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Lokvani Talks To Aishwarya Rai

Chitra Parayath

Talk about powerhouses in small packages. My first impression when I set eyes upon the most beautiful woman in the world Aishwarya Rai is her petite form (she is supposed to be 5ft7). She seems smaller than her screen image would lead you to assume. Her vivacious, energetic presence on the screen must help her project the bearing and poise of a larger individual. She seems duskier than you would think. With straight brown hair to her shoulders she could be mistaken for a Latina lovely if one passed her on the street in Harvard Square, Cambridge.

When it comes to the queen of Bollywood as she is often referred to as, there seems to be no taming the curiosity of the public and the press. It is reported that more than 600 people turned up at the Alpha Omega store in the Natick Mall to catch a glimpse of Ash. I am overwhelmed by it all she trilled at the Press Conference later that evening. It is lovely to know that I have so many well-wishers so far away from home. She also wanted the press to convey her apologies to her adoring fans in Boston.  I would have liked to shake every hand, to sign every autograph but it was not possible due to various reasons. She said.

Rai is known as much for her impeccable style and radiant beauty as she is for her considerable acting talent. As with her cinema career, she is spreading her wings on the global stage, lending her glamorous image to the cause of enhanced sales of luxury goods worldwide. An Ambassador of Elegance for world-renowned Swiss watch brand, Longines, Rai was in the Boston area to introduce Longines newest watch collection, Longines evidenza. Longines recruited Rai as one of the brand's contemporary ambassadors of elegance in 1999. Aishwarya Rai joins screen icons Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in Longines current advertising campaign Elegance is an Attitude. Rai takes up the theme at the press conference, Elegance is innate individual ,eternal and it stands the test of time!

At the conference, after being welcomed by Mr. Raman Handa of Alpha Omega, Rai addressed the press and answered the few questions put to her. Undaunted by flash bulbs going off in her face every five minutes, she was gracious enough to address each and every question put to her comprehensively. Her confidence and self-assurance shone through the whole evening. A consummate communicator, she has no difficulty finding the right words, and is very articulate. Looks alone, clearly, are not enough to get you to be an international brand ambassador.

While Rai's style and diction are impeccable, her answers seemed overly correct and occasionally sounded practiced and oft- repeated. Hard to blame her though, these questions might have answered by her hundreds of times. Asked by a member of the assembled press if she was happy to be called a Bollywood actress in spite of her work in International films, she passionately claimed that her identity would always remain defined by her Bollywood beginnings. Wherever I go, whatever I do, I shall first remain an actor from India, she said. Having wrapped up shooting of Bride and Prejudice she said that she was glad to be heading back home.

Asked about her being replaced by another actor in the newly announced film Rising (an epic based on the failed 1857 Indian uprising against British rule), she played safe, albeit sounding a little miffed, when she said that  Some people are quick to give statements to the press even as talks are going on. As they say in show business, it ain't over till the fat lady sings.

Her performance in Rituparno Ghosh's Choker Bali is receiving rave reviews in India and at the various festivals around the world ( Locarno, Montreal etc). It was a great experience working with Ghosh, she said.

After the conference each publication was offered about ten minutes to spend with her and your correspondents were ushered into a room with bright lights and cameras (as preparations were being made for TV interviews).

Her flawless complexion and light eyes are more evident in the harsh arc lights and she waits patiently as her make up is refreshed between every interview.

We began by asking her about her favorite directors and about whom she would love working with again. Ash gave the politically savvy answer about the story, the script and everything else being the main focus in her choice of roles. The money, apparently, was often the last criterion considered when she chose her roles.

When asked about which character she has played being the closest to her heart, Rai recited the names of a vast host of characters she has played. Very earnestly she reeled off  Nandini in Hum dil de Chuke Sanam, Meenakshi in Kandukondein Kandukondein, Mansi in Taal, Shirley in Josh, Paro in Devdas and so on. She mentioned the artistic fulfillment that her work in Rituparno Ghosh's Choker Bali gave her. The film is based on a story by Tagore, and Rai's delight reflected her commitment to quality cinema, and her body of work in the Indian regional film industry. Speaking warmly of her experiences as jury member at the prestigious Cannes festival last spring she seemed, nevertheless, quite at ease in the world of high class world cinema.

We asked her about her interest in Hollywood and she was fast with a retort that much is made of rumors. I did meet with some actors and producers but before we can even formulate our thoughts, there are rumors and reports in the press that I have signed on a particular film with a particular star! It is ridiculous!

Rai maintains that Bollywood and Hollywood, the twains shall meet and soon! As we were leaving she remarked that the best part about traveling to different shores to shoot was getting an opportunity for her to talk with and get to know people. I love to talk, to give interviews and interact with the watchers of my films. she said with a dazzling smile in our direction, as we were hustled out by her minders.

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