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March 29, 2000

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'I've not come here looking for fame'

Aishwarya Rai Drop-dead gorgeous Aishwarya Rai is irrefutably the busiest heroine in Bollywood today. She shoots at breakneck speed. Nights merge into days and days into nights, but Rai is undeterred, steeled in her determined to make it to the top and remain there for a long while.

Even her recent accident failed to daunt her; after a short recuperative leave, she was back under the arclights. No wonder then, she is part of some of the most coveted projects, opposite some of the hottest heroes and most sought after directors in the industry today.

Kanchana Suggu met Rai on the sets of Raj Kanwarís Dhai Akshar Prem Ke. Simply dressed in a milk-white salwar kurta and dupatta, she looked almost angel-like. ďIíve been continuously shooting nights and days, so I need to sleep a little," she explained with a sweet smile. "But I promise Iíll give you a proper interview after some time.Ē

Later, as the shooting progressed, so did our wait. Meanwhile, Rai kept flashing apologetic glances in our direction. Finally, we do get 20 minutes, but with a caveat, ďI have to rush for rehearsals. Before that, I have a small meeting on the way. So I can only give you 20 minutes.Ē

Let's begin with your next film.

I always find this a very tough question to answer. Honestly, contrary to public opinion, while I work in an organised manner and am very professional and sincere to what I do, the media seems to believe everything is calculated and sort of charted out. But that's not the way it is with me. I never plan on which film would make the best impact. The film that is completed first is the one you'll see released first.

I've always worked on more than one film at a time. Aur Pyar Ho Gaya, Iruvar, Jeans were all happening around the same time. So were Aa Ab Laut Chale, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Josh and Taal.

I'm assuming Josh will be my next release because we are working fast towards completing the film. Then there's Albela, which I'm doing with Govinda. I started that film when I joined the industry, but let me assure you that, even today, it does not look dated. At the moment, I'm completing work on these films. Whatever gets completed first will be released first.

And your new films?

The only other films I started work on this year are Satish Kaushik's Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai with Anil (Kapoor), Raj Kanwar's Dhai Akshar Prem Ke with Abhishek (Bachchan) and Adi Chopra's Mohabbatein.

I'm assuming all these films will be completed by August/September. Mohabbatein is definitely releasing in October. If everything goes okay with the directorial and the production sides, then these movies should be out before Mohabbatein.

I've signed many more films. People assume this is a 'now' syndrome because of the latest hits or whatever. But thatís not so. By the grace of God, every director I've worked with has always spoken to me about their consecutive films except, probably, Mani Ratnam. He definitely wanted a small-eyed girl in Dil Se.. She had to have that kind of physical features as she was supposed to be from Assam.

But Shankar asked me to do his next film, Mudalavan, which I couldnít. Rahul Rawail had talked to me about Arjun Pandit, which I couldnít do. Subhashji (Ghai) had asked me for his next film, which Iím doing. Indu (Indra Kumar) had asked me for Mann, which I couldnít do. Iím doing his next, Rishtey. Sanjay (Leela Bansali) had asked me for Devdas.

From the beginning, Yashji had asked me for Mohabbatein, which Iím doing. This film did not require much time from me, so I could accommodate the dates. Heís also asked me for his next directorial venture which I should be doing.

Rajkumar Santoshi had signed me right from year one. But, then, he had to make Doli Sajake Rakhna and China-Gate. So, later this year or early next year, we should be starting it. Right now, he wants to start Lajja which I cannot do. Since all these films are starting later this year, it suits me just fine.

Aishwarya Rai Werenít you doing Rahul Guptaís Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke?

Yeah. There are a lot of backlog films I really want to complete, like Hum Panchi Ek Daal Ke which is a kids' films. Rahul Gupta went through some trouble with this film. He had a fallout with Shashilal Nair, who was the original director. Gulzarsaab had originally written the script. All of us want to help Rahul because the kids are growing up and stuff like that. We really want to complete it soon.

A big deal is being made about you playing Shah Rukh Khanís sister in Josh. Does that affect you?

See, Iím an actress. That was my primary concern when I joined the industry. I was not looking at casting coups, ratings, the number game or even the box office success rateÖ I guess all these things are probably of some value within the industry.

But, on my agenda, these are all peripherals. They are not my focal points. I was not coming here looking for name, fame and glamour because, by the grace of God, I have already had my share of it on the world stage and on the catwalk. Iím saying this at the risk of sounding conceited. But this is not pomposity, Iím just being honest.

I made acting a definite professional choice as opposed to continuing my studies in architecture. I wanted to carve my niche here too and be recognised as an actress and, preferably, as someone who is versatile at what she's doing. I donít want to be typecast. I will be a heroine in terms of the label given to the female lead in our movies, but within those parameters and within what our industry is willing to offer the female lead, Iíd like to be versatile.

Today, movies are evolving. There are many new film-makers who do not necessarily tread the completely out and out commercial track nor the completely out and out track of what people refer to as offbeat or parallel cinema. They are treading on somewhat of a middle path.

As an artist and a professional in this industry, I recognise this. As a responsible professional, I do recognise that there are a lot of things that a movie depends on and a lot of things that depend on the way a movie does at the box office.

As far as Josh and me playing Shah Rukhís sister is concerned, I believe that a director of the repute of Mansoor Khan and a production house like Venus have definitely thought about what they were doing when they were going about making this movie and casting for it. I am convinced about what they are doing. So if they are okay with how they have gone about creating and casting for Josh, then who are we really to even hiccup for that matter?

As an artist, Iíll give my best to Shirley, the character Iím playing. As will Shah Rukh to Max and Chandrachur to Rahul and so on. I think when youíre that clearheaded, work becomes fun and you can concentrate on why you are here and your function as an artist.

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