(1998) Early Days

Models like other mi- norities should be seen, not heard. Until she happened. Voila Aishwarya Rai. No need to hash out a chronology on her. She who first blipped across our consciousness first in those va-voom commercials. And then there was Miss India. Then Miss World. And finally the movies.

Okay so Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar and Rahul Rawail’s Aur Pyar Ho Gaya, didn’t set the screen aflutter, but a start was truly born. Her million bucks looks, her ability to boogey to the beats were applauded. Yet it was harped that she had miles to go as an actress. Aishwarya aka Ash turns to me, the arm on her hand to emphasise her point and says, “I think I was appreciated both in Iruvar and Aur Pyar Ho Gaya. It’s just that no one was willing to think of me as a newcomer. The press especially began comparing me with actresses who were around for 10 years. That was unfair.” She segues into a more serious mode and says, “It’s only fair that I should be compared to the other newcomers around. Just because I’m a known face, it doesn’t mean that I have that much more experience when it comes to acting. I’m learning with every passing day.”

Right at this moment the Tamil version of her film Jeans, directed by Shankar has been well-received in Chennai. Ash sallies, “After Iruvar and Jeans, I can understand quite a bit of Tamil. (Laughs) These days I dream in Tamil, you know. Whilst shooting for Jeans, I made sure that I not only understood my own dialogue but also familiarised myself with what my other co-stars were saying. That helped me to get a grip on the scenes in Jeans better, especially in the comedy and emotional scenes.”

About Iruvar and the Mani Ratnam experience, Ash says, “Mani Ratnam was my guru for all practical purposes. He’d constantly talk to me about, enabling me to get a grip on the nuances of the double role that I was playing.”

“I went to Madras to meet Mani for the film. He just chatted with me and within an hour he said, I was on. I thought there would be a screen test. But there was none of that. hough Iruvar’s story went through a lot of changes, it’s film I’ll always be proud of. I think what went against the film is that audiences drew too many parallels between the characters on screen and real life personalities like Jayalalitha and the late MGR.”

Did Aishwarya sign any contract with Mani Ratnam or Rahul Rawail stating that their films would be her launch pads? “Neither of them asked me to sign any contract with them. Mani made it very clear to me that he wasn’t launching me. In that sense, I didn’t have any real launch pad where a film revolved around me. Iruvar had six other important characters besides me.”

She adds, “Mani told me that he was considered the slowest filmmaker in the south but he was sure he’d complete the film before the Mumbai directors. Sure enough, he did.”

She laughs full-throatedly, “Even today, when he’s here he jibes me and asks me if I’ve joined the gang and signed 24 films. I protest that 24’s my age and that I’ve only six films on hand.

She explains patiently. “There are only 365 days in a year and there’s only this much work that I can do. I’m thoroughly grateful to filmmakers like Sooraj Barjatya who have evinced a desire to work with me. And I’m also thankful to all the directors who want to work with me again. But it’s humanly impossible to do all the dream projects. I’m sure there always be another time.”

She fastens the brightest beam of her attention on me and remembers the time when she had to let go of prestigious projects like Dharmesh Darshan’s Raja Hindustani. Aishwarya sighs aloud. “You win some, you lose some. I was getting the best banners even before Miss India happened. But I look at the positive side. May be if I had done them, there would have never have been Miss India or Miss World. In the past, whenever I’d pass by the poster of a film that I’d refused, I’d go, ‘Hey! that could have been my face on the poster.”

We’re on the sets of Rishi Kapoor’s Aa Ab Laut Chalen. I notice most men being reduced to mush interacting with her. She seems aware of her power and her role in the fantasy life of the public. But she also sees the absurdity of it all. Does she see herself as sexy? “Nooooo.” She squeals in embarrassment. But as an afterthought she adds, “Am I sexy? It’s okay by me if it helps to sell more tickets at the box-office.”

Aishwarya admits that the three years in the show glow world have definitely taken their toll on her. In a glacier voice, she mumbles, “I don’t feel corrupted or anything like that. But yes, I’ve become more aware. It’s like the gradual wearing away of one’s innocence. Like in all other professions, it’s the survival of the fittest. When I came here, I thought I only had to act. But now I realise that I have to be smart too.”

She fills the musty studio air with her yeah-yeah yammer. She also learns to field grapevine gossip and tabloid infamy dextrously. “Ever since I’ve joined the movies, I’ve been at the receiving end. Earlier the press and a lot of individuals had formed an opininon that I was a cold and conniving person even without meeting me. Then they attacked my working style. The funniest reaction was when I couldn’t do Sooraj’s (Barjatya) film. A section of the press insisted that I had become too big for my boots and had even quoted a ridiculous price to the director.

“I know for a fact that other heroines would shortchange their other films and then bend backwards to accommodate such a prestigious project. But most people couldn’t appreciate the fact that here was a herione who was trying to add a semblance of professionalism to her work ethic. Even if it meant giving up important films.”

On a more philosophical note, Ash muses, “It’s okay. I’ll live and learn. Even in the modelling world there were many who couldn’t digest the fact that I was doing well on my own terms. Similarly in the film industry, if I make some heroines insecure and they react violently, I’m not to be blamed for it. (Laughs) I’ve been a sitting target for very many but I don’t react, I just act.

We wobble on about sundry other topics. I ask her to describe herself in a single sentence. She sips slowly on her revivifying glass of tea. And then she replies: “I’m just an average woman with average concerns. Hey! know something? I’m your girl next door.” A shoal of autograph hunters descend upon the studio, vying for her attention telling her how beautiful she is…. and blah, blah, blah. But Ash carries herself lightly, as if she didn’t know about it, or at any rate didn’t take herself too seriously.

Now how many girls-next-door can do that?
Full of natural goodness, the earth colours range from dark chocolate to cream. Honey-beige and tan come in between. Look at the wide scope of timber colours: red browns include mahogany and rosewood, yellow browns echo pine and maple; green browns resemble walnut. Made paler, brown becomes a neutral beige, while russet and tan remind us of brown’s proximity to orange.

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