From her Bollywood debut in 1997 right up to her 2010 performance in Guzaarish, Aishwarya Rai stole many a heart. Today, she's being lambasted for breaking them all.
Plump Aishwarya Rai both a comfort and a heartbreaker
There was a time when - clad in a floor-sweeping white dress - she danced in the rain, while Romeo looked longingly upon her from the sidelines. With every lithe move of her lissom limbs, a million more Romeos were born on the other side of the screen.
Seriously, watch Taal se taal mila on the internet and see the gorgeousness that is Aishwarya Rai, in the 1999 release Taal. Correction: the gorgeousness that was Aishwarya Rai.
From her Bollywood debut in 1997 with Aur Pyaar Ho Gya right up to her 2010 release Guzaarish, Ash stole so many hearts. Today, she's being lambasted for breaking them all.
Six months ago, she delivered a baby girl, and while we've seen superstar mums bounce back to their pre-pregnancy selves in as many weeks, Ash flaunts her flab.
An informal straw poll I conducted among my friends yielded mixed results. OK, to be honest, most didn't care. But those who did, asserted their opinions vehemently. Quite a few expressed immense disappointment in Ash for breaking the hallowed pledge all stars make with their fans to adhere to fantastical levels of attractiveness regardless of circumstance.
"I never thought I would live to see this day," lamented one friend. An ardent Ash admirer, he mourned as he looked at a recent picture of her taken at the Dubai World Cup. Pleasantly plump post-natal, Ash even sported a double chin.
Another group (mostly women, and especially new mothers) lauded her for parading her post-pregnancy pounds and showing women all around the world that it's OK to carry that extra one or 30. A friend who recently had a baby admitted to diligently Googling "Aishwarya Rai weight" every couple of days just to make sure she hasn't started shedding the extra weight.
"It's so comforting to see her like that," she confides. "I mean, if Aishwarya Rai can be overweight six months post-pregnancy, then so can I!"
After all the causes Ash has supported over the years (she is a UN spokesperson for Microcredit, supports Peta India, has pledged to donate her eyes to the Eye Bank Association of India, and has created the Aishwarya Rai Foundation to help needy people in India), who would have thought that the one that will shake up urban desi women is her nonchalance about her current weight? Weight is, after all, the most public and therefore most thoroughly dissected and discussed aspect of pregnancy. Why is mummy-to-be so thin? Is she eating enough? Is she eating too much, seeing as she's so fat? OK, baby's out, so why does she look like it's still inside? Surely it can't be healthy for her to lose so much weight so quickly after delivering? Endless questions, few answers and plenty of judgements.
I've spoken to mothers and I've been told that the constant pressure about the aesthetics of pregnancy can be tiring. We might be sympathetic towards mothers we know personally, but we're brutal when it comes to the faces (and accompanying bodies) we're used to seeing only in magazines or on the telly.
Is Ash trying to make a statement by not making a statement? I say bravo to her for not giving a toss, and focusing instead on baby Aaradhya. Good mums, they say, have sticky floors and happy kids. I'm tempted to add "double chin" to that list, too.