x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Desi Girl: no matter where you go, Bollywood will find you

Aishwarya Rai beckoned to me while I was on holiday in Istanbul.

Living in the UAE, one is quite used to seeing the faces of Bollywood stars splashed all over the place: on magazine covers, on film posters and - as witnessed recently in the case of the launch of Salman Khan's Being Human range of clothing at Dubai's Splash store - on billboards.

One place I definitely did not expect Bollywood to beckon me was in the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. Yet there she was: a larger-than-life Aishwarya Rai beaming away on a shopfront, apparently reassuring onlookers of the quality and workmanship of the gold jewellery sold at this particular establishment.

I'm not sure how well she was doing her job, though. The shop was totally empty and the forlorn salesmen were trying to pick up where Ash left off. Forlorn, yet highly aggressive.

I'm still not sure what made me walk willingly into that rabbit warren of tiresome touts pushing questionable merchandise at even more questionable prices. I guess I can attribute the ill-made decision to the choices given to me by our tour guide: attend a 25-minute presentation on Turkish carpets (no doubt a ruse to sell overpriced carpets to gullible tourists) or a 25-minute self-guided tour of the Grand Bazaar. I chose the latter.

However, after 45 seconds of being chased by young boys screaming "Pretty lady, you buy!", I made a hasty exit and decided to amble along the perimeter instead, where the salesmen were a little less pushy and where I eventually bumped into Ash.

I guess this is where I interject that I have zipped off to Turkey for a short holiday this Ramadan, and to all the readers out there who want to take a break this season, my advice is this: come to Turkey.

Despite the risk of being made to feel like a walking ATM (there was a little basket mounted on the front seat of my tour bus labelled "tip box" and at dinner, our waiter returned our 20 lira change as two 10 lira bills and told us that one of the bills was for his tip), you can't deny Turkey its charms.

And if you want to visit, there is no time better than now. According to one of my guides, what looks to me like hordes of tourists is actually a half-empty Istanbul. No prizes for guessing which Islamic month is the slowest in terms of tourism for Turkey.

Let's get back to Ash. The reason I brought her up is because that's how things seem to be looking for her at the moment:her hubby Abhishek Bachchan is on cloud nine following the success of his latest release Bol Bachchan, and rumour has it that Ash herself is ready to make a comeback to the big screen.

Ash, who was last seen in the 2010 f¿lm Guzaarish, has been on sabbatical since she got pregnant. With Beti B now eight months old, Ash is ready to work her charm on screen once again, supposedly in Hollywood this time.

Let's hope she does a better job of pulling crowds in cinemas than she's been doing at that shop front in the Grand Bazaar.