'I think humour allows us to warm up to each other faster,' says Akshara Haasan who gets candid about movies, dance and her love for football!
Meeting her is like meeting a wise old soul. She speaks slowly and surely, almost like every word she says has been well-thought out — or at least that’s the side of her she lets us see. Born to larger-than-life stars Kamal Haasan and Sarika, and the younger sister to singer and actress Shruti Haasan; Akshara made her film debut with the Hindi comedy drama Shamitabh (2015), and later appeared in Tamil film Kadaram Kondan (2017). Her most recent film, Achcham Madam Naanam Payirppu, is fresh-off the festival circuit and is all ready to premiere on an OTT platform. While the star (in her own right) is busy shooting for another film, we catch up with her for a candid conversation over scones and many cups of coffee…
“I come from a family that helped ground me. Both sides of my family never let the fame and popularity of their careers affect me as a child. That and the fact that I grew up in several cities — Chennai, Mumbai and Bengaluru — I think it all helped me define myself quite differently from my family,” says the actress as we sit down for a cup of coffee at her cozy urban home in Chennai.
You’d never expect an actress to live in an apartment like this. It’s got an old world charm and exudes warmth that no snazzy new construction could ever compete with! As the sun slowly sets on a warm March evening, we get down to our job of discovering the real Akshara…
“As a child I was very silent, but at the same time I was a very happy and fun loving person. I’ve also been very curious. I loved being happy even if that meant I’d have to make myself the joker in a situation. I think humour allows us to warm up to each other faster and once that warmth exists, you actually get to know someone better. One of the reasons I chose to do Achcham Madam Naanam Payirppu, was that it was a comedy. It also helped that the cast and the crew of the film featured a lot of other people who were equally warm and humorous in real life,” explains Akshara.
The film has been screened at several festivals across the world and is now finally slated for an upcoming release on an OTT platform.
The conversation slowly moves towards Akshara, the ‘Haasan’. It must have been tough growing up as the child to two famous film stars; and to a sister (Shruti Haasan) who is also now a well-known actress and singer in her own right? “It wasn’t really. My family was very open to letting me be whoever I wanted to be. For a long time, I wasn’t even sure I wanted to act. I was more into dance, football and writing while growing up. Not once do I remember feeling pressured to do anything. My family just allowed me to be the strong, independent me and I am thankful for that,” Akshara shares.
Dance? We ask. “Yes, I was and am quite a lover of the art form. I’ve trained in various styles including jazz, hip-hop, salsa, jive, ballet, kuchipudi and bharatanatyam. I think I might have ended up being a dancer and a footballer if the film-bug hadn’t bitten me. And it happened all of a sudden. I was asked to step in place of the original actress of the play who fell sick. I took up the challenge just because the cast and the director of the play mattered a lot to me personally and at the end of the production, I realised that it worked for me. I liked performing on stage. I could see myself as an actor, rather a performer. I guess it was an extension of the dancer in me,” she tells us.
Choosing to experiment with films that are not necessarily mainstream is not the route any film expert would suggest to a newbie but Akshara has chosen to do just that. She explains, “I chose these films because I connected with the character. I am glad that I have been given that liberty. That I don’t have to do any film that comes my way. That I can choose films based solely on characters this early on in my career. I am thankful for these opportunities. I have to feel connected to the character 100 per cent or I don’t think I’d be able to do the role or the film any justice. I also choose roles based on how real they feel to me. We have the power to create our own image 100 per cent with the support of a strong team to help you get there.”
We pour ourselves another cup of piping hot filter coffee and Akshara offers to show us around her home. Our eyes chance upon rows of delicious looking jams and preserves.
“I wish I could say that these jam recipes are my grand mom’s, but unfortunately they are not. A year or two before the lockdown we got a lot of fruits from our land in Kodaikanal. Every time we do get the fruits we always share them with our people. At that time there was an excess of fruit and we didn’t want it to rot away. My father had come up with the idea of using those fruits to make jams before they got spoilt, right after which, I researched online on how to make jams. This sheer curiosity created a new interest for me. After I had made the first batch of jams is when I realised, ‘wow, this is something I could really be interested in.’ So, thanks to all the professionals out there who have shared their knowledge on jams, which helped me improvise and make my own style of jams and you can order them at @thejamchemist,” she explains.
We settle down again, to our third cup of coffee and some scones paired with her mango jam, and the conversation ensues.
You also talked about football. Not many people would imagine you to be a sportsperson, we ask. “I love sports and I hate that I cannot play my regular games when I am shooting. There’s also the fact that I prefer playing football with the guys as you can be as rough as you want to be and get away with it,” she shares. “I am a very active person. Some would call me restless. I just cannot sit in one place and not do anything. I need to spend my time and energy on something all the time. I guess this keeps me going at times when I’m not working as an actor. Writing helps me as well,” adds the actor and trails off, hoping we wouldn’t notice the reference to her passion for writing.
As writers ourselves, we cannot let go of someone who shares our passion for the written word and so we ask Akshara to elaborate. “I love to express things. Anything that catches my attention is important to me. So while my earlier writing was reflective of my happy-go-lucky attitude, my writing now is deeper and darker. It’s a very intimate process for me and it changes with me as I grow. It might take decades before I’m comfortable enough to share my writing with the world. I’m also passionate about photography and have benefitted immensely from having some of the best photographers available to me, thanks to my industry connections. I do not shy away from taking photography tips from any of these masters — the more I learn, the better my art will be,” she says.
And we couldn’t agree more. Several cups of coffee and a plate of delicious scones down, we decide it is time to wrap up our conversation, finally. As we leave, we ask Akshara one last question: is this city life as an actress as fulfilling as an outsider perceives it to be? “Well, while I do enjoy my life in the city and the excitement that a career in films can bring with it — there are also days when all I want to do is run away to the hills and be lost in nature with just my camera and nothing else,” concludes the actor.