(2004) CBS News Introducing Aishwarya Rai

(CBS) Aishwarya Rai is one of the biggest movie stars in the world, with more than 18,000 Web sites devoted to her.

If you’re like many Americans, you may not have heard of her yet. But that’s all about to change.

Since being named Miss World in 1994, Aishwarya Rai has become a worldwide phenomenon. She has emerged as the first lady of Bollywood, (the nickname of India’s billion-dollar film business), winning multiple awards, and becoming its highest-paid star.

She’s been on countless magazine covers, including Time magazine, which has named her one of the world’s most influential people, and she has endorsement deals with such companies as De Beers jewels, L’Oreal, and Coca-Cola.

Now Rai makes her Hollywood film debut in a Bollywood-style musical update of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice,” titled “Bride & Prejudice,” playing Lalita, a headstrong woman being pressured by her parents to marry, but holding out for true love.

“She sums up her culture,” Rai tells The Early Show co-anchor Harry Smith. “When this Darcy starts commenting on the Indian system or Indian culture, there she is right in there, standing up for her roots, and talking about the arranged marriage system as the global dating system.”

In urban India, like Bombay, where Rai comes from, she says, “There would be girls who choose their partners and there would be families who they do still follow the arranged-marriage culture. It has a great success ratio, so you shouldn’t judge it. Many couples are happy within that system.”

But besides the plot, what stands out in the film is its style. “Song and dance is very much a part of the film,” Rai explains. “That’s the way our culture is. There are a lot of reasons to celebrate at weddings, festivals. It is a part of the lifestyle for our culture, and art imitates life. And it’s part of the cinema as well, and we enjoy it.”

As she steps into the West, Smith asks if she wants to be a star.

“I know I’ll be judged and no one will believe me,” Rai answers. “I think I’ve definitely gone past that. It’s about catalyzing the movement of the Indian presence on the international platform. It’s about doing good roles rather than taking on anything I might get to put my foot in the door.”

The film also stars Martin Henderson (“The Ring”) as Darcy; Naveen Andrews (ABC’s “Lost”), Daniel Gillies, Namrate Shirodkar, Indira Varma, Nadira Babbar, Aunupam Kher, Meghna Kotari, Peeya Rai and Nitin Ganatra. Gurinder Chadha (“Bend It Like Beckham”) directs.

Rai will next be seen in “Chaos” opposite Meryl Streep; Roland Joffe’s “Singularity” with Brendan Fraser; and in the lead role of “Mistress of Spices,” which Gurinder Chadha is producing for Paul Mayeda Berges to direct.

Fast Facts About Aishwarya Rai:

Born Nov. 1, 1973, in Mangalore, Karnataka, India.

In 1994, won Miss World for India. She was working as a model while still a science and architecture student.

As one of India’s most famous models, she landed a prestigious Pepsi campaign and several Vogue spreads.

In 1997, made her film debut in Mani Rathnam’s “Iruvar,” followed by “Aur Paar Ho Gaya’.”

In 1999, she was seen in “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.”(“Straight from the Heart” – English title)

In 2000, she was cast in “Mohabbatein”(“Love Stories”) and “Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai” (“You Have My Heart”).

In 2002, she portrayed Parvati in the highly acclaimed “Devdas.”

In 2003, she became the first Indian actor invited to serve on the Cannes jury.

Recently, Rai has joined Catherine Deneuve and Andie MacDowell as a member of the elite L’Oreal Dream Team. She has graced the covers of India Today, Time magazine and was listed on Rolling Stone magazine’s annual “Hot List.”

- CBSnews.com

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