(2006) Rediff Interview

Aishwarya Rai, who turned 33 on November 1, is not too bothered. “My reason for choosing a film is not to impress people,” says the lovely Aishwarya. “I don’t choose films for the box office.”

And well she might, because no other actress commands her kind of attention.

Rai, poised for another big year ahead, spoke to Chief Correspondent Syed Firdaus Ashraf about marriage, her career and this Friday’s release, Umrao Jaan. Read on…

In the next two months you have three films releasing – Umrao Jaan, Dhoom 2 and Guru. How far do you think they would decide your future?

I don’t think they are a deciding factor to my career. This has never been my perspective from the day I started work in the industry. For me, some films worked and some didn’t: If Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam worked then Aa Ab Laut Chale didn’t.

Though you are the top heroine in the country, none of your recent films set the box office afire, did they?

I think it is the film that works and not the actors. Irrespective of my box office result, my distributors and producers are generous and tell me I bring value to film. And I am thankful to audiences and them for this support. My producers and distributors think positively about me. Just because my Kajra Re worked last year, they haven’t just given me those [item] songs; they have given me different characters. I have taken risks in life.

I have enjoyed doing parallel cinema and regional cinema even after the success of Devdas. I have not gotten trapped in doing only blockbusters, because of insecurities. My audiences have freed me from insecurities. My director and producers have given me the luxury of doing cinema. I am happy to grow as an actor and not be trapped in successful formulas or working only in certain banners or successful pairings. I am free to work with different actors, and the director can choose my co-star — and I am happy for that.

Kajra Re was a turnaround for you, giving your image some oomph…

[Bunty Aur Babli producer] Aditya Chopra told me either I would do it, or he would not do the song in the film. I think that was very sweet of him. Kajra Re was my only release last year and all year it was there on the screens because it was the biggest hit song of the year. It was a special moment because Abhishek and Amitji [Bachchan] came together for the first time on the big screen. Therefore it was very special to me too.

And now comes Dhoom 2, where you are in bikinis. Even more oomph.

Ah, but you talked about oomph for Shabd also. I am glad that even in very different characters of mine, you can see oomph.

I must say, I plan my time and have to dedicate myself to a great level to give a better look in the film. It is exhausting to get ready, with the amount of time it takes. In Umrao Jaan I made the inner parts of my lips red so that it looks like I chew paan regularly. These are things you add to your character. I feel these little details are important, and I feel great if audiences notice.

Do you get time to read gossip about you and Abhishek?

How do I put it? (laughs) You have to give an answer to it if I say no (laughs).

There’s so much buzz about the relationship. Everyone’s talking about marriage, etc.

(Laughs) That is their love and concern. ‘Whom is she going to be with finally in life? Whom will she marry?’

The audiences feel I am part of their life so they worry about me. I think that is very sweet of them and I tell them that when I will marry I will announce it. When I get married, you’ll know. I believe in marriage and it is a beautiful institution.

People call the new Don a more stylised Don. How would you describe the new Umrao Jaan?

That is for the audiences to decide. They will give their own judgement. They don’t bother about all these labels because they just want to see a good film.

You have broken into Hollywood, but by doing films like Provoked and Mistress of Spices, don’t you feel you are damaging your career by doing B-grade films?

It is a very tricky situation when you get the chance to work in English films. I do films based on characters, not to get an entry into Hollywood or whatever.

In English, my Bride & Prejudice did well world over. I don’t know how it did in Hindi, but I know Jurassic Park too didn’t do well in Hindi. I was glad audiences worldwide liked an English film that was Indian. When I did Mistress of Spices, I did it for Paul [Mayeda Berges, the director and husband of Gurinder Chadha] as a team. The film found its audiences.

When the Provoked script came to me, I felt it was a very important story of an Indian woman based in London who killed her husband because of marital abuse. Kiranjit Ahluwalia made a big impression in England, and so I did this film because I felt it was an important story to be told. Provoked is an important film for many other Kirans in the world.

As far as The Last Legion is concerned, it is a film based on a book [A novel by Valerio Manfredi]. I did the film for the new experience and it is for the first time that I was with a completely foreign crew. Working with Ben Kingsley was a great experience. Mira has great roots and you will identify with her strength. I feel for Indian audiences, and want them to feel pride in what I am doing: I am not doing films just to be there as guest appearances.

Is it true you are learning horse riding and sword fighting for Jodha-Akbar?

Yes, I am going to learn riding soon. As far as sword fighting is concerned, I learnt that during The Last Legion.

Does it mean Jodhaa fights with swords in the film?

You wait and watch! I will not say anything but maybe director Ashutosh Gowariker wants us to get ready, and be prepared. These are exciting times for me!

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