Tuesday, May 31, 2011


For previous installments, please visit the index

You’ve met today’s biggest Heroes but what about the heroines? This week I’m going to run through the ladies I consider the big names today - with an emphasis on currency. As I explained in my piece on
heroines, leading ladies flit through the film industry much more quickly than the men. This is due to a variety of reasons including, but not limited to:

1. Marriage has traditionally ended the careers of actresses and most women still marry fairly young.
2. Both producers and Heroes prefer working with younger actresses.
3. Heroine roles are often that of a wide-eyed innocent and a lady can only play (convincingly) virginal for so long.

It’s a harsh world out there for actresses.


I had a difficult time trying to find an entry point into this piece on Aishwarya Rai. At the ripe old age of 37, Aishwarya Rai is the grand doyenne of heroines. She comes from a fairly normal middle-class South Indian background and was planning on studying architecture before she found success in modeling, eventually going on to win the Miss World title in 1994. But Aishwarya is not just any actress - she’s a heroine, larger than life and her rise has come to represent the new global, glamorous face of Bollywood in all its nipped, tucked, bleached, and glossy glory.

Aishwarya Rai is known as the Ice Queen, beautiful but untouchable. Since her debut, Aishwarya has acted as a mirror, reflecting the neuroses of those who would try to analyze her. She has had only a handful of real popular hits in Bollywood, yet her image is splashed all over magazines and advertisements. And that image is all we have because despite the high-pressure 24-7 media and soundbite environment, she remains an enigma, giving nothing personal away. The magic of Aishwarya is in her staying power. If she was just a pretty face, she would have long disappeared but she’s still working and turning in some of the most impressive performances of her career at 37, a remarkable feat in an industry where even 29 is considered too old for leading roles.

After a promising start in South Indian films, Aishwarya burst onto the Bollywood scene with
Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in 1999. Her performance as a young woman who must decide between childish fantasy and adult romance was solid but her dancing (check out “Nimbooda Nimbooda”) and her chemistry with then-boyfriend Salman Khan* were divine and she caught the attention of Bollywood audiences and she won the Filmfare Award for Best Actress for the role.

Since that auspicious and prestigious beginning, Aishwarya has mostly chosen to work in artsy and offbeat films - with one very notable exceptions. A quick look through her filmography reveals a thoughtful actress who is always seeking to challenge herself - whether it is with English-language fare aimed at an international market, such as Gurinder Chadha’s
Bride and Prejudice, or a nuanced and scene-stealing role as a nurse to a paraplegic patient in Sanjay Leela Bansali’s Guzaarish. Whatever one might think of the quality of some of her projects, I think it’s admirable that, for the most part, Aishwarya has avoided roles that capitalize more on an actresses ability to wear a bikini than any sort of talent.

I mentioned a notable exception to her policy of choosing offbeat and prestigious projects - that would be 2006’s
Dhoom 2, a full-on mainstream masala film. In Dhoom 2** Aishwarya plays a petty criminal who is blackmailed into feeding the police information on super thief Mr. A, played by Hrithik Roshan. Before the film opened, the supremely catty Bollywood press made a big deal over her look in the film - fairly skimpy clothes on an actress who is more often seen in long, traditional Indian dresses - and that the director told her to lose weight before shooting. After the film opened, all the nitpicking was forgotten in the wake of Hrithik and Aishwarya’s remarkable chemistry. This is the chemistry that legends are made of - literally, since Dhoom 2 led directly into the stunning Jodhaa-Akbar, where Aishwarya and Hrithik played legendary Queen Jodhaa and King Akbar (respectively).

Besides Hrithik Roshan, the other notable film
jodi (or pairing) that I need to mention is with Abhishek Bachchan.*** Aishwarya married Abhishek, the son of a very prestigious and very traditional film family (which I will discuss later) in 2007. Since film is such a family affair in Bollywood, it is very understandable that filmmakers want to pair up Abhishek and Aishwarya - for the publicity and for the benefit of the married couple, who would probably enjoy spending time together. Unfortunately for viewers, these attempts have mostly ended up being pretty terrible but that doesn’t stop filmmakers from continuing to throw her name out there as a co-star for all of her husband’s films.

Where to begin with Aishwarya is a tricky question. To focus only on Aishwarya’s Bollywood films would be doing her an injustice, since some of Aishwarya’s best work has been in Tamil language films. However, a nod should be given to her English-language work... while not leaving out the popcorn Bollywood films!

My choices for
beginning Bollywood viewers:

Bride and Prejudice (2004) - Technically, this isn’t a Bollywood film and, technically, I don’t care because it’s a gentle introduction to the style for those who are afraid of dipping a toe into the technicolor world of masala film making. Aishwarya Rai stars as the “Lizzie Bennett” of this Pride and Prejudice adaptation (and Lost fans can catch Naveen Andrews pre-Sayeed as the affable “Mr. Bingley.”) Long time Bollywood fans will find it limp but I know more than one newbie who has come away from the film charmed and delighted.

Raavanan (2010) - Now, Aishwarya Rai starred in both versions of Mani Ratnam’s misty fairytale but make sure you watch only the TAMIL LANGUAGE version of this film. (I’m serious! Double check on Netflix before you click “add to queue.”) Aishwarya puts in brilliant performance as a woman who finds herself turned into a pawn of fate by two powerful men. The film strongly evokes Indian cultural touchstone the classic Ramayana, making it a real treat for beginning viewers of popular Indian cinema.

Dhoom 2 (2006) - I saw this film twice in the theater and more times than I can count at home. The film is a ridiculous fun heist flick with absolutely no redeeming social messages of any kind. Aishwarya turns up her charm to (approximately) 1000 and you understand why Hrithik Roshan’s top thief Mr. A is willing to let her into his inner circle... and heart!

* And theirs was a temultuous relationship. While Aishwarya has always remained decorously silent on the affair, other sources claim that he had a violent temper and didn’t take their break-up very well. Her next boyfriend, actor Vivek Oberoi, held a press conference detailing all of his complaints about Salman’s behavior and for airing Sallu’s dirty laundry in public, Vivek’s career tanked. It has yet to recover.

** Don’t worry! You don’t need to see the first
Dhoom - I still haven’t.

*** In his first appearance in this series!


maxqnz said...

I though Mr & Mrs Bachchan had great long before getting married in Kuch Na Kaho. I'm also to this day better able to breathe in the vacuum of space than to understand how anyone can like either B&P or Dhoom2

eliza bennet said...

Yeah they were paired before they even started dating.

I'm not sure whether B&P is the right film to introduce Aishwarya since it is not a good film and also her co star (Martin Henderson) is so wishy washy next to her.

I'd like to suggest Kandekoundain Kandekoundain as Aishwarya Southern Indian Jane Austen adaptation. She is a much better Marianne than Elizabeth and that film is something I'd recommend anyone regardless of whether they are into Indian film or not.

Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is a full on Bollywood experience (including faking the location) and a very good story with amazing visuals that do Aishwarya's legendary beauty justice. And despite their sad background, Salman is as good an on screen match for her as Hrithik. And the new beginner can see two heroes sharing the screen with her.

Filmi Girl said...

Re: Bride and Prejudice

I'm not saying that it's a film that I enjoy watching on a regular basis but I do think that it's a really good film for people who have not seen any Bollywood before and who may be scared to see something in a different language or with subtitles.

Now, I love KK but the big problem with that one for newbies is, to be perfectly frank, that the heroes are not... "Western" attractive and I know many people who found/find it distracting.

With B&P, it's an easy introduction to the tropes of Indian film that uses enough Western touchstones that beginners aren't completely at sea.

We may find it tedious but I know for a fact that quite a few beginners really enjoyed it as one of their first films.

(And HDDCS is, of course, fantastic but I already recc'ed it back in Salman's post. :)))

Danny Bowes said...

I'll always love Aishwarya for the time she went on Letterman to promote B&P to US audiences and he was being paternalistic, condescending, and "India is a foreign planet" and Ash just coolly, elegantly put him in his place. I don't think I'd seen her in anything yet, but that was a hell of a first impression.

Dhoom 2 is ridiculously awesome, even though Junior B can't dance at all; fortunately it doesn't matter.

DreamerSkies said...

A wonderful read! I Particularly enjoyed the section on the Aishwarya and Hrithik Chemistry! They set my screen on fire! Of course I can only admire someone as beautiful and talented as Aishwarya, she really is one-of-a-kind !

Bombay Talkies said...

B&P is one of the worst films I've ever seen, hands down. I made the mistake of showing it to some college roommates who wanted to see an "Indian" film and now it's an inside joke between all of us that I was trying to turn them off the genre altogether.

My 2 cents: you can't go wrong with Devdas. KK was also fantastic. Dhoom 2 was insufferable (her character at least).

Aly said...

She's great. But I probably would have chosen different films. Like added Kandukondain Kandokondain instead of D2.

Filmi Girl said...

@Danny Agreed on all counts!

@DreamerSkies Thank you so much! I really appreciate it. :)

@Bombay Talkies Oh, wow! I had no idea how much anger there was against B&P. I suppose it all comes down to the audience, which is why I try to pick recommendations of all different types. The people I know who enjoyed B&P were women who enjoy Hollywood romantic-comedies - I would not suggest that people who hate Hollywood rom-coms watch B&P.

But it's really not that terrible a film! It's very middle-of-the-road but I think that's an advantage in gaining the interest of the casual movie goer.

Filmi Girl said...

@aly I really like (love, even) KK but, as I said before, I think maybe viewers should watch a few more Indian films before trying it. I remember being pretty confused the first time I saw it, ages ago. D2 is accessible to almost anyone. :)

Bombay Talkies said...

I think the biggest problem with B&P (besides the stilted acting from the leads) was that most of the songs were in English. They're corny as hell and I always skip past them because...well...they're really bad.

For what it's worth the friends I've shown KK to always end up thinking Ajith is super adorable by the end. ;)

Bombay Talkies said...

And I'm not gonna lie, I don't think anyone needs a "gentle introduction" to Indian films. I dove right in with Devdas and never felt like I needed a gateway movie like B&P to help me understand what was going on.

Bollywood isn't a mystery. You watch a film or two and you'll get it just fine. I'd never heard of Bollywood before I watched Devdas and KHNH and I don't think my viewing experience was any lesser for it.

Filmi Girl said...

@bombaytalkies And just based on people I've tried to get to watch Indian films, I really think some people do need a "gentle introduction." I definitely know people who refuse to watch things with subtitles or who don't like anything "different." Some Westerners find film music to be very foreign and weird - people like that really enjoy B&P because of the English lyrics and the Western-style music.

One of the reasons I'm doing this series is to reach out to people like that who might be googling around looking for some guidance. Not everybody is the same. I remember being mesmerized by Lagaan when I saw it the theater - my companion fell asleep during the cricket match.

A Bollywood-loving friend of mine has tried to get me to watch DDLJ so many times but I always get bored at some point in Switzerland.

I showed a non-Bollywood watching friend Disco Dancer and he loved it - some Bollywood fans find it too tacky.

And re: Ajith, it took me a long time to begin to find him cute and I know I'm not the only one who used to think that SI heroines are always much more attractive than heroes based on watching KK. SI heroes are an acquired taste in my experience. :)

I'm not saying that everybody now has to run out and watch B&P but I don't think we, as Bollywood fans, can discount it completely as an introduction to some Indian film tropes.

redsarah said...

Sorry but B&P led me to Bollywood. Of course, now I find it tame but I understand I'm not alone as, from their blogs, a significant no. of female western Bollywood fans had this as their first step towards the genre.

We could argue all day over the best intro to Bollywood as you've got to choose it to suit the audience. So 21 year old nephew got 3 Idiots & adored it while female cousin got Jodhaa-Akbar (& adored Hrithik). And we do need to remember that not everyone is prepared for full-on marsala, first time out.

Bombay Talkies said...

I'm with you on DDLJ--I can't get more than ten minutes into it. Same with HDDCS--but then again I tend to find masala/standard films fairly boring. Great music, attractive couples, horrible scripts.

I know everyone's different. It's just been my experience that a lot of people (that I know anyways) can take a film at face value. I tend to think that treating a form of film as something academic that has to be understood before it can be enjoyed takes away from the ability to enjoy it at all.

I've introduced countless friends to Bollywood and it's generally as simple as "hey, I'm gonna watch this film, care to watch with me?"
I don't explain things, I don't worry about whether the film we're watching might be considered 'throwing someone into the deep end,' I just hit play and if they like it they like it.

Everyone's mileage will vary, of course. Most of the people I've shown Indian films to are film geeks to begin with, and they're willing to give something a try even if it's not quite their thing.

You're far more accepting than I am though if you're willing to take the time to try and win over people who refuse to see films with subtitles. I can't handle people like that at all.

(Off topic (but not) but could that Verve cover of Aishwarya be any more beautiful?)

Filmi Girl said...

@redsarah Exactly! You hit the nail on the head. :)

@Bombay Talkies Hee! See, I have little patience for film snobs. I think one of the biggest reasons that people fear subtitled films is that the overwhelming experience of subtitled films in the USA is pretentious and depressing art house flicks. It's not the reading people are turned off by, but the fear of finding oneself in a boring and incomprehensible film.

I think "liking" things depends a lot on understanding them. If somebody doesn't understand why (for example) two characters are suddenly in Switzerland to sing a song, then the drama will make no sense and the viewer will be frustrated.

Aly said...

Bride and Prejudice is the perfect introduction to BW because imo, BW films are an acquired taste.
If B&P is one of the worse films one has ever seen then you haven't seen a lot of films. It's a harmless fun film.

Showing friends of mine who have never watched a BW film a mainstream BW film and expect them to appreciate it I don't think they would. They are not use to the melodrama, etc.

I know so many people who discovered BW thru B&P. So many. I know many Jane Austen fans who thru B&P found Kandukondain which is a better film than the former.

So one thing leads to another.

Bombay Talkies said...

"If B&P is one of the worse films one has ever seen then you haven't seen a lot of films."

That may be your belief but it couldn't be further from the truth. I'd wager that I've seen as many if not more films than quite a lot of people (my BW collection alone is over 1000 films) and I find very little value in B&P. I bought it because I like Naveen Andrews, and that's the only reason I still occasionally pop it in. You have to admit it's a hoot watching him dance. ;)

I enjoy a romcom as much as the next person, I just thought B&P was a poorly made film is all. If I had to ease someone into Bollywood there are lots of other films I'd use--Monsoon Wedding for one, because it has a beautiful plot, great music, wonderful acting, and is an introduction to a facet of Indian language and culture that you don't get in B&P.

Anyways, agree to disagree. We all value films for different reasons.

Ness said...

I think BombayTalkies has pretty much covered my entire point of view and saved me some typing :) Totally agree with her 100% - I don't think anyone needs 'easing' into a style of film. I've never been eased, or eased myself into any genre/national output/whatever, I don't think it's that hard to get. Everyone has different tastes. You might like B&P, you might hate it (because it's a terrible film) but either way, I don't personally think it's because of any cultural differences or the subtitles.

Also: like Maxqnz says = Aish and Abhi's film relationship waaaay predates their marriage - part of the marketing buzz around Guru was the announcement of their engagement IIRC. And they were ADORABLE together in Kuch Naa Kaho, which is maybe my second favourite BW film EVER.

Oh and, just as a cute fact because I am obsessed with Bobby Deol: Aish's Hindi film debut was in ...Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya opposite Bobby - which kinda seems like a strange pairing now.

Filmi Girl said...

@bombay talkies But had you seen a lot of Indian films when you had seen B&P? I'm not arguing that it's a good film but I really think, based on a lot of anecdotal evidence, that it's a good film for some beginning viewers, which is why I recommended it. :)

@Ness I understand your point of view and maybe this is an American thing but I do know people who won't watch subtitled films or who don't like foreign films because "they're all depressing." People like that aren't going to go out on their own and rent Magadheera but they might go and see something like B&P. Is it a good film? No, of course not but it does serve an audience. Granted, that audience does not include you or Bombay Talkies.

The goal of this series is to reach out to those people and say, "Hey! Bollywood isn't all confusing and weird - you might like it."

Those of us who love and found crazy masala films on our own are usually people who like other oddball cultural products - I had a healthy appreciation for campy 60s beach films and Taiwanese television serials - but we're not the norm.

I want to re-emphasize that I'm not saying that Bollywood fans should drop everything to watch B&P but BEGINNING VIEWERS wary of trying something new may find it a fun watch.

dagnyfan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lvrplfc4l said...

FilmiGirl I've used B&P to get people interested in watching Indian films, it's light enough they don't have to follow a complicated story and the subtitles are minimal. Oddly enough the two friends who have become big fans the next movie I gave them was KK and they both liked it so much they now own the DVD.
The subtitle problem may be as simple as people can't read and watch at the same time, they lose the visual or the subtitle and get confused about what is happening. I get this complaint all the time when I try to get friends to see a foreign film.

dagnyfan said...

I really enjoyed B & P and hated Monsoon Wedding! While I could appreciate the acting quality of the latter, I'm so tired of naturalistic themes. My God, must we always have a girl who was molested by a relative?

I loved how light-hearted B & P was. As some of you mentioned, we are all different: some won't need to be eased in, others will. I was one of those people who needed to ease into Bollywood, and I agree with Filmigirl that B & P is a good middle-of-the-road, Bollywood-esqe film that can convince some to explore the genre more.

Bombay Talkies said...

Last thoughts and then I guess I'm done.

Bollywood isn't a tv series. If you're trying to get someone into a tv show you might carefully pick an episode they might like to ease them into the rest of the series. But every film is different. Watching one film (in this instance B&P) doesn't really prepare anyone for watching any other film. A film is a film is a film. I think it's condescending to assume that there's something so special and difficult about Bollywood that a person needs to have their hand held while encountering it.

Anyone who's seen a Disney movie is, I think, perfectly well prepared to understand what's going on in a masala film. There's no difference between Bollywood stars frolicking in the Swiss Alps and Aladdin and Jasmine hitting up a few random countries on their magic carpet. 99% of people are capable of understanding a fanstasy/dream/dance sequence.

I think some of us put Bollywood on a pedestal and think it's impossible for anyone to understand without our help. That's not true. They're just films.

That said, if I had to introduce someone to Bollywood I'd use an actual Bollywood film, rather than a cheap knockoff like B&P. I was really disappointed in Gurinder Chadha with that one.

That's my two cents at any rate.

Yunus Perveez said...

Ok being a huge aishwarya fanboy. The lady can do no wrong in my book. I'll be contrarian and say instead of bride and prejudice or dhoom 2. Go for Raincoat as an introduction to aishwarya. Probably one of her best work and a vastly underrated picture.I did feel the pairing of aishwarya and abhishek was pretty successful in Guru which is another pretty good performance by her.
I liked her a lot I. Last years akshay kumar misfire Action Replayy, she's probably the only reasonto watch that movie

Archee ologist said...

Just a few words from a fan of Aishwarya Rai:
She has defied so many of the norms of female casting! She is in her late 30s (same age group as Karisma/ Raveena/ Kajol?) and yet is the biggest actress in the country. Do not forget that she is married (and a bigger star than her husband). And the last time we saw her with a Khan was Mohhabatein more than a decade ago.
I think she was outstanding in Guru, Ravanan and Action Replay. And of course, Jodhaa Akbar and Devdas.

Sal said...

Great debate! I gotta say, I have friends who love Bride and Prejudice (and Ash in it) and friends who think it's sort of a campy misfire. At any rate, it is a safe, middle-off-the-road intro, I suppose. Devdas of course is the big Aishwarya film, but a lot of people cannot digest the idea of a non-action/fantasy film being three hours-plus. I do agree with the person who picked Raincoat as a great introduction to Aishwarya. My friends at college watched Chokher Bali with me, and they were MESMERIZED by her. Both are slow, deliberate films, but lovers of good cinema will appreciate the artistry and the character development. I find it so puzzling how Ash is still lampooned as a non-actress after her turn in Raincoat while Priyanka is put on a pedestal for Fashion and the likes. This is why the mainstream entertainment media in India is a frustrating joke to me.

luscious-words said...

I'm late to comment on this; however, I wanted to join the fray. Bride & Prejudice is the reason I delved into BW. Not because it's a 'tribute' to BW and not because I wanted to be 'eased' into it. No, it was a matter of seeing the DVD at a used CD/DVD store and thought it might be fun. I didn't have high expectations, just wanted to spend some time lost in a fluffy romcom.

Aishwarya is the reason I delved into BW. I enjoyed her in B&P and wanted to see more. I went out and bought some more movies and dived into BW with HDDCS and Devdas. From that point, I was hooked and now I have a large collection that also includes Tamil and Telugu films.

~ Layla

yip said...

Sometimes I kinda wonder if Ash isn't wasted in this era of Bollywood films. I was thinking about this in relation between the original Umrao Jaan and the remake. However, I've concluded that she, in some ways, is just right. To me, personally, the modern Bollywood film is completely about the professional production - sapping the life out of any genuinely artistic creation. I haven't seen one really good Aishwarya film yet. Jodha Akbar was good - Devdas was good, but I'd never watch it all the way through again - just too sad - Umrao and Action Replayy are just awful. Empty and vapid. It's like, especially with Umrao, the producers think that blinding us with sumptuous visuals will replace the need for storytelling, or interesting characters, or decent acting. Silly producers...
Aishwarya’s role just always seems to add that extra layer of surface sparkle to the cheap plastic beneath. I mean, don’t get me wrong, she does it very well. As one reviewer of Umrao said she "looks lovely when she smiles. She looks lovelier when she cries.”

Note from Filmi Girl:

I love Bollywood - and all the ridiculous things that happen in Bollywood - but it doesn't mean that I can't occasionally make fun of various celebrities and films.

If you don't like my sense of humor, please just move on by - Trolls are not appreciated and nasty comments will be deleted.

xoxo Filmi Girl
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