(2004) Aishwarya on The Rising controversy

As Ketan Mehta films the Aamir Khan starrer The Rising, Aishwarya Rai explains for the first time ever — in every detail — to Senior Associate Editor Archana Masih why she did not do the role she was initially slotted for.

Three days before she left for a concert to the UK, US and Canada, Ash went over her year-long experience on The Rising front, pointing out dates, the unavailability of a final script almost a year after discussing it and the misrepresentation that she wanted an increase in the role.

The first segment of an exclusive rediff.com interview with the superstar!

Let me go right to the beginning. Ketan [Mehta] wanted to make a different movie with me. He had approached me with a totally different script a year-and-a-half ago. The film was Kathputhli.

Around November-December 2002, Ketan came to see me and said he was now going to be making a move called The Rising for now with Aamir Khan, and hence he was not to do Kathputhli right now. It was to be pushed for a later time.

He told me there was a role in this film [The Rising] and if I’d consider it. This film was about Mangal Panday, his friendship with an Englishman and his romance with an English lady. That is really the crux of the story.

There was this one part with an Indian girl — there was supposed to be only one Indian girl at that point [laughs]. He told me the film was not focussed on that role. He was very open and candid about it from the onset.

He said, however, if you would agree to do this then the role could be developed further. I said alright, interesting, because I had never worked with Aamir and thought it would be a wonderful experience. I was really looking forward to working with Ketan anyway with Kathputhli. I thought working with the duo would be wonderful.

So I was waiting for the script. He gave me the synopsis initially but I needed to look at the detailed script. I wanted to know what I was doing in the film. Somewhere I was answerable to my audience too, especially a film of this magnitude — as to why I chose to do it.

I have to have something as an actor to do as well. In February (2003), Ketan came to see me again with a script, where the character was really not strong enough from the perspective of me doing it. So I asked Ketan: ‘Why me?’

He said the same thing: ‘If you agree to do it by principle then we will further develop this role and anyway this is going through a re-draft because Aamir likes to work on re-drafts and re-drafts because he loves to work in a detailed manner. So the script is going to undergo a couple of re-drafts.’

He said, ‘We will obviously develop it because we know Aishwarya is doing it.’ I said alright and in that faith I do hereby by principle say yes, but I do need to look at the final script nevertheless.
That’s a given for any serious actor. I say this out of respect — just as Aamir is respected for the fact that even until the nth moment he goes through re-drafts. And, as an actor, if he needs to know what he’s doing, I think every one of us needs to know what we are doing as well.

They announced the film in May when I was in Cannes as a jury member. When I returned, I asked the producer that I’d still not seen the final script and now there were three faces — Aamir, Rani and me. I was like — what’s going on?

I just needed to see the script. I really needed to see the role, not that it mattered who all they had cast. At the point, the producer said, ‘Oh, Rani was just doing a small part for Aamir’s sake and my sake,’ because he was the producer of Saathiya as well. He said it was a four-five day role.

I said, ‘If you say so, but I need the script.’ It was June and I was to be leaving for Gurinder’s [Chadha’s Bride And Prejudice] schedule in England. They promised that they’d be coming to England to finalise a British leading lady and Aamir and Ketan were going to be coming to do the screen test and they would give me the final script there.

Ever since I had been calling them desperately while shooting in UK, and Gurinder is aware of this. By September, I was coming back to India and still waiting for the script. And over the year, they were saying it is an international film. I told them that I was contractually bound to agents so you deal with my agents.

Meanwhile, the supposed interactions had begun on that front and I was still awaiting a script. In October, when I was doing the India schedule of Gurinder’s film, I suddenly heard in the media that there was a mahurat happening on November 4.

It was after my Time cover and some people said, ‘Now you’re going to be meeting Prince Charles.’ I was like — why? I had no idea that this was what was happening [Prince Charles gave the mahurat clap for The Rising on his trip to India last November].

Then the producer, Bobby Bedi, contacted me and asked me if I was going to be there for the November 4 mahurat. I was shooting for Khakee and leaving for Los Angeles on the 6th for Gurinder’s schedule. I had to complete Khakee before I left.

I told him I wouldn’t be there on that date but I still hadn’t received the script. I was obviously exasperated by then. I was panicking because that time the film was to happen in December and I was gone all of November for Gurinder.

Then literally in the fortnight before the mahurat they sent me the script. When I read it there was hardly any difference to the role and before I could pursue that as an artist, meanwhile there was already correspondence between my agents and Bobby Bedi and they seemed to be parting ways upon whatever differences of agreement.

I took it that way and while shooting in LA, I heard that they’d mutually agreed to part ways. Anyway, there was no difference in my role and it was too late for me to sit and discuss my role. So it was an amicable parting.

But then I was very disappointed by the hullabaloo created by the media. As usual, I thought, let it tide over, let me rise above this and not lose my dignity. But I think my silence every time is not accorded its due, which is what I’ve practised at every phase of my life.

I came back to India and saw all the muck that had been thrown around. When I was in the US, I was really not in a position to get into this because we were working at breakneck speed to finish Gurinder’s schedule. Gurinder and Santosh Sivan [cinematographer of Bride and Prejudice] were wonderful. They said, ‘Just forget it, this is a publicity drama and will die its own death. Just focus on your work and sort it out when you get back.’
When I returned in December, the biggest irony was that they came back asking me if I’d be a part of the film again because they were to start the film on January 6.

I told them it was too late and today, ‘even if I sit and talk to you about my role, surely I’ll be misrepresented as someone whose asking for an increase in a role as opposed to what I’ve been asking you all from the month of February. So before it gets filthy and murky again, I’ll just opt out.’

They said, ‘We are paying the price, everything has been agreed to.’ And I said, ‘You know, suddenly, I don’t feel like an actor who has been regarded in a film. I feel as someone who is just an ingredient to a project that’s coming together — to really work out the entire financial structure of a project as opposed to an actor being signed on to perform in a film.’

Hence, I decided to stay out of it and said good luck to them.

My opting out was surely misrepresented by the media as me asking for an increase in the role. I personally expressed disappointment in the group. I was like — how can you keep doing this to a person? At least I’d not been unclassy to pull the veil off you guys and really say what you all are all about.

That’s when I received an apology letter from Bobby Bedi. He sent me the correspondence between him and my agents and a very apologetic letter and said he hoped we could work together in the future again. He said, ‘I think it was my first time that just in my mood, I went to the media and got a bit carried away. And I’m really, really sorry.’

I was like — wonderful in a letter, but what all had to be done publicly had been done. But I think God has been very kind. Anyway, good luck to them.

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