(2001) Steaming Up

“I’m a self-respecting woman. No one tries caveman tactics with me.”

“Even Arnold Schwarzenegger can fall down and get hurt. So why should I be any different?”

“I need time to define my relationships. Give me a little more time before I talk about my personal relationships.”

Projects

Despite being toasted by the creme de la creme of filmbiz, why haven’t any new projects been annnounced with you?

I’m definitely signing films. It’s just that there’s a tug of war going on. So I’m trying to go about it methodically to meet up with the demands of film-makers. (Laughs) Earlier, I used to say, “No!” outright and rub pepole the wrong way. Now I want to do them all. I don’t want to lose out on any golden opportunity.

Is that humanly possible?
Realistically, I can only do four films a year. I’ve upset many people earlier. This time around, I’m hearing everyone out. I honestly tell them that their time-frames and schedules need to be worked out. Earlier I felt I didn’t have enough time. But you’ve got to make time.

Are you overworked?
Right from the outset, my schedules have been choc-a- block. For starters, I cut out my modelling assignments and endorsements. I wanted to be recognised only as an actress.

Has your involvement in moviebiz increased?
After Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and Josh, I’m more charged. I take more interest in my clothes, I work out the minutest details like the fabric and cuts with my designer. At times I’m called to listen to the music, it’s things like these which make me feel like an integral part of a project.

Shouldn’t you have snapped up Subhash Ghai’s Yaadein?
I was supposed to start a film with him immediately after Taal. I couldn’t because of lack of time. But my directors understand… whether it’s Raj Kumar Santoshi or Indra Kumar, everyone is willing to wait. Indu has started the Bobby Deol-Karisma Kapoor film, Subhashji started Yaadein and Rajji started Lajja. In all probability, I may do a special appearance in Lajja. Strangely enough, all my directors besides wanting me to do full- fledged roles also want me to do special appearances in their other films.

Hello, hello could you tell me about your delayed projects like, say Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke?
The director and the producer of Hum Panchhi Ek Daal Ke fell out, the script underwent changes. But I’m not complaining. I truly began enjoying my work from the time I started Josh, from 1997. As artistes we are here to support the producer. It’s not nice to talk about films that have gone through rough weather. Producers have families to support.

Do you feel more confident as an actress now?
Though I still have to understand and grasp the technical aspects of my craft, I have grown. I have begun to understand sub-text. If Shyam Benegal has impressed us, so has Subhash Ghai in his own way. In the beginning, certain films I was offered seemed far-out. Today, I can relate to them. If I’m called a director’s actress, that means I’m malleable. I’m sure some of the films I’v echosen to do may be considered weird. But at least they’ve been intelligent choices…something beyond the gloss and typical `filmi’ stuff. I’ve worked with directors who don’t strictly go by the book and are far more interactive. Mani Ratnam was the first person who impressed upon me the need to talk, to ask questions.

DIRECTORS

And your other directors?
I always wanted to work with Mansoor Khan. I’d loved Qayamat Se Qayamat Tak and Jo Jeeta Wohi Sikandar. I haven’t seen Akele Hum Akele Tum. To me it was important to do even that one- day guest appearance with Faisal in Mela. I don’t know when I’ll work with them again. Similarly I’m so glad, I’m doing Mohabbatein. I knew it was a brief role 20-day role. Given my time constraints, I wouldn’t possibly be able to do a full-fledged role. But I didn’t want to lose out on Mohabbatein in the hope that perhaps I’ll be given even a better role in the future.

I believe you share a love-hate-love relationship with Sanjay Leela Bhansali.
Do I share a love-hate-love relationship with Sanjay? We fight when we work, we cry while he’s narrating the scenes of Devdas. Some ludicrous story floated around about how I’d ousted another heroine from Devdas. Puh-lease credit me with better intelligence. I’m not so insecure. Such gossip amounts to questioning the director’s credibility.

Care to talk about the unusual casting in Josh?
Yashji (Chopra) thought, we’d lost our marbles. He wondered how Shah Rukh Khan and I could agree to play brother and sister. Because at some point, we would surely be cast as a romantic pair. Shah Rukh would joke, “I’m the star, ask her to get her act together.” I’d quip, “Hey, I’m gonna be the future star, so you watch out.” Now we’re doing Mohabbatein as lovers and things are just fine. Shah Rukh Khan and I, if I may dare say so, are alike somewhere. He’s a major star. He has propped up his heroines in so many films, he has no ego hassles. Similarly, I didn’t have a problem playing sister to a superstar in Josh. Likewise, I wanted to do Rajiv Menon’s Kandukondain Kandukondain. I didn’t care about the length of my role. Earlier Rajiv wanted me to do Sapnay. Since I couldn’t do it, he put me on to Mani Ratnam for Iruvar. I’d promised Rajiv, then, that I’d definitely do a film with him. When two schedules of Josh were cancelled, I did Kandukondain Kandukondain. Tabu and I somewhere think alike. She’s not intimidated by the parameters of commercial cinema. I love her as an actress, the kind of work she does. I love her role in Kandukondain Kandukondain. Maybe I’ll get a role like that some day. When I’m doing a two-heroine film, I never wonder whether I’m the heroine or the supporting actress. Or which one of us will walk away with critical acclaim.

Do you identify with Mansi of Taal or Nandini of Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam? Would you marry the man you love as you did in Taal or marry someone of your parents’ choice as in Hum Dil.
(Laughs) I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it. One thing’s for sure, I will never stick to ancient, outmoded rules.

MINDSETS

So you don’t have a conventional mind-set?
I follow my will. It’s not as if I’ve been plotting to get into the movies since the age of five. Even in school, I never took part in dramatics. When I started modelling, people looked askance. I hope I’m not sounding pompous, but within a year of my making it as a model, so many college kids wanted to be models. In the modelling world, I was smirked at as being `filmi’. Then the very same lot of models joined the movies. Today, the middle class doesn’t consider modelling taboo. Maybe we’ve turned the corner.

Amitabh Bachchan is very high on you.
He’s just being kind. Amitji’s an amazing actor and star. I was disappointed with the way people have reacted to him over the last few years. They have been very transparent in their motives. Those who comment on his box office ratings and decry his work are the same ones who look at him with awe and admiration when they meet him at a public function. He’s timeless.

For you, it’s been a whirlwind pace, no?
Yesterday, I was thinking of joining films, today there’s a Filmfare trophy on my shelf. It’s all so humbling. I mean, I’m not even an film industry kid. But everyone’s accepted me. Some are so paternal. Salim (Khan) saab said my performance in Taal was so nuanced. I saw my scenes recently, I had put that much more effort into the film. He felt my performance in Taal was far more mature, superior. Just the way my graph should have been. I’ve seen some very good times with two big hits back-to-back… and the world tour where I was really overwhelmed with the adulation.

What about the flip flop when you were injured recently after a fall?The general opinion was that you’d been beaten up.

Honestly! For some perverse reason, no one wants to believe that I fell down the stairs. First the media calls me the woman of the millennium, a woman of substance. Then how can the same media make me out to be such a doormat? I’m a self-respecting woman, I wouldn’t take nonsense from anyone. No one tries caveman tactics on me. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger can fall and get hurt, so why should I be any different? If I had been accosted or physically beaten, I’d have reacted violently. If there has been no reaction from my side, it means there’s no truth in the stories about me. My silence fanned the rumours. I don’t react to mudslinging. If I can’t stand up for myself, how can I even dream of talking about human rights?

What about your association with Salman Khan?

I don’t need to shout about my personal life from the rooftops or via a magazine. I don’t want to discuss my personal friends or acquaintances. Give me a little more time. I have yet to open up before I can talk about my personal relationships. These are long-term questions. I need time to define my relationships.

CO-ACTORS

How do your co-actors treat you today?
I think artistes are more secure today because there’s enough work going around. I don’t want to believe that people are nice to me because of my success. Co-stars have become far more friendly. I remember, during the making of Aa Ab Laut Chalen, Dabboo uncle (Randhir Kapoor) used to wonder why today’s generation of actors were so opposed to one another, why there’s so much bitching going on. There was a time when actors dropped in on one another’s sets, had dinners, went on shikars together. Abhishek (Bachchan) and Twinkle (Khanna) tell me of the wonderful times they’ve had as kids going on their parents’ outdoors. Still, it’s okay today. In the last two years, I’ve seen far more positive vibes. Co-stars have matured.

Are you a very complex person?
I’m as human as everyone else. It’s okay to be like an onion and have layers. Complexity is a nice thing. I don’t say politically correct things. But certain perceptions about me aren’t right. I haven’t crafted the way I speak. I’m not even well-read. I’m just articulate, I’m a people’s person. I can communicate my innermost thoughts. Though some of my ideas tend to throw people off-kilter.

What bothers you about yourself?
The fact that I get affected by people. Not by what they say about me. But I get emotionally charged about people. I expend my energies being an Agony Aunt. I’m always worked up, there’s always a blood rush. Maybe I’m also opinionated. I’ve had a lot more experiences packed in my life. I would look on that as a derogatory thing. If that means leading a fast life, then yes, I’ve had a fast life.

So how do you unwind in this high-pressure business?
A lot of male co-stars tell me cooking is therapeutic. Acting is a weird and wired profession. People turn into looney- bins overnight. We see so many celebrities going off the deep- end. Maybe when you try to live up to an image and bottle yourself up, something will give way. By the time, you really come to terms with yourself, it’s too late. Boom! Escapism doesn’t work. I read somewhere that, thinking about oneself is not a vice. But we are told since childhood that being self-centered in not such a good thing. It’s only when you’re truly comfortable with yourself, that you’re happier relating with those around you. If you can look yourself in the mirror, then you can look into the mirror of the world around you.

How do you react when you’re called sexy?
You must be kidding. Everyone relates to what’s convenient for them. They react to my image in the movies, in the magazines. No one knows the real me. I relate to people in a very asexual manner. I can be a guy’s girl and a gal’s girl as well. I’m a completely non-judgemental person besides being a good listener. I’m a mix of a tomboy and a woman. And I like it that way.

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