New roles, old convictions - that's Aishwarya for you
Without ever losing her credibility, convictions or career options, Aishwarya Rai has made herself into a brand name for Indian cinema.
By Subhash K. Jha, IANS
While outside the country, she represents all the Indian values and traditions within a modern context.
Having played a gamut of roles, from the waif-life non-resident Indian in her debut film "Aur Pyar Ho Gaya" to the enigmatic dancer from the hills in Subhash Ghai's "Taal" to the woman caught between love and duty in "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam", Aishwarya reached a peak of sorts as Paro in "Devdas".
As Paro, she danced, wept, loved and emoted in the purest blend of cinematic expression. What next? The question loomed over her career. The year 2003 answered the question for her.
That year, she had three releases, in two of which -- Naresh Sharma's "Dil Ka Rishta" and Rohan Sippy's "Kuch Na Kaho" -- she played a single mother.
Clearly Aishwarya was ready to move into a league away from the typical simpering queens of celluloid. By doing the mother's roles back-to-back she made no bones about her plans as a formidable star-actress who needed to reinvent herself in dramatic roles without losing any of the qualities that gave an international sheen to her personality.
Rituparno Ghosh's "Chokher Bali" proved to be a breaking point between Aishwarya's histrionic potential and her ability and desire to run around trees.
Playing the imperishable widow Binodini in 19th century Bengal who steals her best friend's husband, Aishwarya brought to the role a kind of cunning spontaneity that's the hallmark of a seasoned camera chameleon.
"Chokher Bali" left no doubt as to what Aishwarya hoped to achieve as an actress and which way her career would go henceforth. In 2004, Aishwarya is picking her roles with furious diligence. There's no more the desire to prove a point at the box office.
When her junior, Kareena Kapoor, couldn't do Rituparno Ghosh's first Hindi film "Raincoat", Aishwarya quickly moved into the project while Kareena moved into Sanjay Leela Bhansali's ambitious epic "Bajirao Mastani", which was originally offered to Aishwarya and which she refused to do because she wouldn't pair herself with Salman Khan in real or reel life.
Fair enough. A woman of steadfast convictions, rational and constantly improving the quality of her life, Aishwarya's quest for better opportunities has now taken her Westwards where she can further her stardom.
Her ever-enthusiastic casting agents in Los Angeles and London keep informing the Indian press about her progress there. Though some of it turns out to be a false alarm, there's no doubt that if any actor from India has the potential to crack Hollywood it's Aishwarya.
Says filmmaker Hansal Mehta: "She has the determined focus and the cosmopolitan looks, the right mix of Oriental and Western...she oozes glamour while remaining essentially Indian."
Back home, she's gearing up to give the marquee her best histrionic shot. For the first time in her career, she'll be working with women directors.
Aishwarya has said yes to Kalpana Lajmi, Tanuja Chandra for her fact-based docu-drama and debutante Leena Bajaj for an unusual story of a writer and his muse entitled "Shabd".
Playing a Bihari woman who suddenly comes face to face with a long-estranged lover (Ajay Devgan) in Kolkata, Aishwarya has given a quality of performance in "Raincoat", which according to Ghosh, "comes only to an actress who has finally come in contact with her darkest and most inaccessible emotions...Ash surprised me with her grasp over the character."
The film is being readied for a July release, and is expected to take Aishwarya's career further down the performing alley.
She has broken loose in real life too. On one hand she had the guts to say no to Bhansali. On the other hand she's reaching into Hollywood to make a place on her own terms.
It's hard to say how far she will succeed. But one thing is for sure. She hasn't finished serenading stardom as yet. Marriage appears distant right now. But once she quits she probably won't look back. That's the quintessential Aishwarya for you.