Varied roles are a blessing, says Aishwarya Rai, who has gone from the elaborate, bejewelled look in Umrao Jaan to the hip and sassy in Dhoom 2 in a matter of weeks - and with great success.
"I've tried to keep it versatile from the start of my career. But wanting something isn't the same as getting it. Opportunities like Umrao Jaan, Dhoom 2, Guru and now Jodha- Akbar have come to me," says Aishwarya, who says the hugely challenging parts are very flattering.
The actress recalls how there was hesitation to cast Hrithik and her together because of their similar skin tone and eyes. "But when we finally shot together, everything fell into place."
Comparing Hrithik and Abhishek, she says she has known the latter much longer. "As for Abhishek I've known him much, much longer. He's always having fun on the sets. It relaxes him and makes the atmosphere on the sets far more convivial."
Rumour mills are buzzing that the two are getting married soon.
Excerpts from an interview to IANS:
Q: From the martyr in Umrao Jaan to the moll in Dhoom 2, you give audiences a culture shock when you go from the old-world charm of Umrao to the hip-and-cool attitude of Dhoom two weeks later.
A: Isn't that fantastic? I don't play the typical Mona Darling in Dhoom 2. I play this petty thief who thinks she's pretty cool. My character thinks she's smarter than the smartest. She's a sassy girl and at the same time she's a cool dude. I'm neither super-cool diva nor an egghead. I'm a girl who wants to be one of the action guys.
Q: There were huge expectations from Dhoom 2...
A: The kind of response the promos and my look have evoked does bring a smile to my face. It's interesting, but a large part of my career as an actress has been devoted to roles that are traditionally Indian. And I do love being in a sari. It's my most comfortable apparel. And I've worn it at both national and international events with great pride.
Q: In fact, you've made the sari fashionable at international events. Even Oprah wore it.
A: (laughs) That was too, too much, wasn't it? Yes, I've worn the sari, even to Cannes when I went there with Sanjay Bhansali and Shah Rukh for Devdas. Strangely, when I came in through the modelling-Miss World route, people presumed I'd fit into westernised roles. To my delight, most of my roles from my first film Iruvar to Umrao Jaan have been very, very Indian. And I'm very proud of it. But now Dhoom 2 gives me a chance to be more cosmopolitan on screen. I like that as well.
Q: How was the Dhoom look decided?
A: It started when Aditya Chopra came home to offer me Kajra re. He commented on how restrained I was in my conduct, that I'm always perceived as a lady. That's the way Aditya liked to see me on screen. But a change was tempting. Dhoom is high on the hot and sexy elements. It's high on style and fashion. My look was determined by the film's mood. Of course I'm not a stranger to western clothes. A lot of my public appearances are in shirts and jeans. And at home I'm comfortable in short denim skirts. But I haven't really walked the streets of Mumbai in them. But yes, the look in Dhoom was a new experience.
It was a clever move for Adi to shoot Dhoom 2 in Rio. Everyone was in shorts. We were overdressed! There was no question of feeling self-conscious. The crew had a blast. Everyone had to look his or her best in every frame. As Duggu (Hrithik) put it, it wasn't vanity. It was just the need of the hour. We had to constantly pay attention to our hair, clothes, body language. The look is an essential element of every scene in Dhoom 2.
Q: Was it difficult to get into Dhoom mode after being so Indian?
A: Not at all. In fact, I'm again very, very Indian in my post-Dhoom release Guru. To give the audience a chance to see me in so many distinct roles so many times puts me in a very special place. It doesn't happen very often in this industry, and certainly not to us female actors. The varied roles are a blessing. I've tried to keep it versatile from the start of my career. But wanting something isn't the same as getting it. Opportunities like Umrao Jaan, Dhoom 2, Guru and now Jodha-Akbar have come to me. It's very flattering to know directors like JP, Mani and Ashutosh Gowariker think of me for such hugely challenging parts.
Q: Hrithik thinks the two of you make the best-looking couple?
A: That's very sweet of him. You guys will have to decide how good we look together. But I certainly enjoyed working with Hrithik. Yes, at one time there was a hesitation to cast us together because we were supposed to have similar skin and eyes. But when we finally shot together, everything fell into place. Actually, on the first day of "Dhoom", there was a silence after we shot. And we were like, 'Okaaayyyyy'. Then director Sanjay Gadhvi came up to us and said, 'Everybody is stunned. You guys are looking awesome together.'
Hrithik and I cracked up, because we remembered how we had first met at Vidhu Vinod Chopra's house. Vidhu wanted to cast us together for Mission Kashmir and he kept telling us to look at each other. Hrithik and I were in splits.
Q: How was it coping with Hrithik's level of commitment?
A: That degree of commitment came naturally to all of us in Dhoom. It certainly didn't seem unnatural to me to give so much to the camera or in the preparation.
Q: Would you say Abhishek and Hrithik are very different in their approach to their roles?
A: I had worked with Hrithik earlier during a world tour. Hrithik himself says he has loosened up a lot since then. He had lots of fun in Dhoom. As for Abhishek, I've known him much, much longer. He's always having fun on the sets. It relaxes him and makes the atmosphere on the sets far more convivial.