Aishwarya Rai: On top of the world!

By Hindustan Times

Mumbai, Oct. 30 -- On Tuesday, November 4, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan will turn 38. And possibly, this week, she will also become a mommy. She seems all grownup today...Or maybe not! Five minutes and that tinkling girlish laugh breaks free. And I'm back to 1996 and our first interview... Just a few days before that marathon telephonic, the brandy-eyed, bejewelled beauty, in full brida gear, had stepped out in front of hundreds of popping flashbulbs at Hotel Leela Kempenski. She had swayed gracefully to the strains of a classical dance piece composed by Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan... Aur Pyar Ho Gaya!

It was a happy coincidence that the title of her debut Bollywood film, co-starring Bobby Deol and directed by Rahul Rawail, mirrored the feelings of several across the country... And around the world. Still, success hadn't come easy to the most beautiful girl in the world.

When Aishwarya had narrowly lost the Miss India title to the little-known Sushmita Sen there had been a collective sigh of disappointment. She hadn't lived up to expectations of the masses or the media... But Sushmita had, when she went on to snatch away the coveted Miss Universe crown from more favoured international contestants despite being too tall, too thin and too 'desi'. Ash survived the dark frowns, and shrugging off her first flop, went on to bring home another crown after wowing the world.

And the dream merchants were back, wooing both the beauty queens with dream debuts. Sushmita chose Dastak, a Mahesh Bhatt directed story of fatal obsession... Ash, a Tamil film co-starring Mohanlal, Gouthami, Revathy and Tabu. Since he wasn't the Mani Ratnam then, few were impressed with Iruvar. But Ash was ecstatic.

She had been shooting a Pepsi commercial in Chennai when Mani's Bombay had opened in the theatres. Given all the controversy surrounding it, she didn't think she'd be able to see the film in Mumbai and so ducked into a theatre to catch its Tamil version. And came out deeply moved since she'd experienced the riots first hand. Spontaneously she had called up the film's cinematographer Rajiv Menon, whom she knew from her modelling days.

After congratulating him, she had buzzed Mani. He was shooting in Hyderabad and she didn't get to speak to him. She returned to Mumbai not expecting to hear from him. And was floored when he called offer her a film, Iruvar. "Even before I had became Miss India I had been flooded with roles. But at the time, studies and modelling were more than enough. At the end of '95, I was beginning to consider movies as a career. Mani's call sealed my decision," she told me, pointing out that despite all the hype and hysteria surrounding her Bollywood launch, she had shot for her first movie with Mani directing the shots a month ago.

There was a time when as a student of architecture, Aishwarya had dreamt of building mansions. Those dreams had to be sacrificed after she was crowned Miss World. "I knew it wouldn't be possible for me to go back to being a normal college student," she sighed. It wasn't so terrible being a star, I'd retorted, wondering how it felt to be on top of the world. And Aishwarya's typical laugh had rung out, "I don't know, I'm still climbing." In these 15 years Ash has climbed many mountains and touched many peaks. But somehow I know that it's only when she cradles her bundle of joy that she'll truly feel on the top of the world. I'm waiting for her laugh to ring out again!

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