Told in all honesty

Told in all honesty

Told in all honesty

Standing On An Apple Box
Aishwarya Rajinikanth Dhanush
Harper Collins
2016, pp 171, Rs 199

We are often curious to know about the lives that are led by those who live in close proximity to celebrities, and often have to go by hearsay and gossip columns. It is a rare chance to get an inside view when a family member of a superstar writes an autobiography.

Standing On An Apple Box is one such story — that of Aishwarya Rajinikanth Dhanush, daughter of Tamil cinema superstar Rajinikanth. It is often not always fair when one describes somebody who is in the shadow of a more prominent person, that ‘so-and-so’ had achieved a lot ‘in his or her own right’, because it immediately diminishes a person. But how else would one describe the achievements of Aishwarya, who is a film director with three films under her belt; a playback singer and a classical dancer — with a father like Rajinikanth. Her husband, Dhanush, is no shrinking violet either — he is a popular film actor, producer, writer, lyricist and playback singer (Why This Kolaveri Di).

Having talked about the dominant male figures in Aishwarya’s life, it would not be correct to leave out her mother, Latha Rangachari — a playback singer and film producer, and founder of a school in Chennai — well-known for her philanthropic efforts.

The apple box in the title refers to the ubiquitous wooden box or crate that is used in film sets, and is one of the most useful props to have around. The boxes are used for a thousand different things — to sit on, to prop up lights, trolleys, even to make shorter actors look tall by making them stand on them! Aishwarya’s growing-up years were spent on film sets for obvious reasons, and the title is quite apt.
It is under this kind of a collectively large shadow that Aishwarya writes her tale, and makes it interesting and all her own. There is a preface to the book by Swetha Bachchan Nanda, another child of famous parents, who shared similar pressures.

The writing style is straightforward and makes the book more real — you can relate to the simple aspirations and fears of a growing girl. Take her attitude towards dogs, for example. The deeply introverted Aishwarya makes it clear that she had a fear of dogs, and writes about how she used to make sure that friends kept their canine companions securely leashed or tucked away elsewhere when she went visiting. Yet, she is able to describe the love and affection a dog can give a family with great tenderness. And one incident is quite sad and moving.

Her younger sister, Soundarya, gets a Dalmatian pup — gladly supported by father Rajinikanth, who loved dogs — whom they name Tiger. Aishwarya is able to describe the pain the family felt when they realised that Tiger’s gentle and sweet disposition changed to ferociousness and antipathy towards people because of ill-treatment and beating-up by a caretaker who had been asked to look after the dog when the Rajini clan went away on a long holiday.

“Tiger had not retaliated until we were back and he knew he was safe. It was almost as though he had waited for us to come back before giving the guy what he deserved... the man was fired but the damage was done...” The dog was taken away by the family vet, but the family missed him so much that he was brought back, a huge fenced-in lawn prepared for him, where he spent 13 years close to the family. “...though he spent most of his time in that fenced portion, he was at least close to us and he seemed happy to be away from strangers... In scarring a dog, the caretaker had scarred an entire family...”

There are many insights into the kind of man that Rajinikanth is, scattered throughout the book like choco chips in a cookie, and they come upon you suddenly in a chapter. Without giving away too much of the book, she reveals why the superstar is so deeply spiritual, with a tale of the young schoolboy, Shivajirao Gaikwad (which is, as we all know, Rajinikanth’s actual name), having an interesting experience with a wandering, saffron-clad mendicant atop a hillock behind the Gavi Gangadhareshwara Temple (in Gavipuram, Bengaluru), and the reason why he still smears his forehead with vibhuthi (sacred ash) every morning after pooja. You also get to know more about her mother and husband in this slim volume.

Aishwarya seems to hide nothing, revealing her fears, ambitions and many other facets that could easily have been glossed over. Her childlike enthusiasm to share her most joyful moments comes across with the acceptance speech that she has printed in full when she was chosen to be the United Nations’ Women Goodwill Advocate. She comes across as a woman who is introverted, caring, creative and full of deep introspection. This book is a simple, honest account that reads easily, with a vein of sincerity that runs right through it.