Aishwarya Rai talks about crimes without punishment.. Roshmila Bhattacharya picks up some clues..
She’s in Kolkata, shooting for Mani Ratnam’s Hindi-Tamil bilingual, Raavan/Ashokavanam. She has promised phoners (telephone interactions) to promote her new film, The Pink Panther 2, between shots. For three days, the publicist has been parked on her sets. For three days, Aishwarya has been working without breaks.
Last Friday, after wrapping up the shoot late evening, she returned to the resort where she was staying, an hour’s drive from the location, with every intention of making good her promise. But once she’s freshened up, exhaustion caught up with her and she wilted.
This conversation finally took place at the airport the next afternoon, minutes before she boarded her flight back to Mumbai. Excerpts:
So Padma Shrimatiji how are you feeling?
Well, the Padmashri is an honour the Indian government has bestowed on me. I will treasure it forever.
What about the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, the second highest order of France that you have still to accept?
I’m checking my schedule.. we’re working out the dates mutually. I will be going to France soon.
You’ve become the Indian ambassador for Hollywood in recent years thanks to much hyped international projects like Bride And Prejudice, The Mistress of Spices, Provoked, The Last Legion and now Pink Panther 2.
That’s too exalted a tag. I’ve always approached English cinema in the same way that I have approached, Hindi, Bengali or Tamil cinema. For me what’s interesting right now is that I’m working in two Tamil films. There’s Shankar’s Endhiran with Rajnikanth, and Mani Ratnam’s Ashokavanam opposite Vikram.
Ashokavanam is also being simultaneously filmed in Hindi as Raavan and, believe me, it’s hard work. I’ve not had a moment to spare in these last few days. I made my acting debut in Mani’s Tamil film, Iruvar back in ’97. Shankar’s Jeans came a year later followed by Kandukondain
Kandukondain. Now, after almost a decade, I’m working with Mani and Shankar again and it feels great.
Right now, you’re part of a megafranchise, The Pink Panther. How big a challenge was that?
Well, since we’ve all grown up on the franchise, I knew what was in it for me as an actress and the audience knew what to expect too. So there were no real surprises.
You mean apart from the fact that an internationally renowned criminologist suddenly turns out to be a criminal herself.
(Laughs) A film like The Pink Panther is innocent humour.. pure and simple. So even negativity isn’t carried to the extreme. And, then when it’s The Pink Panther, even bad is good.
Surely it sparked off memories of Dhoom 2 in which you’d played a thief too?
Interesting you should mention Dhoom 2. It had slipped my mind. I remembered Khakee in which I played the double-faced Mahalaxmi and my Bengali film Chokher Bali. Even though Binodini wasn’t intrinsically bad, certain personal issues had coloured her perspective and personality giving it a grayish tinge.
A critic wondered why most of the men had their hormones shooting up for the sober Nicole, played by Emily Mortimer, when actually ‘there ain’t nobody like our desi girl’.
That’s sweet but if you’ve watched the first part you’ll know that Nicole Nuveau-Clouseau is Inspector Jacques Clousseau’s romantic interest.
Then his girlfriend, she’s now his wife who has fallen for Inspector Valenzo Bracaleone, the Italian businessman who joins the Dream Team. But my character, Sonia Solandres, does give Nicole some competition. She’s peeved to find Sonia getting the kind of attention she’s used to.
Was Steve Martin attentive?
(Laughs) Steve Martin is someone whose comic timing and instinctive genius I’ve grown up admiring. As the bumbling Inspector Clousseau, Steve didn’t only have to be quick-witted, the performance demanded actual physical humour because he is always falling down ledges and coming down chimneys.
And Steve’s contribution wasn’t restricted to acting alone. He has polished the original script and has co-written the screenplay. They call him an institution and he has earned the title. You can’t imagine The Pink Panther today without Steve.
But fans of Peter Sellers have panned the 2006 film, a reboot of the popular series, and hit out at the sequel, too insisting it should have only had a video release.
The 2006 film was a big hit which means that most people have loved it.. and Steve. As for the others, we’ll just have to wait a couple of generations for it to take on the same light as the original.
You spent a part of your honeymoon on The Pink Panther 2 sets..
(Cuts in) It’s sweet of you guys to keep saying that, but hey, you’ve got your dates wrong. I shot for The Pink Panther 2, four months after my honeymoon, after wrapping up Sarkar Raj.
We completed most of my portions in Boston where the film was shot. Only a few scenes remained. Dates were a problem thereafter because I had a jam-packed schedule in India. But the producer (Robert Simonds) and director (Harold Zwart) were very accommodating.
They broke up the scenes and planned a shoot in Paris so I could stop there on my way back from Los Angeles where Abhishek and I had gone for a special screening of Guru. That’s how Abhishek came to be on the sets. But it’s great to know that for all of you the honeymoon never ends.
After almost two years, is marriage still a bed of roses or are the thorns showing up now?
By the grace of God it’s been wonderful so far, though a lot of hard work. Like any other relationship, marriage needs a lot of nurturing too. Still, I would recommend it to everyone.
If you got the chance to steal one jewel or get The Tornado to steal one for you, what would it be?
(Laughs) I have mine already.