One of Britain's most revered critics, Chris Tookey of Daily Mail, has compared Aishwarya Rai in Bride & Prejudice to Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday and Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.
They adore her in Britain. Hundreds of SMS messages from all over the world clog Ms Rai's cellphone. One day, the darned instrument simply collapsed! "Good it was my phone and not me," joked the screen diva.
Trust her to make a joke about any situation, even if it means undermining her tremendous welcome in Britain's movie orbit with Gurinder Chadha's Bride & Prejudice.
Back home it's a different story. Even if London's The Observer critic Philip French finds Aishwarya Rai "incredibly beautiful" in the film, Indian critics have been left largely cold by her performance. This is in direct contrast to the way we generally react to our stars acquiring global popularity.
|Aishwarya looks at the
Om Puri and Saeed Jaffrey were two actors whose careers back home in India acquired that extra edge after they appeared in British and American films. Not all of the work that they've done abroad is pivotal, let alone exemplary.
Aishwarya Rai's international debut is pivotal and very, very attractive. So why is the Indian media judging her so harshly? Editorials are being written in national dailies about the clothes she wore at the premiere of the film in London. Harsh and extremely cruel words are being used to dismiss Ms Rai's efforts to go international.
Typically Aishwarya - she looks at the larger picture.
"I am not concerned with what local dress designers have to say about me. But can you imagine what Giorgio Armani would think about their ignorance about global fashion if he read what these Bollywood designers have to say about my clothes sense?"
"In their effort to pull me down as hard as possible they've even commented that I painted my hair blonde. I've never in my life done that! Either our dress designers are colour blind or they need to look at my appearance rather than their perception of how they'd like me to appear in public."
Strangely, those very designers, media-persons and filmmakers who have been publicly deriding Ms Rai have been privately queuing up for her attentions. "Either I'm not good enough or I am, please make up your minds," she laughed.
Some media-persons in India just don't like her by now legendary beauty and would like to impute flaws where there are none.
|Bollywood queen bowls
"Can she act?" screamed one headline in a Mumbai paper. Isn't it a bit late in the day to ask that? According to one school of thoughts in Mumbai, only Sanjay Leela Bhansali can make Ash act. Besides him - neither Mani Ratnam, nor Gurinder Chadha can make her emote.
Correct me if I am wrong, but didn't these same critics say she was plastic and over-the-top in Bhansali's mesmerising musical opera Devdas?
Today, they concede she acted well under Bhansali's guidance. Maybe the 19 awards she got for the film convinced them.
This week, Sanjay Bhansali and Aishwarya Rai appeared together in a segment of Karan Johar's forthcoming talk show Koffee With Karan. In it he has praised her lavishly.
Aishwarya is incapable of spewing malice or turning a situation to her own advantage.
Everyone knows about her bitter parting with Salman Khan. Only close friends know why she issued a press statement on why she would never work with him again. It was after Salman Khan's brother Arbaaz went on a television channel with a sarcastic comment on how she'd work with a man on a film (Bajirao Mastani) for months even if she had decided to end all relations with him.
No one knows what pain such public sneering caused Aishwarya, whose magic mantra in life is, "I'll never do anything to compromise my family and my principles". No one knows about the threats and humiliations she was subjected to just because she said no to a certain relationship.
"All I know is I've survived, and I've moved on." But the pain often shows up. The wounds have yet not healed. While talking to friends about her nightmarish experience, she breaks down and cries.
What do you do with a man who does this to one of the most beautiful woman in the world and refuses to move on?
In the face of such crippling assault on her dignity, Aishwarya Rai remains calm and in control. She's getting the best roles and continues to work extra-hard on all of them. Recently, some unknown persons dubbed her voice for the Hindi version of Chokher Bali.
"I was appalled. I had offered to dub in Hindi myself. Still they chose to quietly and quickly sneak a Hindi version into theatres while I was away in London."
Now Aishwarya is willing to have the dubbed Chokher Bali revoked from the market, so she can dub her lines and let a more authentic version be screened.
Aishwarya Rai is a perfectionist. In a world where actresses generally believe in a anything goes attitude and run for marriage the minute the opportunity shows up, she strives to be the first real female superstar from Bollywood. What's wrong with that?
It could be because the Mumbai media genuinely find her plastic and artificial, as they love to remind readers. But the reason for the severe hostility could be entirely self-motivated.
Aishwarya doesn't talk to the press as freely as some of her colleagues. Many of the most powerful stars in Mumbai have eaten crow and patched up with the very magazines that have hurt them and their images the most.
Not Aishwarya Rai. The magazines that have been the nastiest to her are still smarting under the snub she has so effectively delivered them. They've tried every trick in the book to make her speak. When they've failed to move her into submission they've damned her dreams.
In that sense the media and a certain Mr Khan are one. For once!