On top of the world... once more
All things beautiful may not always be joys, now or forever, but they can certainly be indelibly engraved memories, feels RANA A. SIDDIQUI after an evening spent with Aishwarya Rai who is set to conquer countless hearts with h er "Dil Ka Rishta"... .
Photo: Subir Roy
BEAUTY WITH BRAINS: Aishwarya Rai is not just another pretty face. Even as she looks for appreciation for women artists, she has diversified into film production.
BEAUTY IS truth, truth beauty; that is all ye know on earth - and all ye need to know. And if you happen to steal a glimpse of Aishwarya Rai, you would be forced to believe this statement of John Keats. Many did as she appeared, spreading a pearly smile and the fragrance of a light foreign perfume, stepping with confidence, sporting designer wear - sparkling black that accommodates intricate silver embroidery - and inviting you to bet "who is more beautiful; the moon or my face" as she did in "Devdas" and of course, had her winning the bet! Mind you, this beauty is not brainless. For proof all you need is to ask any question, intellectual or stupid, and find how quick she is to answer it, according to the weight of the query! And that she did - making many feel elated or fall flat, as they received her replies in the same coin. All this happened at Lucknow's Sahara Shahar this past week. She was there to promote her home production "Dil Ka Rishta" and meet the Press. A couple of days later she repeated the feat in New Delhi.
The first thing that she does is wish all a Happy New Year before she settles down to answer questions, all smiles, yet vehement, prefixing and suffixing "Haan ji" and "ji". She won't allow you to go over her head. Settle down with her and you realise that she takes her own sweet time in answering your query. She dislikes it if you interrupt her in between or try to add to her answer. She makes it very clear through her telling eyes and creasing eyebrows, but she manages to retain the politeness in her tone, coupled with assertion.
"What after Paro?" a query is flung at her. "What was before Paro?" she quips. Laughter all around but she knows how she to answer it. "I don't understand why people ask me this question after `Devdas'. I never think what after what? I always think what now? Sometime back it was Paro, now it is Tia."
Tia is her name in this film. "Good to see that you are amazed to learn this name. At least you would remember the name and go to watch the film... " she tries to lighten her force.
Some have realised her changing mood. No one wants to displease the former Miss World. "What is the secret of your magic?" An enquiry well intended and the results are more than achieved. Behold a gleaming grin, turning into huge laughter accompanied by coyness. "Well, I don't know how to answer your question... "
"Dabur Chavanprash!" Arjun Rampal does it.
"Yeah - chhi," she mockingly punches, all laughter.
Why does she sing and dance on the "Daiya, daiya" song? Hasn't she been able to resist the temptation of an item song?"
"Have you been able to resist the temptation of an item song?" she shoots back!
Times have proved that heroines who plunged into production, are the ones whose career has taken a nosedive. We have Juhi Chawla, Manisha Koirala and Raveena Tandon for example, who are no longer getting plum commercial roles. Why is she into production at the peak of her career?
Seems an uncomfortable question for a lady who seems in the habit of hearing goody-goody ones. "Well, I don't understand why you journalists question female stars who did it. Why did not you ask male stars when they plunged into it? Instead of questioning, you should appreciate this diversification. One should not have these preconceived notions that if someone's career has seen a decline, mine would go the same way. In fact women should be encouraged to do anything that only men have been doing, isn't it? Such questions were raised when I signed a Bengali film "Chokher Bali". People would always ask why an established heroine of Hindi films has signed a regional film. I don't like this attitude. Why always question, why not encourage?"
She has not forgotten the crux of the query though. "This is of course my home production, but I am not directly producing the film. It is just that I am into all of it in bits and pieces. Films take up the large body of my schedule. But yes, I would not mind plunging into anything that is interesting to discover and easy to relate."
Yes, she is talkative enough, but then, she talks sense.
And this is the sense that prevailed over Subroto Roy Sahara and he appointed her Sahara's Council Director. "She is much beyond a beautiful face," he says.
"I know not but he had been quite observant and in the know of my affiliations other than films. Hence he chose me for the post."
You ask her about its responsibilities, and she is pensive. "Well, I have been selected only in September last year. So far I have represented them on two occasions."
She "felicitated Common Wealth Games winner recently and backed the Mother Teresa Home in Kolkata monetarily."
Now she seems tired of answering. "You know I have not slept last night. I was in Benares. There I did Puja at Kashi Vishwanath temple and Sankat Mochan. I like to go to temples," she says. "As soon as I came here, I went for a hurried schedule. I have to fly back tomorrow early... ."
We hear of many Bollywood heroines now diversifying into various other fields besides films. Does it mean that they have suddenly woken up to do more than just films?
"Even if they have, should not you appreciate it? It is now clear that it has suddenly changed the ratio of women of substance in filmdom. And if one finds interesting avenues, why not go for it? Why are you questioning our business acumen? It is nobody's business. It is a personal choice, right? So don't be judgemental, please accord appreciation."
BY this time, one might get an impression of her being a feminist. "I am not one but I certainly feel happy when a woman steps ahead in life." And one also gets the impression that she could give a master orator a run for his money and a good academic an addition to his vocabulary.
"Well, thank you," she smiles at the compliment. A little known fact about her is that she was "enrolled for a course in architecture after college but could not do it."
If one remembers, on winning the Miss World title, she had said that she wants to do something for children and the underprivileged. Has she kept the promise?
"Well, you journalists always like clichéd answers. No one realises one night before that coveted title, I was just a student. It is a one year title, yet so many responsibilities. You have to learn a lot to actually get into action. You can't make a difference in a day. I am serving the same cause as Sahara's Kartavya Council Director... "
Provocative as such a statement may be, you can't remain irritated before such radiance.
A scribe wants to question her about Salman, but a pal of Aish presses his shoulder, "No personal questions please."
What she definitely does not mind speaking about is her experience in Hollywood. "Believe me, when I went there, I was amazed at the response and respect that Indian women are accorded there. I felt that I was representing not just Bollywood but the entire nation. It was a marvellous feeling," she chuckles.
One can then assume that she would be happy if one mentions "Devdas" or "Lagaan" for the Oscar nominations. But it is not. It sets off her argumentative streak again.
"Why do you question a film that is being nominated but has not got an award? Why not take it as it comes? One should accord appreciation, for it has gone for such a prestigious nomination. Why question it within the system?"
But one definitely questions who is opposite her in "Pride and Prejudice", a film based on Jane Austin's novel being made by Gurinder Chaddha. A question that she still has not answered. She has also signed a Hollywood film with William Morris, she tells you.
It's 11-15 at night and time for her to go to dinner. Subroto Ray Sahara has come to fetch her personally. "Allow me please. I have not slept for a wink yesterday and today... " she accompanies him along with seven to escort her.
"Yet you manage to look so beautiful... " compliments a mesmerised scribe. A small wink, a coy smile transforming into a big grin. Those big, beautiful eyes droop, making her look all the more beautiful, "Oh, oh.." she says no more, but waves her a special good bye.
"Remember that the most beautiful things in the world are the most useless; peacocks and lilies, for example," said John Ruskin in "The Stone of Venice I". But though this statement seems tailor made for Aishwarya Rai, it is the other John - Keats - who wins in the end.
"A thing of beauty is a joy for ever, its loveliness increases, it will never, pass into nothingness."
And as Aishwarya Rai passes into the dining hall, the fragrance of the light perfume, the memory of an awe-inspiring beautiful face, those silken words, refuse to fade.
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