Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is back after a five-year break
Perhaps no Indian actress has received as much attention as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Her new film Jazbaa, which will be released on Thursday, is a testimony to this fact: the film’s posters and trailers have gone viral on social media, and her fans are working themselves into a frenzy about the prospect of seeing their favourite actress on screen for the first time in five years.
But the 41-year-old, who shot to fame in 1994 after winning Miss World, has stayed busy during those years. The birth of her daughter Aaradhya in 2011 was the reason she took a step back of the limelight. But the award-winning actress has made regular appearances at Cannes Film Festival in her role as the brand ambassador for L’Oreal. She has also continued to work on social and humanitarian projects, especially in her capacity as UNAIDS goodwill ambassador – a position to which she was appointed in 2012.
Since her big-screen debut in 1997, Aishwarya has starred in more than 45 films in five languages. She was last seen on screen in the 2010 drama Guzaarish, which received great critical acclaim. What better way to sign off (even temporarily)?
Rumours of her return to films persisted during her five-year break, until last year, when filmmaker Sanjay Gupta confirmed that she had signed on to star in his latest project.
Jazbaa, which also features Bollywood crossover star Irrfan Khan, was heavily promoted at Cannes this year, and Aishwarya, a regular fixture at the annual event on the French Riviera, was there to promote it.
“There’s always an effort to do the best we can for our country and our industry,” she said. “It is my 14th year in Cannes that I have been representing the Indian film fraternity. Whenever I get an option to represent my country, I have always happily take it up. I feel blessed to have had so many opportunities to make my country proud.”
Aishwarya’s background couldn’t be further removed from the glitz and glamour of the Hindi film industry: her father worked as a biologist in the Indian army, while her mother was a homemaker. Like many Indian girls, Rai trained in classical dance and music for several years as a teenager. She won an international beauty contest at the age of 16, which was followed by high-profile modelling assignments.
In 1993, she was cast in a TV commercial for Pepsi alongside Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan. A year later, she won the Miss World title. Overnight, she became famous – and topped many “most beautiful women in the world” lists. Her career trajectory seemed set when she decided to try her hand at acting.
Her film debut came in the 1997 big-budget Tamil film Iruvar, followed by the Hindi-language romantic drama Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya the same year. Neither of them did particularly well at the box office, and her performances were slammed. Her second Bollywood film, 1999’s Aa Ab Laut Chalain, attracted even greater criticism, with one reviewer writing: “All she does is cry and smile and look pretty.”
It was Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, also in 1999, that cemented her position as one of Bollywood’s hottest new talents. The romantic drama, in which she was starred alongside Salman Khan and Ajay Devgn, was a runaway hit, earning her the Best Actress Filmfare award.
Film roles began pouring in, and soon she was sharing the screen with two of the biggest stars in Bollywood – Shah Rukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan (now her father-in-law) – in Mohabbatein (2000).
By 2002, she had won another Best Actress award, this time for Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s epic tragedy Devdas, again starring with Shah Rukh Khan.
But her biggest commercial successes were yet to come: action thriller Dhoom 2 (2006), Jodhaa Akbar (2008), and the Tamil sci-fi film Enthiran (2010), in which she bagged a lead role alongside the southern-Indian superstar Rajinikanth.
Then Hollywood came knocking, and Aishwarya grabbed the opportunity. Anticipation for her first international film, 2007’s fantasy thriller The Last Legion, was high – she was cast alongside heavyweights, including British stars Ben Kingsley and Colin Firth. But the movie received scathing reviews – as was her second Hollywood outing, comic caper The Pink Panther 2, starring Steve Martin.
Her successes and failures were eagerly lapped up by the Indian media, as were the ups and downs in her personal life – most of all her brief but tumultuous relationship with Bollywood’s perennial bachelor Salman Khan.
Between 1999 and 2001, newspapers frequently reported on the state of their relationship. She later dated actor Viveik Oberoi and, in 2007, married Abhishek Bachchan, scion of the Bachchan family, in what was the Bollywood wedding of the decade. The couple had worked together on two films – Dhai Akshar Prem Ke (2000) and Kuch Naa Kaho (2003) – before falling in love on the set of Dhoom 2 in 2006.
Five years after she last graced the big screen, the day of reckoning is finally upon the actress, who is excited about her return.
At Cannes in May, she told The National: “I might as well embrace the fact that everyone is calling this my comeback film.”
Later she told www.dna.com: “I have always said I never went anywhere. I have always been here. But it’s also a fact that Jazbaa will be perceived as that comeback film. But for me, it’s a film I chose. I never thought about a comeback or anything.”
• Jazbaa is out in cinemas on Thursday, October 8