Best foot forward

Bollywood buzz

Best foot forward

Five years after Raavan and the super-hit Robot, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan makes it to the marquee with Jazbaa, a taut crime thriller about a single mother and her kidnapped daughter. For the actress, there are many firsts here — this is her first film with director Sanjay Gupta, co-stars Irrfan Khan and Chandan Roy Sanyal, and her first on-screen role as a mother.

She is thankful that we do not refer to this movie as her “comeback”. Not only had she never left showbiz in the interim, but she was also always in touch with studios while shooting ad films with “mostly the same DOPs” (cinematographers) and the media that interviewed her and communicated her thoughts with her fans even in this phase.

Never an idle moment

“I was a working girl throughout while being a mother,” she smiles. “I was even reading scripts from the first year after my daughter’s birth, but I could not take them up as they had to start shooting soon. So it does not feel at all like I was on a sabbatical.”

Her face lights up as we ask what made her feel that this was the right time for her to return to the movies. “Now, that is a unique and creative way of putting it!” she laughs. “Honestly, you never realise whether and when you are ready for a break, or ready to return to work.”

She goes on, “I am the kind of person who commits completely to anything I am doing. I have always ended up multi-tasking, right from my student days when I began working and gave my 100 per cent to both studies and work. While working in films, I was also into social work, and I became a brand ambassador for many products, so that was running parallel to my film career.”

“I got married in the midst of shooting Jodhaa Akbar and did complete justice to both that film as well as to being a wife, a daughter-in-law, and a member of the Bachchan family,” adds the actress. “Even when I was pregnant, I worked for the first six months. But after that, the remaining three months zoomed with all the festivals and other things, and suddenly Aaradhya was in my arms.”

And what made her opt for Jazbaa as the first film? Aishwarya honestly replies, “Actually, I had okayed Mani Ratnam’s project, but he delayed it as he decided to make another film first, which was lucky as that would have been a more demanding movie and it would have been difficult to be the mother I wanted to be for Aaradhya at that stage. But honestly, I am quite happy that Jazbaa has come first. The subject is so strong that when Sanjay shared it, I found it easy to accept the movie. It is a new kind of thriller with a socially-relevant message, and I would have accepted it at any stage of my career — five years ago, now or five years later!”

What advantage does she have, since Jazbaa happened when she had become a mother in real life? “The people who watched my trailer at Cannes felt that they saw a certain kind of honesty in my portrayal of a mother,” she replies. “I guess that seeps in, because that is the only difference between now and if I had done this film five years earlier. Somewhere you will see the honesty and integrity.”

Aishwarya is happy that Sanjay has treated the film in his usual stylised and fast-paced fashion along with the entertainment quotient in check, especially the court sequences and her character as a lawyer. In general, too, she feels that now is a good time for Hindi cinema.

“Film business can be planned now and there is financial security. Because a lot more prints are possible, as far as I know, certain returns are assured. That means that films can be made as per the stories we want to tell,” she explains. “Because of this, I don’t think there are that many loss-making films. But then hits and flops are often a perception. I know of ‘hits’ that had lost money, whereas many ‘flops’ had actually made profits.”

She adds that there is one factor on which filmmakers, the cast and crew, the media and audience are all on the same page — and that is a movie that engages the audience. “That is the prime responsibility of a filmmaker,” she declares.

Success on reel

It has been 20 years since she was crowned Miss World and 18 years since she came into films. How does she look upon her ‘reel’ journey? “I feel really grateful,” she replies candidly. “Being a Miss World, my story had a unique beginning, and so it could have been different. I got incredible offers throughout my journey. But I chose my films with great care rather than opting for certain packaging that was perceived as the only way for any actress to be secure. Looking back, I wouldn’t wish it to be any other way, though at that time it was  challenging.”

Aishwarya is also grateful to her colleagues and above all the media and the audience. “Everyone supported me even when my films did not do well and so I felt secure,” she says. “This also made a free artiste, in the sense that I never felt tied down or obliged to live up to certain conventional parameters.”

And how is her experience with motherhood?

“You know, in motherhood, every day is a new day,” she says enthusiastically. “Now that Aaradhya is three-and-a-half, I cannot think the way things were when she was two-and-a-half years old. We are discovering her every day, and in fact, I can’t remember life before becoming a mom now,” Aishwarya laughs.

We ask what little Aaradhya says when she watches her mother, father Abhishek or the senior Bachchans on television. “Arey, we lead normal lives. We don’t show her our films deliberately. Once in a way, she sees me in a song and then she looks at me, as if to say, ‘Where am I, momma?’ because in photographs she is always with me. And she also reacts to posters all around the city when she sees her mom, papa and dadaji around.”
Does she ever ask, ‘When will I be up there?’, and Aishwarya laughs again and answers, “Now, that’s interesting!”

Last but not the least, when will we see Aishwarya on Twitter? “Look, initially I did think that Twitter was a fad, a race to show how popular you were. Now I know that it is a powerful medium of communication with everyone. The day I feel I need to use it, I will. Right now, I do not even have the time for that, and frankly, no inclination either. I communicate with my fans through the media, and I also do not want to display facts or pictures of my personal life. I have always been made that way.”

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