On November 1st, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan turns 39 and more power to her. Aishwarya remains a captivating figure. Over her long (for a heroine) career, the former Miss World has transformed from a stiff beauty queen to an engaging on-screen presence and competent actress. She is beautiful, intelligent, and dignified - never stooping to the games of the level of the “he said-she said” media and somehow managing to resist the urge to tweet her every brain fart.*
There are other actresses who are more talented, more beautiful, and more well connected (at least in her pre-Bachchan days) but Aishwarya is more tenacious. In a profession where women are all but pushed into taking a golden parachute and becoming pampered “star wives” before they hit 30, Aishwarya not only resisted marriage and children until well past her assumed sell-by date but she continued to work!** And Aishwarya isn’t Nirupa Roy playing filmi mother to men her age - her roles after marriage have been as either complex, desirable adult women or as fantasy counterparts to the heroes she's working with. After all, if audiences can suspend disbelief to watch a hero like Rajnikanth as a "young man," why can't they do the same for a heroine?
But it’s the adult woman point that’s key to the appeal of Aishwarya today. In an industry packed full of girls and grown women contorting themselves into girlish poses, it’s refreshing to see a woman who has unapologetically become mature. When Aishwarya appeared at Cannes earlier this year after giving birth to a baby girl, all the media could see was the baby weight - those of us outside the media bubble admired the happy glow of a new mother.
The beauty of a mature woman is not appreciated enough in Bollywood, slave as it is to the fragile egos of the macho producers and heroes who cycle through an endless supply of new, insecure, and unsubstantial girls. Hopefully the re-entrance of Sridevi, Madhuri, and Karishma (along with the continued success of Vidya Balan) is signaling a loosening of the stranglehold that the “girlish” ideal has on the industry these days but either way it will have little effect on Aishwarya, who will continue to make the kinds of films she wants to make as long as she wants to make them. If and when Aishwarya does transition to “mother” roles, especially if Action Replayy is anything to judge by, I have a feeling she’ll be exactly like scene-stealing Dimple Kapadia in Luck By Chance, a woman who at 50 had about 50 times more oomph than the young slip of thing player her daughter.
In short, HAPPY BIRTHDAY AISH!! And I hope we see you modeling and acting for at least another 39 years. The photos are from a recent promotional event for Longines.
* Tactics that must surely have been studied by another hard working Bollywood beauty - Katrina Kaif.
* Something that must surely have been noted by another newlywed Bollywood beauty - Kareena Kapoor.