She rises early these days, reaches Saheb Kuthi in Agarpara before call time, and is only back in her hotel room late at night. As if this punishing schedule is not enough, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan has been travelling non-stop for the past month or so, from New York to Berlin, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona, back to Mumbai, and on to Kolkata to shoot for Mani Ratnam’s Ravan at Agarpara.
Paradoxically, Aishwarya seems to have conquered tiredness with more work. At least that is what it seems like when I catch up with her at 10 pm in her room at the Vedic Village. Despite a gruelling day’s work, she’s ready to talk at length... about anything other than Ravan.
Much like the members of the family she has married into, Aishwarya calls Kolkata one of her favourite destination. She still feels a “weird kind of warmth” from the time she lands here, not because she is almost a Kolkata veteran, given her roles in Rituparno Ghosh’s Chokher Bali and Raincoat, but more because she is the bahu of Amitabh and Jaya Bachchan. “This time, I feel more attached to the city… it is Ma’s home town, and Pa too spent his early days here. I wear the loha (iron bangle) Ma gave me. That makes me a Bengali,” she says, trademark girlish giggle bubbling forth.
Despite that giggle, there’s nothing girlish about the way Aishwarya has handled the pressure of fame and constant adulation. As her career rockets upward, and she collects a Padmashri Award on the one hand and is named the ‘most bankable Bollywood star in the West’ by Forbes on the other, a calm assurance shines through.
Her film Pink Panther 2 releases today, and Aishwarya seems genuinely excited with her fourth international venture. Whatever the length of the role, she is ready to accept more such challenges. “The length of a role has never been an issue. I could have opted for a hyped Bollywood debut, but I chose Iruvar, though the role wasn’t exactly huge,” she says. “And I have stuck to that principle. Time and schedule have always been defining factors. I was offered a role alongside Will Smith in Rush Hour 3, but I could not accept because I was committed to some other project. I don’t regret those decisions.”
And so Pink Panther 2, feels Aishwarya, will remain one of her most memorable experiences, not least for the opportunity to work with an A-list ensemble cast of Jean Reno, Andy Garcia, Emily Mortimer and Alfred Molina, much like, she insists, husband Abhishek’s Delhi 6. “That was something in common for both our films. He, too, enjoyed Delhi 6 because of the ensemble cast of Waheedaji (Rehman), Rishi Kapoor, Om Puri, Pavan Malhotra and Supriya Pathak,” she says.
Also like her husband and in-laws, nothing excites Aishwarya more than a variety of roles. Already, she has moved on from Pink Panther 2 and is settling in at Agarpara, where residents, she says, drop by for a chat with toothbrushes in hand early in the mornings. Meanwhile, she is in talks with Rituparno for a project. “We’ve been discussing an idea for a while now. This time, Rituda seems ready. If everything goes fine…,” she pauses. “Or if he is in a hurry, then next time…” she adds.
So no regrets at all, but there is one slight regret — that of not having had the time to watch Slumdog Millionaire yet. But she is, nonetheless, “proud of people like AR Rahman, Irrfan, Anil Kapoor and Resul”.