Ash: Rising like the Phoenix


I’ve seen her go through acute pain. Aishwarya Rai — or Ash, as friends insist on calling her — was in a bad relationship when I first met her. It was during the making of Devdas, and the man in her life would insist on barging into her schedules whenever he felt like it. He was making his presence felt in the most embarrassing and sadistic ways.

“It was like my breath was being choked out of my body all the time,” she later confessed in an unguarded moment.

Whenever Aishwarya speaks about that part of her life she grows cold, like a cloud dimming the brightness of the sun. Ash was traumatised. But she never allowed it to show in her performance or public conduct. I remember her on the set of Devdas, dancing with Madhuri Dixit to the sound of Dola re... While Madhuri sat in a corner after every shot, Ash would rush to the monitor, jump, squeal, dance and huddle playfully with the director to see the end result.

People said she was insensitive. “But they must understand my pain is not for anyone to sympathise or share. What I went through was my own...will remain my own. If my infamous giggle offended people they’ve to understand it’s my defence mechanism. I cannot and will not express my personal pain in public.” That was Ash at her mellowest.

She couldn’t have chosen a better time to play the part of the brutalised, battered wife in Jagmohan Mundhra’s Provoked. I think this woman of satin-and-steel has gone through a helluva lot. It may not show in her immediate screen presence. But the pain has been tapped with considerable acumen in Rituparno Ghosh’s Raincoat.

Provoked will take Aishwarya further away from the will-o-the-wisp image of the fragile porcelain beauty. I’ve seen how determinedly she has fought back the adversities in her life. Friends and colleagues of a certain Mr Khan called her a tease and a provocateur for the flirty way she brushed of the welters and bruises. The fact is this lady has been through hell and has emerged a far more substantial woman.

Today Ash is in a far more calm and comforting relationship. Vivek Oberoi makes her feel like a lady. She loves the kindness and the chivalry, the little thoughtful gestures he showers on her...They were denied to her. Today she loves those things that make her feel like a true woman. She loves Vivek’s passion for propriety.

In all the time that I’ve known her I’ve never seen Aishwarya bitch about anyone, not even those who have caused immense bodily and emotional grief. The savagery is just there. No drama. No theatrics.

Though people think otherwise, Ash is one of the least affected and coquettish actresses I know. Talk about her beauty embarrasses her. After all these years she still doesn’t know how to handle compliments on her looks. “I don’t know,” she once giggled as we sat in the cosy corner-room of her stunningly well-appointed home. “Maybe there’re classes where you learn to handle beauty compliments.”