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Aishwarya Rai and Sanjay Leela Bhansali Aishwariya Rai Wallpapersseem to have patched up for good, with the director saying they "bond beyond films".

Reams are being written about Aishwarya dropping in for a chat with Bhansali on the sets of his "Black". And it's true. The director says their defences dropped the minute the two old friends met.

"Of course, we met. It was very generous of her to drop in to see me so casually. She came to me without an agenda, as a very dear friend who had gone away," Bhansali told IANS.

Problems had cropped up during the casting of his proposed epic "Bajirao Mastani" when Aishwarya, in no uncertain terms, made it known that she wouldn't co-star with Salman Khan in the film.

"But we both knew we couldn't sulk for too long. Frankly, it felt like a load off our back when we met. There was no awkwardness because we were both clean in our hearts. We reached out honestly as two friends who needed to reach out to each other. I realised my love for her remains unchanged. We can never be parted for long."

After an accident on the sets of "Black", Aishwarya was one of the first people to call up Bhansali.

"And I respect her all the more for that. She put aside our differences and connected with me when I was in distress, although she knows very well that Salman is and always will be my dearest friend and my brother.

"And not just Ash...my entire family and unit came to hold my hand. People like Yash Chopra, Rishi Kapoor, Karan Johar, Farha Khan, Shah Rukh Khan, Jaya Bachchan, Kareena, Vaibhavi Merchant, Ismail Durbar and most of all Salman stood by me to make the tragedy of the fire more bearable.

"My two actors, Amitabh Bachchan and Rani Mukherjee, were in the house to support me. I'll never ever forget their gesture. But I feel I couldn't go through with the traumatic time if it wasn't for Salman. He not only stood by me but made sure that I resumed shooting within six days of the fire. He dropped in twice on the sets after I returned to shoot just to see if all was okay."

But Bhansali has been quoted as making sarcastic remarks about Aishwarya in a recent interview. "Wrong timing I guess. That's a two-month-old interview. It was done for a monthly magazine, prior to our meeting. At that point of time we were both hurting inside.

"She had said I needed to learn to be a good human being and I responded to that. I stand by what I said. But now after our meeting I feel differently towards her. Like I said, she cannot be too far away from my vision as a human being and a filmmaker. I feel we understand each other instinctively as human beings and artistes."

So is there a chance of Aishwarya and Bhansali coming together in the near future?

"Why not? She's as capable of bringing out the best in me as I am. We've met, albeit just once. But that was enough to make us realise we're bonded beyond films.

"She didn't meet me for a role, and I respect her all the more for that. I'm sure we'll work together again in the future. Right now I'm just dying to see 'Bajirao...' come alive through Salman. That's my most important priority and dream after 'Black'."