(1999) Stardust 2

Aishwarya Rai talks back in anger Get this straight. She’s been through the wringer, maybe many more times than the average actress. But that’s the arc of celebrity. And when you’re Aishwarya Rai, nothing remains average or ordinary any more.

Lately, one flip-flop above all others has been dominating Aishwarya Rai gossip. If you’re an informed ’90s cineaste who keeps up with everything from dangerous liaisons to box office tallies, then you impatiently await the answer to the burning question. Is Aishwarya Rai more than just schmoozing with Salman Khan?

But first things first. She looks longingly into the camera. As the golden hues of the day filter behind her, a roll of film becomes a thing of beauty.

Her mobile rings incessantly. The media’s paging her persistently. And she wants to be far away from the maelstrom.

The Interview

Is it true that you’re married to Salman Khan?
What? That’s the most preposterous piece of news I’ve ever heard. False, absolutely false.

So you’re not having an affair with him?
Certainly NOT. Write that in capital letters. It’s the weirdest rumour I’ve ever heard.

You’re not engaged to him either?
No.
But Salman Khan looks totally besotted by you. Please. I cannot account for anyone else’s actions.

Could these rumours be a publicity gimmick for Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam?
Certainly not. Neither the producer nor the director of the film need to use such cheap tricks. They are confident they’ve made a good film. They don’t need to indulge in cheap gimmicks.

Will these rumours spoil things between Salman and you?
I don’t know whether to be angry or laugh. Why should any talk affect us? Just because people talk rubbish, we can’t stop talking to each other or pretend to look the other way when we run into one another. That would mean we were letting the rumours get at us.

Is a certain section of the media campaigning against you?
I don’t mean to sound persecuted but the fact is that, yes, a section of the media has been after me. Perhaps because I haven’t given them interviews or done photo-sessions for them.

Would you say your directors have let you down vis-a-vis the quality of films that you’ve done?
I’m certainly not complaining. I’m more than happy with the faith all my directors have reposed in me. And there’s none of that “She’s new, let’s see what she has in store” element anymore.

Then?
I’ve proved myself as a competent dancer, I have the talent. I’m sincere, hardworking and I’ve got the choicest of roles. I have no complaints. But, yes, perhaps I’m more under scrutiny than a lot of other actors and actresses.

Like it or not, you are seen as an icon of beauty, too. I’m not fighting. Neither my bloodline nor what’s God-given.

Recently when I travelled to Switzerland for the Longines campaign, I was made to feel special. Like when I had won the crown. Then things had passed off in a whirl of hectic activity, moving from country to country. Today, I have the time to actually enjoy the adulation.

Where do you see yourself as an actress?
Give me time. I have worked on my characters like Nandini in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Manasi in Taal. Ask Sanjay Leela Bhansali and Subhash Ghai, they’ll tell you. No one writes about the hard work I’ve put in. It’s very easy to be dismissive of someone else’s efforts.

Do you resent the fact that people derisively call you a tease or say that you play up to your directors?
That’s really hitting below the belt. I’m not a tease. I can’t help it if I attract more than my share of attention. I don’t go around fluttering my eye-lashes and wrapping men around my little finger. I don’t need to stoop to such levels.

It’s jealousy. Facts have to be faced. No one can digest the fact that I have made it on my own steam. That I’ve worked with everyone from Mani Ratnam to the RK banner. That despite my so-called flops and lack of acting talent, I’ve still been signed by Rajkumar Santoshi and Boney Kapoor for their next projects.

And what amazes me is the contradictory statements made in the press. When I first signed Taal, it was said that it was due to my knowledge of dance and not for my acting talent, later it was said that I had to be literally whip-flogged into dancing.

They say, I’m very good at PR. That’s hogwash. I don’t have a secretary who throws open my date diaries to producers. Plus my round-the-clock schedules make it difficult for me to reach out to those who have signed me on for their films.

The accusations used to hurt like hell, earlier. Today I have become more seasoned.

You sound hurt.
You bet I am. I don’t play games, that’s the problem. I know for a fact that if there’s a role which I’m suited for, I’ll be signed on. I’ll never go a-begging. By the grace of God, work has come home. Recently I signed a big banner project. The very same day, three actresses approached the director. You tell me, who’s playing games. I think the industry thrives on the crab mentality. One crab tries to hop out of the basket, 20 other crabs will pull it down.

So have your goals, ambitions changed?
I have never lost sight of what I want to do. I’m driven, I’ll achieve everything that I set out to. Even during my first year as Miss World, I always said it was a learning experience for me. I made no promises to anyone. I was discovering myself, my strengths, my agendas. With time my blue print for life will become clearer. Amen.

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