When someone asks you where the film industry’s main stomping grounds are, you probably think of sunny Hollywood, California. But Hollywood just can’t keep up with the pace of its Eastern cousin, Bollywood. Bollywood is the biggest film industry in the world, beating out even Hollywood. Bollywood movies originate in India. They are often in Hindi or other Indian dialects. This industry produces an impressive eight hundred movies a year, in comparison to Hollywood’s average of 600-something. Where there’s a big film industry, there are sure to be big stars, and there is no more iconic or famous Indian actress than Aishwarya Rai.
Aishwarya Rai was born November 1st, 1973 to Krishnaraj Rai and Vrinda Rai. She was born in Mangalore and was not particularly interested in acting, even up until college. Rai intended to become an architect for much of her life, even pursuing the subject in college. She was perensuaded to become a model. This led to her placing second in the 1994 Miss India contest, and her being named Miss India World, Miss Photogenic, and Miss World. From her modeling career came offers for acting roles, and so Rai abandoned architecture and modeling in favor of acting. Rai’s strikingly good looks and charming disposition soon made her the darling of the Bollywood industry.
Though Rai’s first few films were not extremely successful, her breakthrough role finally came in 1999’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. In it, she plays a woman forced to marry someone she detests instead of her secret lover. Rai’s performance was lauded by the Indian press. Bollywood movies differ from most Western films because they are usually a bit longer and almost always involve several fancy musical numbers.
Rai had a strong background in dance from her modeling days, and this made her especially suited to her next role in Mansi. Mansi, also from 1999, is about a villager who becomes a pop star and escapes from her abusive boyfriend. It was the first really successful Bollywood film screened in the U.S. Rai has won two Filmfare Best Actress Awards, the highest awards given in India pertaining to the film industry.
Western audiences may recognize Rai from a Bollywood-esque adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice called Bride and Prejudice.The plot of this film will be familiar to any Austen fan or casual reader, and Rai plays the Elizabeth Bennett character. Rai is presumably going to gain more exposure in the U.S. in the next few years, as it has been reported that Hollywood and Bollywood are making deals that will allow the two gigantic industries to mingle, in a sense. Rai has also been named “the most beautiful women in the world” by Western media sources including CBS news and People magazine.
In Holland, a tulip was named after her. There is a wax figure of her in Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum in London. She has even had a school named after her in the Daulatpur village of Uttar Pradesh. With her dazzling looks, popular appeal, and on-screen career, Rai is sure to be a fixture in the Bollywood scene for years to come.