I'm a girl rooted to Indian culture: Aishwarya Rai ...

By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service

imageMumbai,

(IANS) Bollywood's glamour icon Aishwarya Rai, whose much discussed

"Umrao Jaan" has just been released, calls herself a contemporary woman

who can go back to "another era" any time.

"If I may say so, I'm equipped to go back to that era of elegant

dancing because I'm a girl very rooted to Indian culture. I'm teased

that I belong to some other era," Aishwarya told IANS in an

interview.

She says her cinematic experiences like "Devdas", "Umrao Jaan" and

the yet to be released "Guru" allow her to go back to another era.

"I just want to thank my directors for providing me opportunities in

such rare genres. It doesn't come often in these times. So I feel good

about it. All creative people are hungry for such experiences."

Aishwarya, who has learnt classical dance, also commented on the

dance sequences in the eponymous film centred on 19th century courtesan

Umrao: "To know how to dance is one thing. But to get the finer nuances

of a mujra, down to its smothered energy and expressions of restrained

poignancy, is very, very difficult. Vaibhavi Merchant and I got

together after 'Kajra re'. She knows kathak. She brought the classical

element into the dances."

Excerpts:

Q: "Umrao Jaan" takes you back to the elegant kotha culture; it takes Aishwarya Rai's elegance to recreate that culture.

A: That's quite a compliment. I just want to thank my directors for providing me opportunities in such rare genres. It doesn't come often in these times. So I feel good about it. All creative people are hungry for such experiences, eager to come away enriched from doing films like "Devdas", "Raincoat", "Umrao Jaan", "Dhoom 2" and "Guru". I guess I'm blessed.

Q: Isn't this Abhishek Bachchan's first costume drama?

A: Yes "Umrao Jaan" is his first costume drama. But I've done another beautiful costume drama earlier - "Devdas". If I may say so, I'm equipped to go back to that era of elegant dancing and old-world culture because I'm a girl very rooted to Indian culture.

I mean the sari is my most favourite apparel in the world. I'm teased that I belong to some other era. But at the end of the day, I am a contemporary woman of the world. It's cinematic experiences such as "Devdas", "Umrao Jaan" and "Guru" that give me the privilege of going back to another era.

Q: Please explain.

A: You know we communicate mostly in English. The Hindi we speak is hybridised. Being a south Indian, people like Rekhaji and me have worked very hard at brushing up our Hindi. But Urdu, which is such a beautiful language, is totally alien to me and to most of us in 'Umrao Jaan', including J.P. saab, we were all tremendously aided by J.P. saab's father O.P. Dutta saab. To have a director like J.P. saab, who's perceived as a task master, was a blessing.

Q: He's known to be a tyrant on the sets.

A: You think Sanjay Bhansali is any less of a tyrant on the sets? Any director who's passionate about his work will be perceived as a tyrant. Whatever the decibel at which a committed director instructs his actors, he wants his point made across. It's the teacher-pupil relationship. There're different kinds of teachers in school.

I've worked with all kinds of directors from Sanjay to J.P. saab to Aditya Chopra to Subhash Ghai. They're all known to be passionate in their own way. Why, even Karan Johar, whom I haven't worked with, is known to fly off the handle on the sets. And don't forget Mani Ratnam. My God! He's my first director (in "Iruvar"). And now I've worked with him again in "Guru". Of course, he's known to lose his cool.

Q: But there's a story about how Dutta cut your costume in a fit of rage.

A: Now let's not make a mountain out of a molehill. I don't get rattled by the passionate declarations and discussions on the sets. There's nothing that a conversation cannot solve. There might have been a day when J.P. saab got rattled. If he did, he was very sweet about it afterwards. I'm not egoistic about these things.

The entire team on "Umrao Jaan" or "Dhoom 2" and "Guru" are committed to their work. And I'm as passionate about my work as the director. You've known me very closely. You've seen how I lose track of time when I get involved with a film. Sleep, food... all are forgotten.

Q: You're uncomfortable with the higher notes.

A: That's the way I am in real life. You won't find me screaming in real life or on screen. Of course, I've gone through a spectrum of emotions with Sanjay Bhansali. "Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam" and "Devdas" had high points of drama. That's where you mould your talents to every genre.

Q: Did you enjoy doing the mujra in "Umrao Jaan"?

A: To know how to dance is one thing. But to get the finer nuances of a mujra, down to its smothered energy and expressions of restrained poignancy, is very difficult. Vaibhavi Merchant and I got together after "Kajra re". She knows Kathak. She brought the classical element into the dances. Along with her choreography there was a huge contribution by J.P. saab.

After three rehearsals he'd suddenly bring in changes and I'd be like, 'Okaaay.' The mujras in "Umrao Jaan" required myriad expressions in one sweep. J.P. saab had a three-camera set up. He operated one of them. So I had to give different expressions into different cameras. By far this was the most challenging film for its dancing.

Q: And Abhishek?

A: He was the veteran of the unit, having worked with J.P. saab twice before. Shabanaji, me ... we were all the babies.

Q: Abhishek thinks "Umrao Jaan" is your best performance.

A: That's very generous of him. Me? I can't assess myself. There're films and roles that I've thoroughly enjoyed. "Umrao Jaan" is one of them.