A prominent name in the film industry down south, Aishwarya Rajesh is known for her work across Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam cinema. But this journey was not an easy one. Over the years Rajesh has braved personal loss, rejection and bias to make it big. Isn’t this narrative something that a lot of young women in this country can identify with? Who have to not just battle hurdles on the personal front, but challenges presented to them by society as well, because of their gender.  So when Rajesh recounted her struggles in a TEDx talk it was a conversation that made everyone sit up and listen.

Nobody is going to come in like a superman or superhero. We have to protect ourselves.

A recipient of the Tamil Nadu State Film Award for Best Actress for her role as a mother of two children in Kaaka Mutta, the 30-year-old actor has also worked opposite Arjun Rampal in the film Daddy (2017). Here are some highlights from Rajesh’s TEDx talk at IIM Trichy.

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Facing hardships at an early age

Growing up in Chennai in a lower-middle-class family, she saw three deaths in her family at a very young age. Her mother had to struggle a lot to make the ends meet after her father’s death, but the family’s heartbreak was far from over. While she was still in her teens, Rajesh lost two brothers. In order to help her mother, she started working when she was in the 11th standard. She said she would earn Rs 225 per day, promoting a chocolate brand outside a supermarket.

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Braving biased against dark skin

In her TedX talk, Rajesh pointed out how sexual harassment in cinema gets more attention as compared to other streams. “In cinema we always hear only one thing, which is, Sexual Harassment. Everywhere there’s sexual harassment. But since it’s a media platform, it’s highlighted,” says Rajesh, adding how the bigger struggle for her was to overcome the bias against dark skin, “It was not only sexual harassment but also my colour, my complexion, my personality, the way I look. Maybe, they didn’t take me because I was talking in Tamil. It happens in our Tamil film industry.”

India has a long history of obsession with fair skin. From marital prospects to work in the entertainment industry, this stigma that correlates beauty to fair skin finds its way into every aspect of our society. But even though she was told by many directors that she was not a ‘heroine material’, she did not lose her heart. According to Aishwarya, her power lies in the fact that she never stopped learning and evolving.

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Most young actress focus on projecting an image of being young divas. In contrast to that, Aishwarya chose to play a very unconventional role at a young age, that earned her many accolades. Her life changed when she did Kaaka Muttai, in which she plays the role of an underprivileged mother for two children. “What is wrong in playing a mother’s role? How does it even matter?” she asks.

But while Rajesh was praised for her acting, she says that not many opportunities turned up at her doorstep. She wasn’t offered any big films opposite a big star. It was then she decided, “I am not getting any offers opposite big heroes. Let me be a hero for my own film.” She believed in her talent and went on to do films like Kanaa, where she was indeed the hero of her films.

“I am not getting any offers opposite big heroes. Let me be a hero for my own film.”

Rajesh urges every woman to protect herself. She says, “Nobody is going to come in like a superman or superhero. We have to protect ourselves.”

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To sum up, her journey forces everyone to Stop and Believe in themselves because nobody else will. Also, through her struggle, she intends to motivate all the women who face the same challenges with every passing day. “We all should believe in ourselves and we should never be dependent on anybody,” says she.

Picture Credit: YouTube screenshot

Simran Dhawan is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

 

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