(2007) Coming Next

The Hitch sets the Bs & media abuzz. For the rest, it’s just one more Bollywood film.

Lata Khubchandani

Aishwarya Rai’s mother Brinda can’t stop smiling when you congratulate her. The joy and relief are genuine. Over the years she has worried incessantly over her headstrong daughter’s troubled liaisons with the mercurial Salman Khan and the insignificant Vivek Oberoi. Now things are looking picture perfect: a tall-dark-handsome, well-mannered son-in-law from Bollywood’s first family, aka the Bachchans. India’s most beautiful face comes together with India’s most eligible bachelor. What more can a mother ask for? “We’re very happy, of course!” says Brinda, but that’s all she’s saying at the moment, she’ll talk later, when things “settle down a bit”.

For now, it’s only the Big B who’s talking on behalf of the families and the couple.

He’s a proud and happy father as well, though a mite irritated with the media’s unending curiosity. They have been chasing the romance ever since Abhishek-Aishwarya were first rumoured to have started seeing each other, almost a year back. The two first met and worked on the sets of the dud Dhai Akshar Prem Ke and went on to do Kuch Na Kaho. They were aligned with others then: Ash was seeing Salman and Abhishek was engaged to Karisma Kapoor, alliances that eventually came undone. Post that interlude, Big B Jr is known to have dated model Dipannita (briefly) and Rani Mukherjee (seriously). That was the time when Ash was a shining star and Abhishek just his father’s son, one who’d just about begun finding his feet in the industry.

Sparks didn’t quite fly at Bunty Aur Babli’s sexy Kajrare shoot either. It was during the shooting of Umrao Jaan in Jaipur that the two seem to have discovered their attraction for each other.

That was the time when poor boy Vivek was left to find out rather tragically that he was no longer the object of his lady’s affection. After the Umrao shoot, both Ash and Abhishek travelled together to Mumbai to celebrate his 30th birthday. At that now-famous bash, Abhishek is reported to have lavished special attention on Ash. Stories about her scolding him for getting too close and friendly with Priyanka Chopra
and his other lady co-stars did the rounds. Ash was the first to come and the last to leave the party, and was the only one to have direct access into the house while others were asked to park outside. She was in effect playing hostess at the party, a none-too-subtle indication that the relationship had moved up a higher notch.

Media interest turned near-frenetic when the duo’s horoscopes were reported to have been shown to astrologer Chandrasekhar Swamy in Bangalore. Ever since, each stage in their romance has been noted in voyeuristic detail. How the two were inseparable at the IIFA awards in Dubai or later at the Toronto premiere of Guru. During the shooting of the film, they’re said to have gone, hand in hand, to catch MI3 at Chennai’s Satyam theatre. A film mag went so far as to report that they had secretly exchanged garlands at a Madurai temple. Then, of course, came the much-flashed images of the Bachchans at the Sankat Mochan and Kashi Vishwanath temples in Varanasi at the morning arati, Ash in tow, looking very much her part of demure bahu. She participated in all the poojas alongside the Bachchans, which were reportedly to nullify her ‘mangal dosh’, but which visit, according to Big B, was only because she had never been to these temples before. In fact, Abhishek’s proposal and Aishwarya’s acceptance after Guru’s New York premiere are said to have been a surprise, which apparently got mom Jaya Bachchan scurrying back to Mumbai from Jaipur to quickly organise the “roka” ceremony attended by sister Shweta, and friends Amar Singh, Anil and Tina Ambani, Karan Johar, Kirron and Sikandar Kher, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla, Goldie Behl and Sonali Bendre.

After the ceremony, the couple went to Lilavati Hospital to seek the ailing Teji Bachchan’s blessings after which Abhishek, Jaya, Shweta and Amar Singh left for Ujjain to conduct a ritual at the Mahakal temple.

And so Ash-Abhishek get set to join the illustrious list of Bollywood couples: Dilip-Saira, Sunil Dutt-Nargis, Amitabh-Jaya, Rajesh-Dimple, Dharam-Hema, Rishi-Neetu, Ajay-Kajol. The alliance, say industry sources, would’ve happened much earlier but for some hiccups. Superstitious parents took time setting the horoscope dosh in order: Ash is a manglik. And while Big B is known to be extremely fond of the lass, it took Jaya a while to thaw and warm up to Ash (she is now rumoured to call her Pari).

As for the engagement, it comes at a time when Ash and Abhishek’s sizzling onscreen chemistry in Guru is creating waves, even if the film itself has had an average run at the box office. Now it looks more and more a fairytale romance and Ash’s close friend and neighbour, adman Prahlad Kakkar, is excited and happy. “I have gone on record earlier to say that she picks losers, but this is a good match. She has finally come out of the closet to say this is the man she wants to spend her life with,” says Kakkar. And why does he think Abhishek is the Suitable Boy? “Ash can be a true Lady Fauntleroy—moody and difficult—but Abhishek will be able to handle her well with his humour, wit and boyish charm,” feels Kakkar. According to him, Ash needs a man who’ll walk by her side and not get intimidated by her beauty. Abhishek, he thinks, fits the bill.

The worries lie elsewhere. The Bachchans are known to be tradition-bound and close-knit and would want a bahu to adjust accordingly. “Her identity will be subsumed by the Bachchans’,” says Indu Mirani, editor, thirtymm.com. “They are too prominent. Anyone who comes into the family will get subdued.” Is that bad news for the spirited Aishwarya? Not really, says Kakkar, Ash is actually more traditional than the Bachchans themselves. “She thinks in Tulu, she’ll even mop and scrub the floors happily if need be,” he says. Brinda Rai is known to have solid middle-class values and has brought her daughter up likewise. She might have been unhappy over her daughter’s choice of earlier boyfriends, but never gave her any reason to move out of the parental fold, something so many other actresses would have done. And what of the infamous Dhoom 2 kiss upsetting the B family? “It was all media hype,” says Kakkar. “I don’t think the Bachchans were upset at all.”

However, big questions remain about Ash’s future as an actress. As a Bachchan bahu, will she be expected to put her career on the backburner? Is it goodbye to her dreams of Hollywood? Amitabh and Jaya married at the time Zanjeer was released, and Jaya was quick to opt for domesticity over her career. “At 33, perhaps Ash too would like to take off for a couple of years and have babies,” says an industry insider. The trade guys are anyhow not mourning the possible loss. “She is not a great actress like Kajol who should be missed badly,” says Mirani. “She has not been doing too well, so her retirement will not make any difference.” Indeed, Aishwarya’s Umrao Jaan has been a disaster; the latest, Guru, continues to be an average earner, its fate unaffected by the news of the engagement. Coming up next is Ashutosh Gowariker’s Akbar Jodha with Hrithik Roshan. The new films she has reportedly signed on are Sarkar 2 and Karan Johar’s new production, both with hubby-to-be. However, it’s in the world of advertising that the combined worth of Ash-Abhishek-Big B, pitched at Rs 300-odd crore, is making financial sense.

The Big B household, meanwhile, has begun buzzing.Mom Jaya’s been busy buying saris by the hundreds, while the media and the nation move on to a new set of fundamental issues: When and where will the event be? Who will the designers be: Abu Jani-Sandeep Khosla, Neeta Lulla or Anna Singh? Who will be invited, who won’t be? Will Sonia Gandhi be there? Brangelina, TomKat and Bennifer are old news. Bollywood’s spawned a dream couple of its own: dare we say, Shek-Ash?

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