At 44, Easwari Rao is playing Rajinikanth's wife in the soon to be released film Kaala. The surprise that many expressed when her name was announced is indicative of the kind of prejudice that women actors face in the south Indian film industries.
For Easwari, who made her debut as a heroine when she was just sixteen, it hasn't been an easy journey.
Though she acted as the lead in a few films, she soon began playing supporting roles. "At the time, the role of the heroine was increasingly becoming all about glamour and I was not interested in that," she says. "Earlier, women actors like Radhika and Vijayashanti had such powerful roles to play. But all that changed."
Asked why such a change came upon the industry, Easwari thinks for a moment and then says, "That's how it is. Trends change. And it's not just the Tamil film industry, it was everywhere."
More interested in performance-oriented roles than just appearing in decorative ones, Easwari was quite content to make the shift.
"I was dusky when I entered the industry and the demand was for fair-skinned heroines. People felt they looked more glamorous, I suppose," she shrugs.
For Kaala, however, Easwari was told by director Pa Ranjith not to dye her hair or apply make-up. In fact, she had to look darker than she was.
Laughing, Easwari says, "Many people in the industry think that my role in Kaala will be limited to a flashback. After all, there are so many heroines who want to act with the Superstar. Then there are other actors like Huma Qureshi in the film. They think my role will not be an important one."
Easwari goes on to say, however, that she does have a very substantial role in the film.
"I can't say more about it, but if you wish, we can discuss it after June 7!" she says.
"I was attracted to the film precisely because it's a deglamorized role and I was happy to follow the director's instructions," she adds.
Rajinikanth and Easwari share a palpable chemistry in the trailers.
Asked if it was difficult to strike such a rapport with him, Easwari says, "The full credit should go to director Ranjith. If you felt our chemistry was good, it's entirely because of him."
Easwari has two children – a girl and a boy. She says she took a break from cinema because she wanted to be with her children when they were growing up. However, it is on their insistence that she made her comeback.
"They would always tell me that they wanted to see me on the silver screen. They've seen me on TV, but it's not the same thing. It's for their sake that I decided to come back to cinema," she shares.
Both her children are fans of the Superstar and are excited to watch Kaala, she adds.
Pa Ranjith's films are usually known for their political undertones. Asked if this aspect of Kaala excited her, Easwari says, "Yes, certainly. As Ranjith said during the audio launch, Kaala does speak of the problems faced by ordinary people in society. This will be a Ranjith film and a Superstar film."