Planet Bollywood
Of Beauty, Talent and Indian Culture: Aishwarya Rai on "60 Minutes"
- Rakesh Budhu           Let us know what you think about this feature article

In Bollywood’s convoluted industry, it is so easy to say that in comparison to one, someone else is so much better. As tarnished, and easily so, that Aishwarya Rai is considered mostly, it’s been almost common place for people to say oh there are so many better and that she’s such an under achiever. But, after watching her on national telecision in CBS´ “60 Minutes” being interviewed by Bob Simon this past Sunday, January 2nd, it’s clear that while there are many that could have done much better than Aishwarya Rai did, there are none that have. For that, Rai deserves the accolades.

In the interview, which was over ten minutes long, the American viewer was privy to Aishwarya Rai being commented as “the most beautiful woman in the world”, being compared to the likes of Elizabeth Taylor, Grace Kelly, the woman who crossed continents to feature in several Hollywood films, who has been titled both Miss World and a superstar and that who remains a single strong minded individual. Beautiful yes and in particular not another pretty face so much so that popular American actress Julia Roberts commented on her beauty. Aishwarya Rai may not be the most successful box office actress in Bollywood today but she’s certainly the most spoken about. And for an actress that so many critiques dismiss as being criminal of so much over and under acting it’s ironic how she overcomes it all and finds herself on national television, a feat no other Indian actress could accomplish.

But for all the compliments which made the beauty queen blush there were many things notable grotesque about her interview. Some of her responses were accompanied by a somewhat annoying giggle. Obviously Rai is intelligent and was able to hold her own in the interview but several of her answers weren’t very indicative of that. And that complaint may make me guilty of what many critics do when they review Rai and her films, this time it was simply more notable verses simply dismissing everything she does as an under achievement. Her first question, asking if many were intimidated by her was answered with a question. Not exactly the best way to open things up, after all.

Rai also carried out a faulty misconception of the Indian industry which probably had American viewers talking about mostly: the use or lack of sexual innuendo in Indian cinema (and Indian culture). If there is something any Bollywood viewer would notice over the past ten years it is the daunting over load of sex, sexual situations, skin and such in Indian cinema today. If in 2003 a banner like the homely Yash Raj Films can release a family film Kal Ho Naa Ho which had kisses and even same sex references, why should Bollywood be referred to as an industry where sexual scenes are shied upon? That may not be the worst of things the industry should worry about, but of course, it is the twenty first century and the concept of “not even showing a kiss” most naturally makes the industry, as grand as it is, seem more regressive than it actually is. Indeed, her response promoted an aspect of Indian culture which still remains intact (keeping your business where your business belongs) and indeed, Indians do maintain that level of reclusive ness such that romance is not a public display. However, were it actually that way [in Bollywood cinema], it may have made the comment seem much more positive, but considering that Bollywood is not unfriendly towards more mature themes, the objective of propelling it in such a false manner seemed quite wrong. However, it certainly made for a more interesting preceptor to the question that followed, regarding whether she herself would be locking lips if the situation arose in a Hollywood project. To that, Rai could not give a straight answer.

By the end of it all, it was clear that Rai had the intent to promote Indian culture much more than herself. She commented on wanting to make Indian Cinema well known (and stating that as the reason for her entrance into the Miss World pageant in the first place) and even brought Simon to a Ganesh temple in India. Continuing to propel the Indian culture more than herself, she revealed more about her winning the Miss World competition and the stereotype she faced when encountered by other contestants. She exclaimed that some even asked, “Do people actually speak English in India?” Surely any native resident may have encountered that but how many get to counter act it on television? Having answered so casually yet visibly proving her point displayed an at times sneaky agenda that shows that Aishwarya knew what she was doing and on some subjects, what she wanted to say. With that came a comment on living with parents as a working thirty year old woman, a concept which is indeed almost foreign to Americans today but may not be as such to the average Indian. Indeed, Rai was a bit more prepared and adamant at opening eyes and revealing more about the Indian culture rather than the industry or herself. And if it wasn’t evident in her lack of responses for some of the more personal questions, it was evident with the grand finale where, Aishwarya would rather stare with a pretty smile than reveal what Simon claimed many men probably wanted to know: is Ms. Rai seeing anyone? Everyone can speculate but Rai made sure nothing was coming from the direct source, not about her personal life and certainly not about her romantic relationship(s).

Aishwarya was commendable being the first Indian actress to make it on national television in an interview about well, her and her accomplishments. Calling her beauty “transient” was catchy, and presenting herself as strong which was obviously her goal, was also pleasant to watch. Calling Ms. Rai a greatly over-rated actress may be the most subjective argument but the likes of critical acclaim can only go as far as the industry takes one. Flawed and all, Rai has made it there where so many, be it better or more worthy, haven’t, which definitely makes for something Aishwarya Rai can say no other actress has done before.


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