‘Standing on an Apple Box’ is a surprise in a small package in many ways. It is from a writer with pedigree, who is not really into writing books. By turns intimate, funny and poignant, the memoir stands out from the usual literary work on Kollywood.
Written by Aishwaryaa Rajinikanth Dhanush, the superstar’s daughter and the star’s wife, the book, in a few pages, throws light on what it is to be born a celebrity and live as one. The heart-warming aspect of it is that it tells the story of the author, who seems to be firmly grounded in reality, despite the accompanying hardship of having little privacy. She also points out how life has changed after the media became aggressive and social media omnipresent.
Written in simple, cliché-free language, the book is accessible and can be read in the space of a night. Laid out in a bare bones style, it tells the story of the author as daughter, sister, mother and wife. The book could have been edited better, but that’s hardly a major flaw.
Aishwaryaa talks of the simple pleasures of life, like her love for sweets and the Marina, but also chronicles a much more serious and life-changing event – that of Rajinikanth meeting with sadhus in a temple in Bengaluru before he became an actor.
Her account of assisting director Selvaraghavan, who is her brother-in-law, is memorable and interesting, and a stark look at what it really takes to become a director in the Tamil film industry.
For those who like gossip, the book has its fair share of tinsel town tales of tiffs between people with infantile egos. Discreetly, Aishwaryaa stays clear from naming anyone. I am a bit miffed that I couldn’t readily identify the hero and heroine involved in an off-screen romance, which also features a disgruntled wife on the sidelines.
Aishwaryaa’s book is as much an account of her career as assistant director, playback singer and director, as it is also a record of her family and her struggles as a mother, embellished with colourful anecdotes. The family’s trip to more than one Disneyland is a case in point.
The author grew up with her maternal grandparents in Bengaluru and recalls childhood events with characteristic candour. But save for a few events involving Rajinikanth and Dhanush, the book, much to my dismay, steers clear from providing a keener insight into their lives. How does it really feel to be Rajinikanth’s daughter? The book left me none the wiser.
In sharp contrast, much space is devoted to Latha Rajinikanth, her endeavour to start The Ashram, a school with a difference, and her quirky six-tumbler system of drinking coffee.
What you’ll really get to understand from the book is how a movie set functions. The chaos, the hard work, the madness and mayhem are captured efficiently. It really is a treat for anyone who watches movies and wonders how they are made.
The author also tells us of her long struggle to become a lawyer and how her being a celebrity impeded her career. She says she was sucked into the world of movies as it surrounded her.
Aishwaryaa also writes in a modern, contemporary style that is almost casual. But one senses an undercurrent of truth in her mostly sweet words and that saves the book from turning into a purely marketing exercise. The book rarely gets into more serious territory. It just confirms much of what is already public knowledge. But thankfully, the author doesn’t sound as if she is always setting the record straight.
This is not a full-fledged autobiography. The 34-year-old director might have thought it would be a stretch to publish one. Instead, she has chosen to give us a series of interesting anecdotes that lift the veil often pulled down on the industry.
None of this, however, makes the book seminal even if it is pretty innovative. It would be hard to call this an important book that you simply must get your hands on. Instead, if you are really into Tamil movies, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to invest in a book that offers a peek into the lives that take centrestage in filmdom.