(2004) Subhash K. Jha Interview
Aishwarya Rai says her role of a deglamourised, tired-looking, overweight, middleclass housewife in “Raincoat” was her most challenging to date.
“(Co-star) Ajay Devgan kept asking me why I put dark circles around my eyes. He thought that was excessively realistic. But I wasn’t being gutsy. I was just being true to my character,” Aishwarya told IANS in an interview.
She also brushed off allegations that she took on only “safe roles”. Excerpts:
Rituparno Ghosh and you are together again in “Raincoat” after “Chokher Bali”?
During “Chokher Bali”, Ritu and I developed a wonderful rapport. He’s always brimming over with ideas. How I got “Raincoat” was very interesting to the media. They went on about how Kareena Kapoor was approached for the film first. What they don’t know was, I was approached. But the dates Ritu wanted were allotted to “Bride & Prejudice”. Then he spoke to Kareena, who had a date issue. Then Ritu returned to me again. After “Chokher Bali” I was very excited about working with Ritu again. Ajay Devgan and I were looking forward to working together in a worthy project after “Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam”.
Does “Raincoat” take both of you into the same mood?
That’s a tough question. Ajay and I are basically intense human beings. We naturally gravitate towards roles that are sensitive. I think audiences like our chemistry. After “Hum Dil…”, we never got roles to sink our teeth into. Oddly we came together in David Dhawan’s “Hum Kissise Kam Nahin” and Raj Santoshi’s “Khakee” where we hardly had anything to do. In “Raincoat”, we sniffed out the potential it offered us as actors. It was a great learning for the entire cast and crew.
Have “Chokher Bali” and “Raincoat” taken you away from each other and from everything else that you’ve done?
I thought Binodini in “Chokher Bali” was a fabulous character to essay. Surely one of the deepest characters I’ve played. It gave me some of the satisfaction that I got working in Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s films. The character in “Chokher Bali” communicated her graph through a wide space provided in the timeframe and the locations. In “Raincoat” my character Niroo has to convey all the feelings and emotions within the one afternoon that she meets Ajay’s character. That’s also my one meeting with the audience.
It’s been the most challenging character in my career. They’re such real characters. It was the fastest-shot film of my life. I shot for just about 10 days! The whole film was shot in about 16 days. And now I pity Ritu. Other producers would ask him to shoot just as quickly.
To me “Raincoat” was like theatre on celluloid. The space and props are very important for an actor. Elsewhere there’s so much ambience to play out the emotions. In “Raincoat”, there was just one room. That made it exciting and challenging. I play a Bihari woman. I asked Ritu to have a Bihari present at the dubbing to pick up her speaking voice. But Ritu rejected the idea. He said my character had migrated from Bihar to Kolkata long ago. And I agree. Bengal is culturally so strong, even when I go there for a week I start speaking like them.
Ah, good excuse not to do homework.
Excuse me! It was Ritu. He told me to follow his intonations, and I did. My lilt is that of a tired woman. I loved being Niroo in “Raincoat”. People have this preconceived notion about me. They think I wouldn’t want to shift from the safety net. But I’ve never played it safe, right from my first film “Iruvar”. On the first day of “Raincoat”, I wanted to work out the whole look. Ritu insisted we take the first shot on the very day. Within half an hour I had the look and body language in place. My walk, my frown, the creases in my brow were all different from the usual. Middleclass housewives have a different demeanour. This woman wouldn’t even want to look in the mirror. She’s beyond caring about her looks. That’s how I wanted to essay her. As a woman who needn’t wear all her expressions for the camera…
You’ve worked hard on this one.
Yes, I have. People say I’ve put on weight. I’ve worked on Niroo’s look as a woman who’s defeated, who has given up on trying to look beautiful. We were very particular about making her as authentic as possible. She’s poor. But she’s not a derelict. Ajay too was very, very involved. He knew exactly which way to push the narrative without going overboard. He kept asking me why I put dark circles around my eyes. He thought that was excessively realistic. But I wasn’t being gutsy. I was just being true to my character.
How was the Marrakech film festival?
Fabulous! I was there for just a day and a half. My “Bride & Prejudice” was the closing film. It got a standing ovation. I was very well received, very welcomed. They screened “Devdas” for the public. Just like Amitabh Bachchan last year, this time my luggage didn’t arrive at Marrakech. Fortunately my saris arrived later. The crowds loved “Devdas”. They kept calling out Amitji’s and my name. And they kept shouting Hindi lines. It’s lovely to know our films reach out to such a large audience outside the country.