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"Star of the week: Aishwarya Rai"

By Subhash K. Jha, Indo-Asian News Service

Mumbai, Jan 5 (IANS) Aishwarya Rai says she has gone through enough in life to feel the part of the self-deluding, frustrated and defeated housewife she plays in Rituparno Ghosh's elegiac "Raincoat".

She's done it! After a string of no-no's, Aishwarya has delivered a walloping performance in the film.

In the right hands Aishwarya is always up to challenges. I've seen the performances Mani Ratnam, Rajiv Menon, Rituparno Ghosh and Sanjay Leela Bhansali have got out of her in the past.

Yup, given a chance she could have a histrionic blast. The only problem is the beauty. So overpowering is her image as the country's number one brand ambassadress that we tend to discount, if not entirely dismiss, her bravura attempts to get into character.

In "Raincoat", Aishwarya, in some ways, goes beyond what she did in Ghosh's "Chokher Bali". It isn't because here she's required to be contemporary and rustic. Nor do I think it's because in "Raincoat" she was able to dub her lines in a language she understood.

It's more to do with her hunger to prove herself. All Ash has heard in the last one year is that she's a plastic non-performer.

Now as she sits over a volcano of praise she can afford to smile. "This whole beauty thing is so redundant. It's the people around me who have a problem with my looks. It's they who allow it to come in the way of assessing my performances. I never thought about how to consciously diminish my looks while playing Niroo in 'Raincoat'. Sure, she's washed-out and faded. But when I decided to put dark circles around my eyes Ajay told me to take it easy. 'No one does all this,' he warned me. But I was just being in character."

In fact, being in character was a constant issue on the sets of "Raincoat". Ghosh not only padded Aishwarya Rai to indicate a life gone to flab, he also made her wear homespun underclothes to 'feel' the part.

The actress blushes at her brush with method acting. "That's true. Ritu and I went all out and all in," she giggles her characteristic giggle, and then sobers down.

"I felt a deep sense of empathy for my character in 'Raincoat'. She isn't really poor. She can still afford silk saris and gold jewellery. But, god, what a frighteningly wretched life!"

What about those who say she cannot feel her character's abject misery. "Why?" she shoots back. "Because I haven't known hunger and financial insecurity? Because I haven't been married to an insensitive man? Believe me, I've gone through enough in life to feel what Niroo has gone through."

A look of haunted pensiveness passes through her immaculate face. "People said I giggled too much. What was I supposed to do? Cry and show my bleeding heart in public? To hide what I was going through I had to laugh my way through the crisis."

Fortunately 'the crisis' has blown over.

Now the time has come for Aishwarya to let the world know she's no Barbie doll. Sure her performances during the earlier part of the year were hooted. But after 'Raincoat", no one can accuse her of not trying.

There's an acute shortage confronting her life though, that of leading men who click with her. The last year proved she can't jell with Vivek Oberoi or Martin Henderson on screen. She worked far better with Ajay Devgan at the beginning and end of the year in "Khakee" and "Raincoat".

"But how many films can Ajay and I do together? I know we vibe really well and we've done some high-quality work together in 'Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam' and now 'Raincoat'. But I don't want the audience to tire of us."

None of the Khans is willing to work with her. Salman is out of question. Shah Rukh has fallen out with her. As for Aamir, he won't forgive her for walking out of "The Rising". In fact, recently when they came face to face at a social do, Aamir looked straight through her.

"Where did you hear that?" she neither confirms nor denies the rumour. But the hurt shows.

She sighs, "It's true, there's a scarcity of leading men. Whom do I work with? There's Sanjay Dutt and Ajay... I'm very happy working with them. But who else"

Indo-Asian News Service

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