(1999) Femina Magazine

SHE’S living out of her vanity valises. Her glossmatazz georgettes, tinkling trinkets and vials of perfumes peer out of her bags. Jet-hopping has become second nature to Aishwarya Rai. Right now she’s off for a long spell of shooting for Rishi Kapoor’s Aa Ab Laut Chalen, after which she’ll be in Budapest to shimmer for Sanjay Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

Add to her kitty of films Subhash Ghai’s Taal, Mansoor Khan’s Josh, K Sashilaal Nair’s Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke, Deepak Sareen’s Albela – all of which mean that she’s had to nix Sooraj Barjatya’s Hum Saath Saath Hain, Indra Kumar’s Mann and Sunny Deol’s London.

“There are only 365 days in a year,” Ash purrs, “and there is only this much work that I can do – even if I want to do more. Instead of carping that I’m getting too big for my boots and refusing films left, right and centre or that I’m charging astronomical amounts of money, appreciate the fact that I’m trying to bring a modicum of method and professionalism into the madness.”

For a girl who came, conquered and consolidated, Ash is remarkably down to earth. Even the no-show of her films like Iruvar, Aur Pyar Ho Gaya and Jeans doesn’t faze her. She sallies, “I enjoyed working in those films. And all my directors want to work with me again. Can there be a greater compliment?”

Ask about her legendary hauteur and she parries quickly, “The greatest misconception about me is that I’m this cold, arrogant bitch. When people meet me, they see that I’m normal. Can I help it if everyone forms opinions about me without even meeting me?

“Give me time,” she says in retaliation to an opinion that hints that she cannot act, “It’s unfair to compare me with established actresses who have been around for five to ten years. I’m learning and I’ll prove my detractors wrong in a couple of years.”

For a woman much desired, Ash remains unattached, even as rumour has it that almost all her male friends have proposed to her at one time or another. She cracks up, “I’m not telling you about any of those guys or marriage proposals. Know something? My best friends are boys. It’s not a gender thing, but I seem to have a swell time with the guys.”

Ash has other things to warm her heart. Great memories among them. She recalls her homecoming after being crowned Miss World – when the young and old took to the streets to cheer her. It especially moved her when grandfathers told her that they had prayed for her and that she had done her country proud. Those cognac eyes mist over as she says, “When a child stays up the whole night to make a pretty collage for me, it humbles me. I feel so responsible…”

We’re on the sets and Ash is a professional. She moves towards the camera. And allows it to linger over her. As long as it desires.

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