(1999) Stardust

Aishwarya hates being in the news for all the wrong reasons. And link-ups top the list of her dislikes. Ever since she entered the film industry (three years back), she’s been more spoken and written about for her reported relationships with her co-stars than her four released films. Everytime she’s been linked with a man. Ash has displayed more discomfort than pleasure. That’s exactly why I I wanted to know how she’s taken to the recent turn of events about her personal life, which has made news in the media.

Three months back, when reports began filtering in that Ash would be marrying Salman Khan by the year end, it came as a shock to most, including her producers and directors. Her family seemed upset and more so, it was Ash who seemed really uptight. When we had spoken then, she hadn’t taken the media burst of the link-up too well and denied it as just another rumour. After that, she left for her outdoor schedule to Mauritius for Mansoor Khan’s ‘Josh’. We hadn’t spoken till a week back when she was back in town.

By then, the rumours had gained further momentum. After all, he was the best looking actor in Hollywood and single at that. She was the prettiest of them all. They made a picture perfect pair. Immensely good-looking, successful, famous, they were the perfect candidates for matchmaking. Salman had just split with Somy and nursing a broken heart, he had developed a major soft corner for his “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam’ co-star. So besotted was he by her that for the first time, he had asked an actress to marry him. Both Sangeeta and Somy had waited for this decent proposal for years and now, Salman’s bachelorhood was being finally conferred to Ash on a platter. The one answer most wanted to know was whether Ash would accept this tempting offer or not?

The best person to provide the accurate answers was obviously Ash herself. I met her on the sets of Subhash Ghai’s ‘Taal’ but she seemed too preoccupied then. So eventually, we fixed up an interview a week later on the ‘Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke’ sets, I trudged my way uphill to the faraway Filmcity at the appointed hour only to wait further since Ash had just started eating her lunch. Meal over, I joined her for a chat that focussed mainly around the current topic of everyone’s discussion her marriage plans with Salman Khan. Her personal life seemed to be too exciting of late, what with the strong speculation of her marriage to the Khan boy.

“I really wish people would really talk about my professional life in the same way people are choosing to talk about my personal life,” said Ash. “They are going on and on with rumours linking me with my co-stars instead. Earlier too, they’ve picked on every one of my co-stars and now I guess they’ve chosen for this one to reach the crescendo.”

Well, going back in time, Ash was previously linked with Sunil Shetty and then, Akshaye Khanna. But this time, the heat was hotter than ever before. Until now, there had been no speculation of Ash planning marriage at this stage of her career. There must have been something concrete to start oft such severe rumours. Surely so. There’s never any smoke without fire.

“At this rate 1 guess it must be a raging forest fire,” said Ash laughingly. “Because people started speculating and linking me with my co-slars ever since I entered films. I’ve been laughing these things off as April fever.”

For Ash, it may seem as simple as April fever but for most who’ve heard about their marriage plans, it’s been a real surprise to imagine that an ambitious girl. at the threshold of a promising career, would chuck it all up for domesticity. Was she really tying the knot with Salman Khan at the year end? Ash dismissed my question with a laugh. “April fever seems to be catching on.” That wasn’t the answer to my question, I told her. I wanted an answer, a legible one. This time, her illogical answer was, “I’m playing a game just the way you all do.”

Her confession seemed more vague so I put my query all over again. Was she marrying Salman by the year end? Finally, Ash came up with, “I am not married to Salman. But I guess I can only speak for today, now and the present. And this, I can categorically say that I am not married to Salman Khan.” Agreed, they weren’t married already, but what about the year end wedding plans, my question was still very much the same. Ash seemed irritated at that one. “I think I’ve already answered your question. All this is stupid talk and just speculation.” For the last time, I asked her why she wasn’t answering my question to the point. Ash retaliated this time by just switching my dictaphone off. (Much later, during the interview, she somehow remembered this question and told me, “I’m not getting married to Salman by this year end. I’m only 25 years old and I’m not even thinking of marriage in the near future. I have signed films which are going to take time to complete and I am going to be quite busy for at least another two years to even think of marriage.”)

Her denials and refusal to divulge any more on the matter urged me to ask her about the various reports on this liaison. For example, among other things, it was heard that Salman’s recently-held birthday bash was organized by Ash and that she was also designing his new house according to the principles of Vastushastra.

Ash laughed, “Did you say I’m doing up his house according to Vastushastra? Well, I gave up architecture the day I joined movies. I don’t have the time right now to even do up my own flat, so where is the time to do up Salman’s house? As for his birthday bash, director David Dhawan, his wife Lali and their friends arranged a surprise party for him and I just went along as a friend. I didn’t organize it.”

Was she also denying the fact that Salman used to visit her frequently on the sets of ‘Taal’? Ash sounded evasive. “Why don’t you enquire about this on the ‘Taal’ sets and you’ll get your answer.” Then, pausing for a while, she added, “No, he didn’t come to meet me on the ‘Taal’ sets.” What had been her family’s reaction to all this? “Yes, my family was upset because they know well that these marriage rumours are untrue. They’ve been unnecessarily dragged into this which is not fair. My parents are not at all connected to this film industry, so it’s incorrect to bring them into the picture. Even I was upset because they were being dragged into the whole story. I come from a very normal family. We do get affected by all this. There aren’t any Rhinocerous in my family. But maybe they’ll have to start becoming thick-skinned soon. Or just start ignoring such rumours.”

And what about her equation with Salman? Sensing a sigh of relief. Ash said, “Fortunately, he’s been part of this film world for a long time and even I am learning to sieve the sand in the glam world. So fortunately, it hasn’t made things extremely awkward between us. Things haven’t become strange. Actually we haven’t even had the time to discuss this issue.”

How would she then define her relationship with him? Straight-faced, she answered, “We are friends’.” Nothing more, I asked. “Just good friends, you’ve got your answer.”

That was it. As we were through with the Salman angle by now, the topic shifted to her career. It’s over three years since she first faced the camera. Did she feel that she’d been improving with each film ever since? Ash stated confidently, “Everyday is a day of improvement and growth and I have seen all the positive signs of growth with time. And the most positive reaction comes in the form of the response from my directors, my colleagues and unit members. At the same time, I must say that I’m my biggest critic and I always go on a fault- finding spree in myself. But I do see a lot of growth today. I dub improvement and experience as growth.”

Even though she had all the top banners signing her on, the critics hadn’t been too kind on her. Did she feel that she lacked the spontaneity of a Kajol or a Rani? Ash sounded irritated, “I can’t help mind blocks in people. I do what my role demands of me and what the character has to portray. ; can’t be a somebody else because I’ve got a point to prove. I am essentially a director’s actress. I essay what my director has in mind for the character in the film. I can’t keep playing Aishwarya Rai in every film. If I connect with the character, I find it easier to perform. Films are a medium of fantasy but you have to understand the director’s concept. If I see conviction and clarity in the director’s mind and vision, it becomes easy to portray a role.”

Ash has always claimed that she’s done exactly what her directors expected of her. Looking back, did she find herself convincing in her four released films, Truvar’, ‘Jeans’, ‘Aur Pyar Ho Gaya’ and “Aa Ab Laut Chalen’? She instantly justified her performances. “I have portrayed and enacted what my directors have had in mind. If you look at it objectively, then these were my initial films. I have always tried to be different within the parameters that commercial cinema offers a heroine. And I am happy with what I’m doing. I was appreciated by critics in Truvar’, ‘Aur Pyar Ho Gaya’ was a typical commercial film in which I had to look good so I did just that. ‘Jeans’ was a super-duper hit in Tamil, its original language. Then came ‘AALC’ and I portrayed my character of Pooja exactly the way Rishi Kapoor saw her to be. I’ve always done exactly what my directors wanted from me. My directors have been happy and satisfied with my work and that makes me happy, because they are the primary concern. But I guess time and experience will help me grow and improve as an actress.”

But why is it that even though she has the best projects under her belt, critical acclaim as well as commercial success hasn’t come to her as yet? Has this made her work harder and concentrate more on her acting? “We do not work on one film at a time in our industry,” said Ash. “All my films had almost started simultaneously. And from the very beginning, I’ve been giving my best to all my films. As I told you, with experience, I will definitely grow as an actress. As you learn more and more, you definitely get better.”

In an industry where the box-office ratings mattered most, Ash seemed to being doing very well despite four flop films. Her colleagues like Pooja Batra felt that this was due to her excellent P.P. skills which they lacked. Did she agree that her P.R. was the prime reason for signing such big banner projects?

Ash retorted in anger, “People find it hard to believe that I must be getting films because my directors feel 1 have the potential. First they said I was getting films because of my title, later it was my looks. Then again it was said that I was calcu- lating and now it’s supposed to be my P.R. And how would Pooja know how good or bad my P.R. is? I’ve been out of the country most of the last three years. I’ve had no time to even give interviews or do photo-sessions. So where is the time for P.R. with directors and producers? People can’t see good things happening to others. I may sound pompous but I believe I’m a good human being and sometimes, good things happen to good people. Besides, I don’t even have a secretary from the past one year. I’ve never gone to producers’ offices asking for work. I’ve always selected from the films that I’ve been offered and if they happen to be big banners, then it’s better. After all, aren’t we all here to work with the best? And if I am getting these films at the beginning of my career, what else can 1 ask for?”

Sometime back, Ash had mentioned to me in a conversation, “I’ve always been the best, be it in school or modelling. And now in films too, I will try to do my best.” Today, at this point in her life, she is on her way to getting there professionally. She has prestigious projects which could well escalate her into the top slot of heroines. But isn’t there a need for a personal life as well? What is more important for Ash in the present day her career or a love life? She surprised me with her answer. “Just because one is an actress doesn’t mean you don’t want a personal life. See, for me, films are not the end all of my life. It’s not that they are my oxygen and that I survive on doing only films. But at the same time, films are my career and I never take my work lightly. Till the time I’m in films, I’ll continue doing my best. And besides, I never plan things. I live for the day. Today, my career is keeping me busy. A few years back, I never thought I’d be in films. So who’s seen the future? Anything could happen tomorrow.” Who am I to change that fact of life?

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