Aishwarya Rai Bachchan
was thrust into the international arena in 1994 when she was crowned Miss World. Early aspirations to forge a career as an architect fell by the wayside as she was quickly propelled into the world of Indian cinema. Courted by cosmetic giants L'Oreal and watchmakers Longines, amongst others, to become the face of their brands, with the increased profile came a role as unofficial global ambassador for India.
Celebrated the world over for her natural beauty, she also won recognition for her acting prowess, with films such as Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam
giving her popular approval, while her performance as Binodini in Rituparno Ghosh's 2003 film Chokher Bali
and her portrayal of a depressive woman in Ghosh's 2004 relationship drama Raincoat
afforded her critical acclaim.
Digital Spy / Priya Joshi
In an exclusive interview with Digital Spy
, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan discussed the growing profile of Indian cinema in the West, how becoming a mother has affected her professional aspirations and why she has no regrets about turning down Hollywood roles. We have in recent months seen you at high-profile international events in Cannes, the Sound of Change concert and last week at Royal Ascot. Why is it important for our cinema to be represented on an international platform?
"Yes, here we are celebrating 100 years of Indian cinema. Cannes has given us this huge platform, and that in itself is a huge statement. We're always appreciative of our host's grace, wherever we may be welcomed, but that does not mean that's the barometer of India cinema's placement on the international platform. These are two different things. When you say how has it evolved? Do we recognize the platform that Indian cinema has been given? Of course. And typically India of us, we gracefully acknowledge our host's grace and we thank you for celebrating us and our cinema.
"As a part of my fraternity, I'm not saying a profile in the West is pivotal to our presence. So if you find an audience, great. If not, that's fine as well, because our cinema finds its audience wherever it's meant to in the world and our cinema is celebrated as glorious as it is in our own diaspora. But at the same time to any creative individual, creative world or creative facet, the wider the audience the better. You receive a sense of contentment because creativity wants to find its audience. The larger the audience the better. The more pockets in the world, the more interesting and exciting because it just makes it that much more liberating. This makes it that much more liberating for the various facets of creativity to be explored. That's what it really is. Does that mean that it's imperative to your sense of being? No. But is it exciting to find a wider audience? Oh yeah. I think any creative individual will give their vote to that. "You are the first commercial star of Indian cinema to really be recognized on a mainstream global platform. How hard or easy has it been for you to win that recognition in Hollywood when it was a world that seemed so inaccessible for Indians outside of the stereotypes?
"In terms of finding that first international recognition of my work, coming back to Cannes is such a milestone in my life because it began actually with Devdas
. Coincidentally it was the same year that Gurinder [Chadha] was already talking to me about possibly collaborating, and it just so happened that Bride and Prejudice
came after my experience here at Cannes. So if I look at it myopically, they were all probably happening simultaneously at Cannes, and I guess that was the way my life was meant to chart its course, but from a documentary perspective, if you define it in a linear way, it started with Devdas
here at Cannes.
"It was the first time that the world's media recognized my work as an Indian actor, received it very, very positively, and I was very thankful for the grace and the appreciation because if you look at Devdas
it is a beautiful movie. It is very operatic in its visualisation. It exists in a particular world of our cinema and to still see that celebrated the way it was globally by this varied audience, whether it was from a critiquing perspective or the international audience here in Cannes, it was very overwhelming positively, and it truly touched my soul that our work was appreciated till this date. Last night, people are like, 'Devdas
… amazing!' 13 years since, people still celebrate that work." Today every major star in Hollywood is clamouring to work with you, but did it need an Indian director such as Gurinder Chadha to cast you in films with Hollywood actors such as Dylan Mcdermott in Mistress of Spices and Martin Henderson in Bride and Prejudice for you to get recognition as a viable star of mainstream film?
"I am very, very thankful to Gurinder because that film [Bride and Prejudice
] was such a clever piece of work, because there she was adapting an English classic, making it so human and so normal in that very Indian family atmosphere which is so natural to us, and presenting it with what was recognized as very signature Bollywood, bringing the musical aspect - and it was widely appreciated the world over. Wherever I went, people recognized that. I was amazed at the number of people who had given it [an] audience.
"Even when I was honored at the Time
dinner to have Nicole Kidman turn around and say, 'I love that movie and I watched it with my kid'. You have your fellow actors saying they enjoyed your cinema, you have an audience across the globe saying they loved that piece of work, yet back home people thought it was just such a normal Indian movie. But that's why it was so clever, because here she has taken a classic and made it look so normal and drawn a huge global audience into what is essentially us and our cinema. And that is why the collaborations with Gurinder have truly been another milestone for our cinema."There are very differing sensibilities in Hollywood regarding on-screen kissing and exposure, and you have steered clear of such. Do Indian actresses have to comply with Western standards to be accepted in lead roles in Hollywood, and is it fair that you have to consider the conservative sensibilities of your Indian audience, with the result that some great roles in international films are off limits?
"Firstly, let's show respect to our own cinema. It is recognized internationally, so let's not even go down the road of 'What have you done on the global platform?' One in six people on this planet is an Indian. Secondly, if you have done a couple of English projects they have found their audience. When it comes to saying no, it was my comfort as an Indian girl about the kind of roles I'd assay on screen, and that's not something I've done only in English cinema. Even in Indian cinema, there is so much work that I have accepted because I'm comfortable and so much I have declined because I haven't been comfortable. I think people have to acknowledge that basic truth rather than think risqu roles only exist in English films. Risqu roles even exist in India, and I didn't make those choices either."Your red carpet appearances are an endless focus of media interest. What goes into preparing your wardrobe for a major event such as Cannes or Royal Ascot?
"Scheduling. It's the truth. I think this answer will be boring, but it's the absolute, actual, honest truth. It's scheduling first to begin with, because it depends on how much time you have in your schedule to dedicate when you come in, and that's a basic truth. Depending on the time that you have, you're able to look at designer outfits, you're able to schedule in fittings and then, depending on what fits, of course by then, you've chosen a couple of options that you're comfortable with and what you like, and then whatever fits on the day you go with. It's as simple and basic and honest as that. I guess people would like a much more dramatic answer than that, but I'm not the person to create one."
After all the accomplishments and accolades, how has motherhood changed your outlook and your professional aspirations?
PA Images / Alastair Grant
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan attends Ladies Day at Royal Ascot 2013
"Wow. I don't know about changing my perspective, because motherhood is such a glorious blessing and I am very thankful for that. It's such a beautiful experience. I so strongly recommend it. It's bliss, love and fulfillment of another level. And truly, nothing can ever pressure you or make you feel down ever from this moment on. It's like you just felt the light from up there, that's why you know why it's called a blessing. Nothing makes you feel down. When I'm with her the day can be packed, there can be so much going on, you can be sleep deprived, anything, but nothing makes me feel down.
"Strangely nothing makes me feel tired, fatigued at all. I've gone days and nights without sleep, and still the mind is in such a positive space it just doesn't make you feel fatigued. You don't feel it, and for that just thinking you've discovered yet another facet to life. In terms of perspective to my career, that will not change because it's about who you are. Who you are as a person. I've always been the kind of person that if I take on anything professionally it means commitment to me, so you take it on if you can commit to it and if you know you can accommodate and give your best to it, and that's what you do and I have always done that throughout my life - before marriage after marriage, before motherhood, after motherhood. So that's just the way I am and this is just who I am always going to be, irrespective of whatever experience I am blessed with or challenged by in life."How have you been able to juggle the demands of motherhood with your professional commitments?
"It's just a year and a half since I had her. On May 16, [it's been] 18 months. Time's flown by. I have been multi-tasking in fact very early. Professionally it's been a lot of endorsement work, a lot of meetings, a lot of business plans, and there's been a lot of time been consumed in preparatory work, scripts being listened to, ideas being discussed - but in terms of a film role, that hasn't begun, but that's in the anvil." Any signs that Aaradhya has inherited the Bachchan acting gene?
(Laughs) That's precious! Any 18-month old would be the most fascinating person, because there she is becoming a little person now feeling these emotions and expressing them and stringing her little sentences [together]. That's an original. And she's an original." What does the cinema of India mean to you?
"It's very precious. I have been an admirer of Indian cinema, I have been an audience of our cinema and I consider myself blessed to have been part of our cinema, and I think it's wonderful to be present at a time when our cinema celebrates such a milestone. It's wonderful to belong to a cinema at this special time in its history." Who is the greatest star of Hindi cinema?
"Oh. It's difficult, and I'd be accused of bias, but worldwide currently Pa [Amitabh Bachchan] is absolutely iconic, he's celebrated, he's respected. He definitely is deservedly iconic, and I say this without any bias, and if I am accused of it so be it."