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MUMBAI — For someone who came into the Indian film industry as a former beauty queen, Aishwarya Rai has done her fair share of unglamorous roles in Bollywood.
From playing an abused wife in “Provoked” or the middle-aged wife of an industrialist in “Guru,” Rai has always let her acting do the talking.
In her latest film “Raavan,” she plays Ragini, the wife of a police officer who is abducted. It’s a role which involved negotiating tough terrain, heavy rains and the creatures of the jungle.
Rai spoke about her role in Mani Ratnam’s “Raavan,” the challenges of working in a bilingual film and why she feels bad when she is criticized for her dressing sense.
Q: Both Abhishek (Bachchan) and Vikram have said that you are the true hero of “Raavan.” Is that true?
A: “That is so sweet and generous of them but they have both done an incredible job. But I think the real heroes are the whole team of “Raavan,” the unsung heroes, whether it is the set designers, the workers, everyone who was on set everyday and working as hard, if not more than us. We used to start at five every morning and end at night. It was exhausting. We have all worked hard.”
Q: This film has two leading men. Whom do you share a better chemistry with?
A: “I think that is something that all of you will happily write about later, but this should prove what we always talk about — that chemistry is in the screenplay. The moment is created by the screenplay and by the director.
“It is not about an individual and the crackling chemistry with someone. But yes, what happens is that when you see me and Abhishek on screen, there is more of an instant connect. But I don’t know if that is perception or fact.”
Q: You have said this is a tough film to shoot. Did having Abhishek around make it easier for you?
A: “Well, we are firstly actors and as actors we genuinely love working with each other. What is great about working with your spouse is that at the end of the day there is the comfort of coming home which is great, because this was tough.
“I would be exhausted because of the dual films being made, so I wouldn’t get a minute off on set. It is comforting to come into the arms of love at the end of the day.
“Also, when you are with each other, you are braver for each other. If you were away and heard that your husband had to jump off a 90-feet-high cliff, it would be very scary. You would be over concerned for each other but being together in this makes it better. It is tough but we are adventurous spirits and like to push ourselves, so it was good not to explain that to each other.”
Q: Does it hurt when the media criticizes you for small things like your clothes or your dressing style?
A: “Fame is directly related to the kind of support you have from an audience and the love and support I have from audience is so immense and so huge, that this percentage of negativity is so small compared to that that it would be very easy for it to lose itself.”
“All this might sound very philosophical, but I would be lying if I said it didn’t hurt me — of course it did initially and even now I feel bad. I am human and I am very sensitive, so of course it hurts when there is someone out there criticizing you. You work to do your best, you work to receive appreciation. It definitely hurts me lesser today because with time and experience I have learned to reduce the negativity and truly recognize the positivity in life which is so much more.
“It is not like I am going into my wardrobe and pulling out a dress. I am being dressed by a professional team, and world-class designers. It has been nine years in Cannes, you get to dress for the international platform and it is a wonderful feeling, so I have no idea what two or three people are saying back home. I cannot come back and explain every year.”
Q: Your last few films haven’t really featured you as the conventional Hindi heroine, with makeup and designer clothes. As someone whose face can do the work for you, have you consciously chosen to do unglamorous roles?
A: “Even when I was Miss World, I did all the dressing up I could, so the pretty face thing was done. But it was never about just looking pretty with the crown, I always wanted to make it more than that — I wanted to make it about beauty with a purpose. So I carried that into my films as well.
“I was not joining movies because I was glamor struck or because I wanted fame, because the Miss World year was all about adulation and meeting heads of state and all that. There weren’t the girlish excitements of dressing up. I wanted to make it more about the craft.
“You know, every director, on the first day of the film, says to me ‘let us do something that is not Aishwarya Rai.’ And I always ask them, so what is the real Aishwarya Rai? I consider makeup and clothes very important in an actor’s life. Even in “Dhoom 2,” we — me and Hrithik — were so conscious of light and camera angles and our profiles, because that was the USP of that film, so our dedication was towards that.”
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