Aishwarya Rai

- Vikram Chandiramani 

Models have rarely been good actresses, even if they happened to be the most beautiful in the world or universe. Aishwarya Rai was not the first 'Miss World' to enter Bollywood. Years before, Persis Khambata was introduced in K A Abbas Mumbai Raat Ki Bahon Mein , and though she did become famous and successful later in the west, Bollywood did not have any place for her. Ash has been luckier.   

The boom in channels coincided with two beautiful Indian girls on the world beauty map in the same year, and the spotlight fell on both: Sushmita Sen and Aishwarya Rai.

Perceived as cold and calculating Ash lost to Sush by a place in the Indian beauty contest, but later made it good. When she made good, Ash seemed to have thawed and warmed up. She continued to remain charming as she struggled in the industry to get the right breaks.

Mani Rathnam's 'Aanandam' , finally named 'Iruvar' , seemed just right. This was at the time when Mani was at his peak. Mani had planned for the film as being a bilingual, first to be released in Tamil and then in Hindi. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a turkey. Seeing that the film was not in Hindi, its failure did no harm to Ash's career. She could now bank on 'Aur Pyar Ho Gaya' . After a flop debut in Barsaat , Bobby Deol had hit the bull's eye with 'Gupt' . Rahul Rawail was making this film to further showcase the flair of Bobby Deol and the Deols would not leave any stone unturned in the bargain.

But to Ash's bad luck 'Aur Pyar Ho Gaya' bombed and was renamed jocularly 'Aur Bore Ho Gaya'. Vijay Amritraj's 'Jeans' was another prestigious film but, like a bitchy Manisha Koirala said,"Ash's Jeans were faded." This film too was a washout.

Mysteriously, 'Jeans' was sent as India 's entry to the Oscars, but that was taken with a bag of salt, exactly like Ash's talent. The architecture student-turned 'Miss World' would have been in the dust bin of industry with films like 'Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke' and 'Radheshyam Sitaram' , both with brawny Sunil Shetty, but Sanjay Bhansali and Subhash Ghai saved her career. 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' and Taal placed her in the top bracket.

Along with this success started a relationship with Salman Khan that brought her infamy, controversies and even got her thrown out of films, placed her on the black list of Shahrukh Khan who replaced her with Rani Mukherjee after Salman Khan dropped in on their set and became violent. This might have begun a downslide for her but a career conscious Aishwarya broke her relationship with Salman Khan.

Phase two began with a relationship with upcoming Vivek Oberoi till films she did with him bombed as the audience rejected the pair and the critics said that there was no chemistry between the two. By then, or even before it, Ash was eyeing a career in Hollywood . Appointing an agent in Hollywood, focusing on publicizing and promoting herself for the west and signing (or trying to sign) Hollywood films she did a clever balancing act in Bollywood Films like Bhansali's next with Shah Rukh Khan Devdas , Raincoat with Ajay Devgan, Yash Chopra's Bunty aur Bubli (Kajra re) and Ramesh Sippy's Kuch Na Kaho , Chokher Bali , Khaaki and her home production Dil Ka Rishta. Losing some prestigious assignments to Rani Mukherjee, Preity Zinta and Priyanka Chopra, Ash is, at the moment at crossroads.

Aishwarya Rai played the title role in 'Umrao Jaan' a remake of the movie of the same name which starred Rekha as 'Umrao Jaan'. The movie, which had Abhishek Bachchan opposite her released to near empty houses in 2006 and was billed as one of the biggest Indian box office disasters of all time. Aishwarya's recent releases include 'Dhoom 2' where she was paired opposite Hrithik, a box office success and 'Guru' (2007) with Abhishek Bachchan a moderate success.

'Provoked' a movie where Aishwarya played a battered Punjabi girl married to an NRI, flopped at the box office.

Aishwarya Rai married Abhishek Bachchan on April 20, 2007 in a high profile wedding at Juhu, Mumbai and has since taken on the 'Bachchan' surname. The Bachchan family were reportedly upset at the kissing scene that Aishwarya had with Hrithik Roshan in 'Dhoom 2'. There are also reports indicating that Aishwarya Rai may not be able to pursue her career with as much fervour as before after marrying into the Bachchan family.

Yet, Aishwarya Rai has some really prestigious assignments on hand that would cause her rivals like Rani Mukherjee and Preity Zinta green with envy. Ashutosh Gowariker's 'Jodha-Akbar' is one such movie.

Interestingly if she focuses too much on Hollywood she runs the risk of going into oblivion in Bollywood and if she concentrates on Bollywood, she has little chance making it in Hollywood . But what she has achieved in Hollywood so far is much more than has been done by any Indian before. Shashi Kapoor, Shabana Azmi, Kabir Bedi, Simi, Gulshan Grover, Amrish Puri and half a dozen others have done some films but usually played Indians in Hollywood films exactly as Tom Alter played a firangi in Bollywood films.