(2006) Aishwarya walks tall

Being normal is no longer desirable. Balance is boring and neurosis is nifty. If you don’t believe me then watch Kareena Kapoor set the screen ablaze with her performance in Vishal Bhardawaj’s Omkara. She is the vixen and a victim, vibrantly fused into one.

What’s with the sudden spurt of feminine neurosis at the movies? All of a sudden we have a spate of films about women on the brink, driven beyond the point of despair. I could take men making psychotic mayhem in Ram Gopal Varma’s flicks. But ladies, give me a break!

Barely had I got over debutant Kangana’s remarkable drink-on-the-brink act in the under-rated Gangster when I suddenly had Esha Deol in my face, doing a full-on spirited neurotic act in Vikram Bhatt’s honest and unspoilt Ankahee. Doesn’t Esha’s role remind you of Smita Patil’s in Arth? And there is some more of emotionally naked women on the way. I saw at least two of them in the portions of Vishal Bhardawaj’s Omkara. There was Kareena Kapoor flashing her eyes like pieces of uncut diamonds in the presence of ‘Othello’ Omkara and Konkona Sen who screams, sobs and rages against the injustice in the world dominated by men.

Far removed from Vishal’s Meerut-inspired fictional UP town where Bipasha writhes in a smoky world of sexually charged men, Aishwarya Rai in London has another story to tell in Provoked.

One thing for sure is that after this film people will stop calling her a non-actress. The critics were quick to dismiss her acting capabilities when The Mistress Of Spices proved to be as bland as soya sauce. But now, Aishwarya is no longer slumbering. I’ve often wondered why this fragile but strong woman allows her detractors to trample all over her. As someone very respected and authoritative who adores Ash (so do I!) said to me, “That girl just allows herself to be walked all over. People who have worked closely with her talk rubbish behind her back and she doesn’t say a word. These people think she is unaware of what they say about her? But it all comes back to her. She just refuses to talk about it. The girl just doesn’t want to retaliate! Her silence is often mistaken as a sign of weakness, when in fact, it’s the other way around. The day she decides to open her mouth these people won’t know where to run for cover.”

When I narrated this conversation to Aishwarya she smiled and said, “You know me, na? Bitching just doesn’t come naturally to me. I’ve been tongue-hammered by everyone, ranging from close friends to strangers. That’s okay. If it makes them feel good about life I’m glad to bring some sunshine into some people’s lives.”

Joan of Arc, I had joked. Today I wonder if being so beautiful is a curse. It makes you vulnerable to both verbal and physical assault. Aishwarya has gone through both. Every time I see her suffer I remember what the inimitable Javed Akhtar said, “Like Lataji’s voice Aishwarya’s appearance is so beautiful that people force themselves to find blemishes in her.”

Do we have to create blemishes in Aishwarya’s personality, repeatedly wallop her with words if not blows, just to make her feel sorry for being so extraordinarily beautiful?

When she was working in Provoked I remember asking her if she identified with the role of the battered wife. “You know it all, don’t you?” she had laughed mirthlessly.

Yes, I’ve been privy to a lot of her confessions about the tumult she has faced in her personal life. Hearing her talk about it I often wondered how she would (re)act if, one day, she had to play the victim of physical abuse.

I got the answer sooner than I expected it. In Provoked that look of defiant terror that appears in her eyes every time her screen husband Naveen Andrews wants to play football with his screen wife, is not faked.

Make no mistake. This is Aishwarya’s most real performance to date. Watch her cower when her drunken husband threatens to poke her eyes with a heated iron and then drags her into the bedroom pulls off his pants and locks the door to rape her.

Did someone say it’s easy being an actor when you’re good-looking? Those rules don’t apply any longer.

- Mumbaimirror

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