during one of the shoots, he shared the music of Roja,” she told The Hindu in 2019. “This was even before its release, and I fell in love with the tunes. He (Rajiv) knew how big an admirer of Ratnam’s works I was, and when he told me that I was being approached for a film, I thought he was pulling my leg.”

She continued, “When I walked into his office, he shared some ideas he had about Iruvar. He had the grace to ask me if I’d do it, when it was a yes even before I walked in. Listening to him back then was like sitting in front of a teacher; I just knew that it was the perfect place for me to start my work as an actor. I didn’t have any previous training. No one in my family has ever had any links to the film industry. I was nosediving into it and, when I met Mani, I knew this was where I had to start. I sort of felt like I belonged.”

In an old interview to Lehren, Aishwarya said that people started paying attention to her in the Hindi film industry only after she was three or four films old, but she’d signed those projects much before. She thanked her directors for noticing her talent, and not treating her as just another pretty face. “For the directors to have faith in me, or for that matter, the most important, Mani Ratnam himself had faith in me in the very beginning and had offered me a role in Iruvar itself did great for my confidence, my belief and my interest to learn as a student of acting because I had to learn quick as I was already in the industry and (came with) a great level of expectations.”

Aishwarya doesn’t work as frequently as she used to any more, but will be seen next in Mani Ratnam’s two-part historical epic, Ponnyin Selvan. She has also starred in Mani Ratnam’s Guru, and Ravanan.

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