(2006) Rediscovering Abhishek
When Aishwarya Rai breezed in for our meeting on Tuesday afternoon, dressed in a white shirt, jeans and leather boots, her bright and cheerful smile almost made me forget about the two-and-a-half hour wait for the interview. The topic of discussion was her next release Umrao Jaan, directed by JP Dutta, in which she takes on the role almost inseparable from Rekha.
Given her penchant and affinity for dance, the role of a courtesan seems tailor-made for Rai. While that is one attraction of the film, her pairing with Abhishek Bachchan, as Nawab Sultan, is the other. The film releases on November 3, two days after her birthday making it a double celebration week.
With Dhoom 2, Guru and Provoked to follow, Rai is on a roll. She’s also going to begin Ashutosh Gowariker’s Jodha-Akbar. During our chat, she waxed eloquent on two subjects: Umrao Jaan and Abhishek.
What did it take for you to step into the shoes of Umrao Jaan Ada?
Umrao Jaan is JP Dutta’s father’s script. He wanted to make this film for that reason, as his son, and because he wanted to explore a genre not distinctly his. As soon as JP saab told me he was considering me for the part, I was on board immediately. As I have been trying to work on one film at a time, it took time to work out dates for the film, which had to be November-December. As for the character, I was familiar with the idea of Umrao Jaan.
I had seen the earlier film, but as a Sunday movie. I mainly remembered the songs and the beautiful Rekhaji, but I didn’t remember the whole film. I felt that was a good thing as our film is meant to be for a contemporary audience and I hope I am today’s generation. I understood the character from JP saab and felt the character had a very interesting journey and strong emotional graph. We knew we must not lose touch with Amiran, who later becomes Umrao Jaan Ada.
Remakes always spark comparisons. Are you prepared to be compared to Rekha?
We did not even think about that when we were making this film. I went through this before when I did Devdas and I realised that when people watch a film, they watch it for what it is and form an opinion on the film.
How was Abhishek Bachchan as a suitor and co-star?
He is fantastic as Nawab Sultan. As a co-star, I have always enjoyed working with him. It is fantastic that we have been able to work together throughout this year. I loved rediscovering him as a friend, colleague and actor on the sets. He’s fun, but also very committed. We worked together in Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke and then in Kuch Na Kaho. Over time, he’s really grown as an actor and begun to savour his characters. When I first got back on set with them I kept saying ‘I am so proud of you, I am so happy’. It was great to see his growth in person.
Your last Hindi release was Shabd and English film was Mistress of Spices. Now you have a spate of releases…
Yes, it’s very exciting. It’s rare to have back-to-back releases of different genres and different languages. There’s Provoked, The Last Legion, Dhoom 2, Guru and Umrao Jaan. In all I play different Indian women.
Between Umrao Jaan and Jodhaa-Akbar, there’s a bikini-sporting Dhoom 2. Comment.
You can’t go from intensity to intensity Sometimes you need no-brainer, simple, commercial Hindi film heroine roles too. I like mixing it up.