Aishwarya Rai Bachchan (born Aishwarya Rai, and sometimes known simply as Ash or Aish, Tulu: ಐಶ್ವರ್ಯಾ ರೈ; 1 November 1973) is an Indian actress and former Miss World. Before starting her acting career, she worked as a model and gained fame after winning the Miss World title in 1994.
Often cited by the media as the most beautiful woman in the world, Rai made her movie debut in Mani Ratnam's Tamil film Iruvar (1997) and had her first commercial success in the Tamil movie Jeans (1998). She came to the attention of Bollywood in the movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999), directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali. Her performance in the film won her the Filmfare Best Actress Award. In 2002 she appeared in Bhansali's next project, Devdas (2002), for which she won her second Best Actress Award at the Filmfare.
After a low phase in her career during 2003-2005, she appeared in the blockbuster Dhoom 2 (2006), which turned out to be her biggest Bollywood commercial success. She later appeared in films like Guru (2007) and Jodhaa Akbar (2008), which were commercially successful and got her critical acclaim. Rai has thus established herself as one of the leading contemporary actresses in the Indian film industry.
During her career, Rai has acted in over forty movies in Hindi, English, Tamil and Bengali including the international productions Bride & Prejudice (2003), The Mistress of Spices (2005), The Last Legion (2007) and The Pink Panther 2 (2009) in English.
While pursuing her studies in architecture, Rai began modelling on the side. In the 1994 Miss India contest, she won the second place behind Sushmita Sen, and was crowned Miss India World. She went on to win the Miss World title the same year, where she also won the Miss Photogenic award. She abandoned her academic education after winning the pageant and spent one year reigning as Miss World in London. Rai then started working as a professional model and then moved on to her current profession as an actress.
Early career (1997-1998)
Rai made her acting debut in Mani Ratnam's Tamil biopic film, Iruvar (1997) with Mohanlal, The controversial film was a critical success and won many awards including Best Film award at the Belgrade International Film Festival, two National Film Awards, and two Filmfare Awards South. Rai appeared in dual roles, opposite veteran actor Mohanlal, with one of her roles being a cinematic depiction of political leader and ex-actress J. Jayalalithaa. Rai made her Bollywood debut in the film, Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya opposite Bobby Deol, which also released that year; the film did not do well at the box office, and was also panned by critics. However, her third project, S. Shankar's Tamil film, Jeans (1998) was a commercial success. The film was also noted for the song "Poovukkul", written by Vairamuthu, and some reviews of the music video compared her to prominent world monuments.
In 1999 Rai starred in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam opposite Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan. The film was centered around Rai's character, Nandini, who is forced to marry Devgan's character despite being in love with another man (Khan), and as her husband tries to get her to her previous love, she eventually falls for him. Rai's portrayal won her critical acclaim, with a review on Rediff.com writing, "Aishwarya looks beautiful as usual... This film will most likely draw her accolades from all over, maybe even get her recognised as an actress the way Manisha Koirala did in Khamoshi. In many scenes, there is no trace of makeup and she looks very fresh". The film also became her first box office success in Bollywood and earned her first Filmfare Best Actress Award for her.
In 2000, she appeared in Mansoor Khan's Josh alongside Shahrukh Khan and Chandrachur Singh, in which she played a Catholic girl named Shirley who falls in love with the sibling of her Brother's enemy. The film was a commercial success. Later that year she appeared in Satish Kaushik's Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai opposite Anil Kapoor. It was a moderate success and her performance earned her a Filmfare Best Actress Award nomination. Later that year she played a supporting role in Aditya Chopra's Mohabbatein alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Shahrukh Khan. The film was a major commercial success and became the second-highest grosser of the year, and it earned her a Filmfare Best Supporting Actress Award nomination. Later that year, she starred in the Tamil film Kandukondain Kandukondain, alongside Mammooty, Ajith Kumar and Tabu.
In 2002, Rai appeared alongside Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, an adaptation of Sharat Chandra Chattopadhyay's famous novel by the same name. She played the role of Paro (Parvati), the love interest of the protagonist, played by Khan. The film received a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival. It became the highest-grossing film of the year in both India and overseas, earning a revenue of Rs 390 million domestically. Devdas won numerous awards, including 10 Filmfare Awards, and Rai received her second Filmfare Best Actress Award for her performance. In 2003, she acted in Rituparno Ghosh's Bengali film Chokher Bali, an adaptation of Rabindranath Tagore's novel by the same name. She portrayed the character of a young woman called Binodini, who is left to her own devices when her sickly husband dies soon after they are married. That year she also appeared in her home production Dil Ka Rishta alongside Arjun Rampal and Rohan Sippy's Kuch Na Kaho alongside Abhishek Bachchan, none of which succeeded.
In 2004 she appeared in Gurinder Chadha's Bollywood-style English adaptation of Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen, Bride and Prejudice alongside Martin Henderson. In the film she portrayed the role of Lalita Bakshi, the film's counterpart of Elizabeth Bennet in Austen's novel. This was followed by Rajkumar Santoshi's Khakee alongside Amitabh Bachchan, Akshay Kumar, Ajay Devgan and Jayapradha, in the film she played a negative role for the first time in her career. In the same year she appeared in in her second film with Rituparno Ghosh, Raincoat alongside Ajay Devgan. The film was highly acclaimed by the critics, whereas Rai received rave reviews for her performance.
In 2005 she appeared in Shabd a film based on a love triangle alongside Sanjay Dutt and Zayed Khan. The film was a box office flop wheraeas it received average reviews from the critics. Her next release that year was Paul Mayeda Berges's The Mistress of Spices based upon the novel The Mistress of Spices by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni in which she starred alongside Dylan McDermott. The film received negative review by critics and was also a commercial failure. The same year she made a special appearance in Shaad Ali's Bunty Aur Babli in a hugely popular seven-minute dance sequence for the song "Kajra Re", alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Abhishek Bachchan.
Recent work (2006-present)
In the year 2006, Rai starred in J P Dutta's Umrao Jaan, a second film adaptation of the Urdu novel Umrao Jaan Ada (1905), written by Mirza Hadi Ruswa. She portrayed courtesan and poetess by the same name from 19th century Lucknow. The film was a critical and commercial failure, though Rai's work was generally well received. Critic Taran Adarsh wrote, "Aishwarya Rai looks ethereal. She has looked heavenly and performed so convincingly. She emotes through her expressive eyes and the consistency in her performance is evident from start to end"
Later that year she appeared as a master thief, Sunheri, in Yash Raj Films's Dhoom 2 directed by Sanjay Gadhvi, with an ensemble cast of Hrithik Roshan, Abhishek Bachchan, Bipasha Basu and Uday Chopra. The film turned out to be a blockbuster and became the highest grossing film of the year in India, earning revenues of over Rs 770 million domestically. The film also sparked a controversy for a scene containing a kiss between her and Hrithik Roshan. However, Rai's performance in the film received mostly negative reviews with a reviewer on Rediff.com writing, "Ash's character too is all gloss and no depth. You seldom feel any tension in her behaviour and expressions as she accompanies the master thief on potentially dangerous missions. Sunehri enters the film nearly 50 minutes after its opening in a disguise. In no time, she is wearing the flimsiest of clothes. Once she opens her mouth -- and she does it two minutes after appearing in the film -- she spoils the image. There is no sensuality anymore, and half an hour later, one wonders what made the master thief fall for her." Nonetheless, her performance earned her a sixth nomination for Filmfare Best Actress Award.
In 2007 she appeared in Mani Ratnam's Guru as Sujata. Speculated to be based on the life of Indian businessman Dhirubhai Ambani, it was a rag to riches story about an ambitious small town man who ends up as the owner of the biggest corporation in India. The film was premi�red at the Elgin Theatre in Toronto, Canada, making it the first Indian film to have a mainstream international premiere in Canada. The film was critically acclaimed and performed well at the box office. Critical reception for Rai was mixed. While Nikhat Kazmi from The Times of India wrote that she is "just okay and fails to register the growth in her character", Rediff.com's Raja Sen described it as "arguably her finest performance, visible especially when she takes over the film's climax."
Rai got her seventh Filmfare nomination for Best Actress for the role. In the same year she starred in Jag Mundhra's British film Provoked as Kiranjit Ahluwalia (an NRI woman who killed her abusive husband after facing severe domestic violence) alongside Naveen Andrews. The film was panned by critics and was also a commercial failure, though Rai received positive reviews from critics. In the same year she appeared as a female Indian warrior from Kerala named Mira in Doug Lefler's epic film The Last Legion alongside Sir Ben Kingsley, Colin Firth and Thomas Sangster. The film was a critical failure.
In 2008, she starred alongside Hrithik Roshan in Ashutosh Gowariker's historical drama Jodhaa Akbar, a partly fictionalised account of the life of Muslim Mughal emperor Jalaluddin Muhammad Akbar, played by Roshan and his Hindu wife Jodha Bai, played by Rai. The film was a critical and commercial success, earning revenues of over Rs 590 million domestically. Rai's performance in the film was praised by critics, with Rajeev Masand writing, "Aishwarya Rai is wonderfully restrained and uses her eyes expertly to communicate so much, making this one of her finest outings on screen". She earned her eighth nomination for Best Actress at the Filmfare for her performance. Later that year she co-starred with husband Abhishek Bachchan and father-in-law Amitabh Bachchan in Ram Gopal Verma's Sarkar Raj, a sequel to his previous film Sarkar. She played the CEO of a major power company proposing to establish a new power plant in rural Maharashtra.
In 2009 she appeared in Harald Zwart's spy comedy film The Pink Panther 2 playing the role of criminology expert, Sonia Solandres. Like its predecessor, the sequel received negative reviews from critics and did a moderate business of $75,871,032 worldwide. As of August 2009, she is slated to appear with Rajinikanth in the Tamil movie Endhiran, directed by S. Shankar, with Vikram in Mani Ratnam's next film, Ashokavanam which is also to be simultaneously made in Hindi, titled Raavan, with Abhishek Bachchan in the lead. She will also appear in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Guzaarish opposite Hrithik Roshan, Vipul Shah's Action Replay opposite Akshay Kumar, Abhinay Deo's next film produced by Farhan Akhtar and Vishal Bharadwaj's next directorial venture.
In 2009 Rai was awarded the Padma Shri for her contributions to Indian cinema. In the same year she refused to accept the second-highest Order Of France, Ordre des Arts et des Lettres as her father was suffering from serious illness, and she wanted her whole family to attend the award function. She is only the fourth Indian actor after Amitabh Bachchan, Nandita Das and Shahrukh Khan to be chosen for an Order Of France. In June 2009, she was declared the Female Star of The Decade at the tenth International Indian Film Academy Awards held in Macau.
In 1999 Aishwarya began dating Bollywood actor Salman Khan; their relationship was often reported in the media until the couple separated in 2001. Rai cited "abuse (verbal, physical and emotional), infidelity and indignity" on part of Khan as a reason for ending their relation, though Khan has denied this. She was later linked to actor Vivek Oberoi but the relationship was never confirmed by her.
Rai is married to actor Abhishek Bachchan. After much speculation concerning their relationship, their engagement was announced on January 14, 2007. The announcement was later confirmed by his father Amitabh Bachchan. The couple got married on April 20, 2007 according to traditional Hindu rites of the South Indian Bunt community, to which she belongs. Token North Indian and Bengali ceremonies were also performed. The wedding took place in a private ceremony at the Bachchan residence Prateeksha in Juhu, Mumbai. Though the wedding was a private affair intended for the Bachchan and Rai families and friends, the involvement of the media turned it into a national extravaganza. They have been cited as a supercouple in the Indian media. Rai has been very close to her family and used to live with them in Bandra, Mumbai until her marriage.
Rai has been the most popular face of Indian cinema globally. In 2004 she was chosen by Time magazine as one of the World's "100 Most Influential People", and appeared on the cover of Time magazine, Asia Edition in 2003. In October 2004 a wax figure of Rai was put on display in London's Madame Tussaud's wax museum. She was the 6th Indian and the second Bollywood personality after her father-in-law Amitabh Bachchan to get this honour.
She was the subject of a 60 Minutes profile on 2 January 2005, which said that "at least according to thousands of Web sites, Internet polls and even Julia Roberts", she was "The World's Most Beautiful Woman". In that same year she became a global brand ambassador of L'Oreal alongside Andie Macdowell, Eva Longoria and Penelope Cruz. The same year, a special Tulip in the Netherlands was named "Aishwarya Rai" after her. Rai became the first Indian to appear on such shows as Late Show with David Letterman, and was the first Bollywood personality to appear on Oprah's "Women Across the Globe" segment. In 2005, Harpers and Queen's list of 10 Most beautiful women in the world ranked her at the 9th spot. In 2009 she made an appearance on Martha Stewart's show Martha. The same year she also appeared on The Tyra Banks Show hosted by Tyra Banks.