(1996) Stardust Magazine – What Makes Aishwarya So Special

I WAS STUNNED SPEECHLESS.

It was a phenomenon as rare as snow in the Sahara, that I am so stumped for vocabulary. But it was vocabulary that I’d run out of. In fact, that’s when I decided to throw away my Oxfords, Webster’s and Britannica’s for lying to me all along. The way they’d coined for ‘heart stopping attractiveness, soul-stirring good-looks and poise so pretty it would inspire poetry in prose’ –as merely ‘beautiful’. What a horrible, terrible lie!

I am about to redefine the word to describe the word ‘beauty’, and I’m sure the world will agree too; and the word is ‘Aishwarya’! Such is the power of the glorious visage of Ms. World that it can impale a man’s heart to the soft-board in her trophy-room with one piercing, soul-searching glance.

Strong words of praise indeed. And coming as they do from a self-styled connoisseur of beauty (ahem), it should convince you further of the many delectable charms of Ms. Rai.

As if I need an endorsement on any statement anyway. The ‘world’ merely endorsed what I already knew. The crown of Ms. World was endorsement enough.

I remember the shy Ms. Rai of almost four years ago on a visit to the cathouse. A teenager then, she’d come to visit another publication as a model. Yet she had poise befitting a glamour queen, as she sat quietly in the conference room making small talk. Her eyes were what gave away the presence of furiously ticking brain.

Today, so many years down the line (and with so many crowns in her booty), I met her again (discounting the occasional bumping into at fashion shows and parties) at the razzmatazz studio of top glamour photographer, Ashok Sailian.

She’d relinquished her crown to this year’s winner, she’d cut down on modelling and ramp assignments-all at the zenith. And now, in a blaze of glory, she was all set to storm the crazy world of the Indian film industry.

I’d met her the previous day too, at her Bandra house, and I had been struck by the lack of attitude in the simple, classy Rais. It was like a visit to the house of any girl next door. The house was under renovation, Mrs. Rai bustled around organising a few things and simultaneously playing hostess. A young lad (presumably Ash’s younger brother) was totally involved in a quick snack. And Aishwarya herself was dressed like any Bombay girl at home-in blue denim shorts, a white T-shirt, barefoot and devoid of any makeup. She was glowing.

During the shoot, I saw the total transformation in front of the camera. With makeup on, moving to the rhythm of the flashbulbs-almost cat in her agility. Young supple and yes, beautiful. Minus the crown of attitude that those with half her achievements wear on their sleeve.

I mean, here was a girl with no hassle at all. No false pride, no ego, no ‘I’-attitude. Just a simple girl-aware of her achievements -like a sophisticate. Unlike the nouveau-achievers.

After the exhausting shoot, she got rid of her makeup, donned her hip-hugger denims and sat down in a corner of the huge studio for our tete-a-tete. Very aptly, ‘Prince’ (now just a symbol) crooned, ‘The most beautiful girl in the world” from a CD. Very symbolic.

Ash began with a little background, in clear-cut, well-spoke English. “I was born in Bangalore, but I’ve lived my life in Bombay. I’m very family-oriented. I have an older brother; he’s a marine engineer now. I did my school and college in Bombay. I began modelling around the same time I did my degree course. Then I did my architecture. Then Ms. India happened. Then Ms. World happened. I’ve been away for a year; I’ve just got back for my next phase, which are movies. And here I am talking to you.”She smiled, keeping the details short and sweet. “And oh yes, I’m born on the 1st of November which makes me a Scorpio.”I should have guessed; that Plutonic stars said it all.

Except that the Plutonic art of calculation comes with it, if her bitter rivals were to be believed. Wasn’t it true that during the Ms. India contest, Ash smiled her way into the good books of the organizers. And this made the other contestants so insecure that they even took the step of complaining to the management about favoritism. True or False.

“Noooo!” squealed Ms. Rai. “See, the point is, I wasn’t discovered after Ms. India. I was already Aishwarya Rai in the modelling world. Of course it was a much-large magnitude post the-title, but prior to that I was already Aishwarya. So the Press was already hyping me up from the previous year itself. There were rumors I would be taking part then. So when I didn’t, it was already taken for granted that I would be part and parcel of the next show. In fact the way the media was making it out to be like I was already the winner. I myself was in two minds. So I gave in my form at the nth moment. Mainly because of the pressure from college and the modelling front. I didn’t want to participate because the expectations were so high and I thought what if I don’t get it? Then what?”

“I don’t remember any nasty experience as such except that I was aware of the fact the girls didn’t feel that I’d already be getting it. Obvious hostility did exist but then everyone was aware of who I was. I was a somebody prior to the contest. People did have apprehensions there. Except those people, who like my roommate, who really got to know me. I guess what subconsciously fuelled the feeling was when I started winning the sub-contests. I won Ms. Photogenic. But when I won Ms. Perfect Ten, I noticed the change. That’s because there was a common perception among all the contestants that in the event of a tie – it would be Ms. Ten who would score. Of course we realised later that the rule didn’t apply. I noticed the girls were a little disturbed. It was just a human reaction. As for their complaining, what can I say, they’re the one who complained. I didn’t complain before, during, after,” she burst out laughing. “See we’re human and humans tend to react like that when they’re insecure. When you’re not insecure you don’t feel the need to because you’re happy within yourself. I myself was mentally prepared for the disappointment. To be able to walk away-not shattered, not overly-elated, not over confident.” It showed.

Except that Ash was human too. How did she react to her arch-rival, Sushmita Sen’s statement that she ‘didn’t like her earlier’. And she grew to like her later, after Ms. Rai stood runner-up to Ms. Sen. Wasn’t it condescension, so to speak? Aishwarya came close to grimace without actually executing one.

“That’s her opinion really. Today I’m secure in my own achievements, with me carving my own niche. People are entitled, they can do what they want with their opinion. They could have liked me earlier, disliked me now. Disliked me earlier, liked me now-I can’t keep catering to that. As far as I know I can live with my conscience and I know how I behave with people. That’s what finally matters. People keep changing their opinions according to their emotional states and security levels.” The smoothness of the statement cut like a scalpel through hot butter as Ash smiled that lethal smile.

She should be prepared for criticism, being as she was in the media spotlight. And also for the eye on her bedroom keyhole now that she was a well-known public figure and an actress to boot. Wouldn’t Lady Diana have lots to tell her on that?

“I know!”She was quick. “I know that with all the dollops of praise, the criticism comes two-fold. Btu I’ve learnt to distinguish between genuine constructive criticism. Trash is what said with a malicious intent or in a petty manner. I’m grown-up enough to recognize what is genuinely bitchy. But I maintain my dignity and behave like an adult. Trash, after all, is said to get a reaction.”

“I also know that with success comes the invasion of privacy. But it depends on how far the individual wants to open his or her bedroom door. You have to draw the line yourself. I know how to handle myself with some degree of dignity and self respect and that’s the way I’m going to conduct myself, irrespective of what bracket of society I’m supposed to be catering to.”

And her conduction on screen? I couldn’t resist. After all, to the industry she was another model trying her luck at the tinsel turnstiles. And it had almost been proved that models couldn’t act. How sure was she? And again, why chose films as a medium. She had far brilliant plumage to try something so different.

Aishwarya nodded that pretty head. “How can I not be so-called aware of that so-called fact. There are many that’ve brought it to my notice because it is a very common perception. But Juhi has done well for herself. So one has to wait and see if one has the capacity or not. And I’m thankful to god and to the bracket of directors who have had the faith in me to take me on in their projects. I have to reinstate that faith. God, I have to work hard. After all, all the directors who’ve signed me, their reputation precedes them.”

“Incidentally, films were something that were going even before Ms. India. After that I had to put it on hold because I had Ms. World as a prior commitment. I had lot of offers rolling in even then, good ones. But my priorities were towards the contest so I had to say no. Simultaneously I was modelling and studying architecture. It was virtually impossible to think of a third boat. I didn’t have a third leg to put in another boat…” she collapsed in peals of laughter on releasing the double innuendo of what she’d just said. “Noooo! I didn’t say what I just said… you don’t put that…” she couldn’t stop giggling like a naughty schoolgirl caught at a prank.
“Anyway, it wasn’t a condescending attitude I had. I just had to refuse a lot of films. I didn’t expect to put everyone on hold. But post Ms. World a lot of avenues did open up.”

Like that of Subhash Ghai for starters. Speculation was rife that she was the mystery girl signed up for ‘Shikhar’. Then what happened?

“I don’t know whether it was for ‘Shikhar’ or not but Subhash Ghai had shown interest way before. Around the time I met Yash Chopra. I’d heard through people that Subhash Ghai was interested and I was advised to meet him and find out what this was all about. Which I didn’t at that point because then I had to go out and I was already committed to my contests. Then I met him post Ms. World and he was very sweet. He told me that he was looking for a new girl and I was already a known face. But in case he decided… That’s when I told him that I couldn’t do anything my one-year contract expired. So we decided to work together in the future if it worked out.” She smiled, not secretively.

Aishwarya wasn’t about to miss anything because her cup runneth over with banners of the highest order-for her to pick and choose. She’d been screen tested and approved by the maestro of romance – Yash Chopra. She’d been signed by Mansoor Khan along Salman and Saif. For Mani Rathnam’s bilingual opposite superstar Mohanlal – to be directed by Rajeev Menon. For Sohail Maklai’s ‘Aur Pyar Ho Gaya’ opposite Bobby Deol – directed by Rahul Rawail. For RajKumar Santoshi’s next opposite Shah Rukh Khan and Sanjay Kapoor. For Sashilal Nair’s next opposite Sunil Shetty. The creamy layer didn’t end. No wonder she grinned like a Cheshire cat who got the cream! I couldn’t resist bringing up the topic of another ‘cool cat’ then. What was all that talk in the recent past about the hidden attraction between Ash and Bobby Deol. Ever since, they did a photosession together in Khandala for Sohail Makalai’s ‘Aur Pyar Ho Gaya’! And was it true that he really sent flowers soon afterwards?

“Yes, yes! I was waiting for you to come to that. I know it sounds very romantic-the two of us together. But I hate to puncture the balloon of the romantics, Hoo boy. We got along, that’s all. We’re two people who’re easy to get along with. I guess working together in the film should be fun. And now come on, he’s engaged…” she giggled again. “I didn’t say that. But too bad. And incidentally Bobby’s not even sent me a petal, leave alone flowers!” Tch, tch! Remind me to remind Mr. Deol.

And I reminded Ms. Rai to tell me about Ranjeev Mulchandi. Her so-called model boyfriend. She was prepared for this one. “What do you want me to tell you about Ranjeev? Oh, we get along pretty well. And we’ve been close for a long time now, that’s the way it is. We’re friends.”

Except that Manisha Koirala said other wise when she claimed to have caught Aishwarya’s letters to Ranjeev when she (Manisha) was seeing him? “Yeah, but didn’t she later on deny it? So ask her what she said. Don’t look at me. Like I said, I have no reaction for people. I’m not into an alley cat kind of behavior; I’m not an alley cat. I’m not into brick batting. I’m not into mudslinging. I’m a secure person, I’m happy with myself, I know the way I’ve conducted myself and I can live with myself. I have my dignity and my self-respect, it’s important to me. It keeps me going.” The pedigree showed of this south India beauty. A cat of high order, very special to the cats of ‘Stardust’, she was talking to one.

I hated to burst her bubble. I hated to remind her that she was coming into a industry where the cat-race was vicious and where mudslinging was everyone’s favorite ball game. Some of it stuck. How would the dainty lady cope with the muck without soiling her spotless image?

“Look, I don’t belong to thatbracket of people and don’t intend to. I have belonged to the modelling industry where the common perception was that the people survive by the you-scratch-my-back-I-scratch-yours philosophy. I never got into that. I survived pretty well and thank god, did pretty well for myself. I never ever perceived myself as a part of the rat race. Part of that entire clique where it mattered, who was better than the other, who got what, blah, blah, blah. I never felt the need to belong there. I just worked hard and, touchwood, it paid off. I intend maintaining myself similarly here. Like I said people will talk. The more successful you are, there will be their own levels of mudslinging. But most often it happens because they’re insecure people. I don’t feel the need to react to those kind of so-called statements. God forbid, if things really get out of hand, the day I decide to speak, I’ll be heard. But I don’t believe in back chatter. I think your word ought to have some strength, some meaning, some basis and some bearing-and it will have effect. I don’t banter on unnecessarily.”

“Also people out there have reassured me, with their faith and love in me, and given me more confidence in myself. They know what I’m all about.”The confidence flowed. Ash sure knew what she was doing.

Once again she’d proved her crystal clear powers of thought when she selected for herself not only a commercial, but an extremely successful secretary. Jatin Rajguru boasted such names as the late Divya Bharti, Tabu.. Etc. How comes such a commercial choice for someone not even totally into the industry yet? It showed planning. She giggled again.

“That’s not the way I look at it. Actually Jatin was one of the first secretaries to contact me way before-when I was getting my first batch of offers. He contacted me regarding some movies and I’d told him that if I ever got into films, I would get back. Then when I signed Sohail Maklai’s film, he and Bobby and Rahul Rawail suggested Jatin. So he was the first person I met and I liked his attitude. He is a very straight and nice person. We can work together.”

Sure Ash, you could. Just like you could with his other ward, Sunil. In fact I loved the way this alignment was forming. Ash, Jatin, Sunil. While her dearest rival, Sushmita was getting aligned with Sunil’s dear rival Akshay-it appeared too planned. She laughed loudly, scoffing at the allegation.

“It’s a very good question. But I’m not seeing any alignment as such. That’s for the media to see. I didn’t even think about it, you just brought it to my notice. Ten points to you.”

How about eleven? There was another observation coming up. Apparently the Cola giants took the cognizance of their rivalry. That’s why, while Ash was the Pepsi girl, Coke got Sush to endorse their drink.

“Okay! But listen, I was with Pepsi pre-Ms. India. What more do you want? So whay these wars? One has no hand in it here.”

“Seriously, all this talk about my rivalry with Sush now having spilled over onto the ground of the film industry is media created. It’s become so boring now. Imaginations around need new seed for fertilization. Sush and I did not get a chance to know each other well. We may not be the best of friends, but we’re not sworn enemies either. It’s okay as long as we’re fine with each other when ever we meet.” She brushed off the rivalry with a tone of finality.

Aishwarya had all the answers down pat. Yet, coming as she did from a glamour industry where body talk made you a star and a contest where the swimsuit round was the most eagerly looked forward to event. Would she have a similar attitude in the industry or would she become coy in the face to unnecessary exploitation?

“Look!” she was firm. “I’m very selective when it comes to my roles and levels of comfort. When it comes to photosessions or movies I have to be comfortable, otherwise it is definitely going to show. This was something I maintained even while modelling whether it came to pictorial work or ramp. I always stuck to my levels of comfort to be able to do justice. And that’s what I’m going to do over here. Frankly, I don’t believe that anyone can twist your arm to do anything for finally you are your own boss. The ball is in your court, for you to say yes or no. no one here is strong enough to will tell, God willing, I’ll be able to carve my niche here too. Touchwood.”

Her Scorpionic confidence filled the room with a vibrant electricity of its own even as she screamed on sighting the pizza she’d ordered, “Goody…food!”

So childlike, yet so much a woman of the world. So dreamy, yet so much a real girl. So angelic, still with feet firmly on terra firma. A part of the film industry. A beautiful part.

“Do you really think I’m beautiful? You tell me?” She queried mischievously; light eyes flashing intensely. I would have told her. Except. I didn’t have all night.

Here was a beauty, which was enhanced by the exalted attraction of those power packed gray cells. Intelligence is always the most attractive asset of any girl, I’ve always said. Which in turn is enhanced by physical, tangible good looks. No wonder Aishwarya Rai’s beauty transcended the terrestrial.

No wonder then, in all probability, if Genesis was ever altered, it would read. ‘God created the world in six days on the seventh He created Ms. World.’

Welcome Aishwarya. The industry waits.

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