(1999) Filmfare Magazine

Given her omigosh looks, her acting skills are the last thing that the male populace would consider. But she’s had enough. No more swoons-‘n’-sighs, she has ODed on the compliments. Now she’d rather do Shakespeare than slapstick, get serious about the acting thing instead of just pumping up the jam-boree.

The Interview

Helloooo, so what gives?
Well, I’m looking forward to Aa Ab Laut Chalen. It’s not your regular hero-heroine film. There are no chalu items, no masala. Chintuji (Rishi Kapoor) has made an engrossing film in the RK tradition. And, yes, I know you guys are watching us closely since Akshaye and I have a lot at stake.

Why, why?
You tell me honey. According to the media, I’m in a terrible shape. I’m supposed to be a cold fish, a non-actress and my films aren’t doing well.

So how come you’re looking so hassle-free? c Because I feel hassle-free, thank you. I’m getting at least two offers every day. But I’m biding my time, I’d rather look before I leap. Ha!

Filmi Moves

Don’t you regret nixing Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, Hum Saath Saath Hain and Mann?
No regrets, not for a moment. But Yashji (Chopra) was upset that I didn’t do Sooraj’s film. He says a hit is a hit is a hit. Believe me, it was humanly impossible for me to do it. There are only so many days in a year and only so many hours that I can put in. I know for a fact that some heroines actually cried when they weren’t approached for Sooraj Barjatya’s film. Sooraj understood my dilemma. He praised me for my professionalism, he said that we’d definitely work together in his next film. (Laughs) A solo film, he assured me. As far as Kuch Kuch Hota Hai goes, Karan Johar did approach me, but the dates he needed were committed to the RK film. Moreover, Kuch Kuch… belonged to Kajol. No two ways about that. Having said that, let me add that Rani Mukherjee did a terrific job.

I’m in a Catch-22 situation really. Though I’m a newcomer, I’m compared with all the senior actresses. So if I’d done Kuch Kuch…, it would have been tittered that, “Look, Aishwarya Rai is back to doing what she did in her modelling days – leaving her hair straight, wearing minis, and pouting glamorously into the camera.” Ultimately, the hero goes back to the more real person. I know if I’d done Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, I would have been lynched. But I’m so touched that so many film-makers have shown so much trust and faith in me. Indra Kumar, Shankar, Rajkumar Santoshi and Rahul Rawail have all approached me for their next projects. I also get quite a few offers from the South. What more could I possibly ask for?

How have the directors related to you professionally?
Extremely positive. Most people I work with love me and we share a wonderful camaraderie. It felt great to be a part the unit of Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Hain Sanam. I was almost behaving like an assistant director. On the sets, my suggestions were welcome, and I even sat in on some of the editing sessions. Every film has been a kind of a test. Especially the first schedules. The units, I think, are slightly wary of the Miss World tag. So at the outset, I’m put through the wringer. At times, that’s been hard. Recently I was just staring vacantly and someone snapped, “Ash, stop pouting.” I said I wasn’t. It’s just that I have a full mouth. I can’t help it.

Does it hurt when you’re called a non-actress?
Boy, it does. Just give me time. I’ll prove everyone wrong because I’m growing every day. Actually, I’m having the time of my life. While a section of the industry and the media have written me off, I’m raring to go. What keeps me going is the faith that the producers, directors… and believe it or not… the distributors have shown in me. That’s touching. The other day, I had to get into a lather for an emotional scene for Hum Dil De Chuke Hain Sanam. Sanjay thought we’d have a long day ahead. But the scene was okayed in one take… he took another one just for safety. He couldn’t believe the fact that I did the scene without any hoo-hah. Since I haven’t experienced pain or heartache in real life, he thought it would be difficult for me to sum up the emotions. I guess my life is perceived as… a fairy tale… it’s forgotten that I’m human, too.

In retrospect, would you say that Aur Pyar Ho Gaya was conceived on a paper napkin? It certainly set you back professionally.
Post-mortems are an awful waste of time. In any case, I’m not into washing dirty linen at all. All I can say is that when Aur Pyar Ho Gaya, Iruvar and Jeans didn’t do well in Mumbai, Aishwarya Rai got the maximum flak. Why? Isn’t film-making a team effort? All I can say is that certain films are made under the most exacting circumstances. Unfortunately, I took the rap… which wasn’t fair to a newcomer at all. I’m extremely proud of Iruvar. I think it’s nothing short of a classic. I’ll be eternally grateful to Mani Ratnam for giving me that opportunity. As for Aur Pyar Ho Gaya, it proved that I had all it takes to become a heroine. And it was reassuring that Jeans was a super-hit in its principal languages – Tamil and Telugu.

Plus and Minus

Your va-va-voom looks have worked against you as an actress. Right?
Look, I can’t fight the looks I’ve been born with. If I’m blessed with good looks, so be it. But for Pete’s sake, don’t knock my hard work, my professionalism. I’m only three-films-old. I haven’t given any of my directors any reason to complain.

Do you make some of the heroines insecure?
Why? Every heroine has her position, her fan following. You know at times I do indulge in a bit of pop psychology. I feel okay, some of the heroines have a right to feel bad and say, “So, here’s this Jill-come-lately who thinks no end of herself just because she won the title of Miss World.” (In an injured tone) I don’t mean to be condescending at all but the fact is that I was a known face even before I joined the movies. I have an international honour to my credit. I don’t mean to be patronising but the truth is that everyone will have to live with the fact that I’m Aishwarya Rai. I’m not fighting my genes, my good fortune or my own achievements. Perhaps the fact that I got top projects… because top film-makers wanted to work with me… must have annoyed some of the heroines. Some heroines find their place in the sun after 30 films. Some heroines have to stick around for nine to ten years before film-makers of substance give them an opportunity. So somewhere, there must be quite a lot of resentment against me.

The heroes do seem to be very fond of you. The buzz is that you play up to them.
(Distraught) That’s a very cruel thing to say. I don’t play up to anyone. And I’m certainly not a tease. I don’t need to bat my eyelashes at any hero. Listen, you seem to have a problem because the heroes can be warm to me. You have a problem if the heroines resent me. Why don’t you make up your mind instead of being mean to me?

That Sex Stuff

Okay, my mind’s made up. You’re a guy’s girl.
You said it, I didn’t. Actually maybe I am. I relate to men almost in an asexual manner. I’ve never been violently attracted to a guy at first sight.

Huh, is that possible? I find it impossible to believe that you’ve never had a relationship.
It’s true. I firmly believe that I can never fall in love instantly. I need to know a guy over a period of time to get serious. Relationships can get emotionally exhausting. I know when I’m in love, I’ll give it my all.

What about the physical aspect of love?
Maybe I’m not a physical person at all. I can’t get into a frivolous relationship or a fly-by-night-affair. I’m not mentally attuned to all that. Today, many may not give a damn about sex. But I do. The emotional aspect is so much more important. My values are proper and middle-class. And I’m proud of them.

Okay, so how many heroes have proposed or propositioned you?
(Laughs) I’ll let that pass, darling.

Ahem, ahem. Okay, so come clean on those rumours linking you with Akshaye Khanna, Salman Khan, blah, blah…
You said it again. They’re just rumours.

Gossip

OK. So how come you’re the only heroine who gets along with Salman Khan?
Salman Khan’s like a baby. We’re always sparring on the sets. (Guffaws) If he gives me attitude, I give him loads of it back to him. Ha! Ha! Ha! No seriously, like Akshaye Khanna, Salman’s a cool guy. Like you say, I’m a guy’s buddy. They think I’m one of the boys.

Did you or did you not make disparaging comments about Manisha Koirala? Did you say that she was seeing a new guy every month? How could you?
Honey bunch, I swear on anything dear to me, I never said that. I said that the media has insinuated that she’s seeing different people. Once and for all, please let me clarify that Manisha and I aren’t the best of friends… there’s no love lost between us… but for goodness sake, I want all the viciousness and bickering to stop. I’m pained by the fact that a war has been created for nothing at all. The magazines fill their pages, but think how damaging it has been for both of us. You won’t believe this but I feel no bitterness or resentment towards Manisha. In fact, I hope she finds happiness soon. That sense of stability may make her feel more secure and calm her down in life.

Do you think the media plays favourites?
Most certainly. And I don’t resent that. Certain stars and actors deserve every bit of the publicity they get. They’re worth it. But there are those who don’t have much to write home about and yet make it to magazine covers by virtue of being rent-a-quote-wunderkinds. Then there are those who get an image overhaul overnight. Why? Because they happen to be successful. The actor or actress could be obnoxious, brattish, debauched, insensitive. But if you’re successful, the media glosses over that. And of course, the press does tend to go on and on about certain topics. Like Manisha and me. Or about Sushmita Sen and me. Goodness gracious, Sush is a lovely girl doing her own thing. I would never undermine her achievements or resent anything about her. Still, it’s made out as if we’re clawing each other like wild cats. Nothing could be further from the truth. I have never gone on a magazine rampage. Actually I’m the one who should have since my films didn’t do well. I should have rushed into photo-sessions left, right and centre. I don’t feel the need to really.(Laughs). One hit and everything will fall into place.

Does the name Ranjiv Mulchandani ring a faint bell?
You too? Really, I thought all that had been forgotten. Why persist with the muck-raking?

You were never in love with him?
Since the entire world thinks that I had something to do with him, I don’t expect you to be any different. But I’ll try. Cliched as this may sound, he was one of my closest friends. And god bless him for being one. Next question please.

And Personally
Do men still say, “I love you” and want to marry you as soon as they set eyes on you?
Ooooo, what’re you saying? You have this amazing knack of embarrassing me.

Why aren’t you meeting interesting men? Why aren’t you dating? Why are you spending the best years of your life shuttling between studios, bothering about hair and cosmetics?
Why don’t you believe me when I say that I’ve yet to meet a guy who’ll make my heart go boom-boom? I think I’ll need time to fall in love. It’s like that with me. I come from a secure family, I have parents who are like caring friends, we share a grrrrreat open-relationship. Even in my man, I’ll look for security, bonding and committment. I need that.

God forbid, if your films don’t work, what will you do?
Seriously, I haven’t thought about that. Let me get philosophical and say that when God shuts one door, he opens a 100 others. I’ve no financial insecurities, I’m a very together, creative and I dare say, a talented person. I’ll never knock at a producer’s door and show them my date diary and tell them to fill it up. Even if I end up being a housewife, I’ll give it my 100 per cent. I’ll be the best housewife in the whole wide world. That I promise.

You’ve been called a hypocrite, unreal and over-friendly. So will the real Aishwarya Rai please stand up?
Earlier, it was important that people should like and love me. Those who interact with me, tell me, “But we thought you were so unreal.” Today I’ve understood that I don’t need to deal with preconceived notions. Of the 100 people, you meet every day, at least ten are bound to dislike you. You live and learn, you can’t please everyone.

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