What makes Aishwarya and Abhishek Bachchan a successful couple
They could not be more different. When Brunch decided to talk love, life and success with Bollywood’s first couple, Aishwarya and Abhishek Bachchan were poles apart in the way they responded. One delivered crisp, eloquent answers; the other, by their own admission, “spoke in paragraphs”. One showed up in impeccably cut formals; the other in classic, comfy casuals. One’s wrist bore a fitness tracker; the other’s, a sacred thread. One spoke passionately about humour; the other spoke humorously about passion. Only one was wearing black nail polish; we won’t say who.
And yet, when it came to opening up, the usually guarded Bachchans, married for close to a decade, each promoting films this season, and who arrived in spectacular form at the recent HT Style Awards, couldn’t have been more in sync. Think of them as two individuals taking wildly different routes to arrive at the same destination – at least for this story.
Being married to what many consider the most beautiful woman in the world can be tough. But not for the reasons you imagine, at least that’s how it’s been with Abhishek. “You hear about Ash – we all did before I became an actor – she comes with this huge reputation of being some divaesque figure. Everyone imagines she floats on a cloud or something!” he says, grinning. “But anyone who knows her knows her to be genuine, down to earth, approachable and tactile. And that disarms you. You think ‘Wait a second, she’s pretty cool’. And she really is.”
He describes his wife, she of the purple lipstick, Cannes ballgowns, Miss World title and impeccable sense of propriety as a “complete football hooligan”. He recounts one of their first dates, at a Chelsea match: “A bit unusual. But she went ballistic! She completely got into the game,” Abhishek recalls. “Now it’s tough to take her anywhere because she starts screaming and shouting at the players...”
Perhaps the happy abandon is what comes from a long-shared friendship that predated any romantic overtures. Abhishek first worked with Aishwarya in 2000 on Dhaai Akshar Prem Ke, only the third film of his career. They worked on several more before, as he puts it “the friendship organically grew into love”.
Aishwarya’s version is of two people brought together again and again by fate. “In hindsight, the movies we worked on were so neatly spaced,” she says. “Even Rohan Sippy’s Kuch Naa Kaho , which, frustratingly at the time, took three years to get made, was good for us. We had our own growths as people, as professionals, but our paths kept crossing at interesting intervals.”
Together at last
Those paths intertwined solidly on the sets of the 2006 blockbuster Dhoom 2. No trumpets heralded the moment of love. No alarm bells rang either. “I’ve never asked who fell in love first, actually. I’ll have to ask her that. But the moment we got together we knew this was it,” says Abhishek. “It’s not like we said ‘One minute, let the relationship marinate, we want time to get to know each other’,” says Aishwarya.
The old-shoe comfort of friendship is probably what’s buffered them against the little dramas that plague a relationship in the spotlight. Did you catch the recent video of Abhishek walking away from his wife as photographers hounded her for shots? Then surely you watched as she merrily followed him off the red carpet too. Did you wake up to all the jokes about her lipstick on that very purple day in Cannes? Abhishek is all praise: “I thought it looked fantastic. She looked fantastic. How else does it matter?”
The Bachchans say they’ve learned from each other through nine years together. “I don’t react to any speculation; my wife taught me that a long time ago,” says the actor. “One of her favourite phrases is, ‘It’s water off a duck’s back’, that rumours are nothing compared to the amount of positivity you receive, so just treat them as kala teekas and move on.”
It seems a good moment to ask if Aishwarya is wiser than he is. Seventeen seconds of silence pass before he says, “Oh God! She’s going to kill me if she knows I took this long to answer”. Then eleven more seconds pass before he concedes, “It depends on the situation. We each lean on the other for advice. It’s a healthy exchange”.
A perfect fit
The way Aishwarya views it, they’re better matched than they’d realised – and it took a nation of inquisitive people to make them see it. “When I got married, people kept asking, ‘How do you fit into the Bachchan family?’ And that’s the first time I began analysing it,” she says. “It’s strange how similar our families actually are – not same, but similar.”
Both spouses, she points out, were raised by their mothers for months as their dads were away on work – his in the movies, hers on projects as a marine biologist. Both grew up with strong working mothers. Both are the younger of two siblings close in age. Both grew up respecting elders, festivals and traditions. Crucially, both, she observes, have had to grapple with public scrutiny. “He knows what it feels like to be born into the glare of the spotlight. For me, it was living with immense popularity since childhood – the horizons just grew broader, from classroom, to school, to my lane, my neighbourhood, my city, country and beyond. That’s why we’re so balanced despite the attention.”
That’s the kind of balance they hope to bring in raising their daughter Aaradhya. Abhishek claims they’re as normal as any other mum and dad – and they remain in sync without working too hard at it. “We have disagreements, of course,” he says. “But about petty everyday things.”
Having a child five years into their marriage meant they were already sorted about the kind of upbringing they wanted for Aaradhya before she even came along, he explains. “We were clear she should grow up as a normal kid,” he says. “My parents never raised us to believe we were kids of a superstar – he was dad at home, she was mum. You wanted something you had to earn it.” Life’s pretty much the same for the tiniest Bachchan. “I don’t think she understands who her grandparents are,” he says. “Dadaji is probably Santa, he’s always getting presents. Dadima is a plaything because she’s almost her height. It’s what we both want for our child, and that comes from seeing each other as friends.”
In spite of the stars: The compatibility quiz
Almost a decade ago, regressive beliefs indicated Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan were never meant to be together. A few weeks ago, Internet trolls spotted Abhishek giving Ash the cold shoulder and made a meme out of nothing. If living together was tough, doing so in the spotlight is more difficult. Brunch asked Bollywood’s golden couple to take a compatibility test. Both Abhishek and Aishwarya answered each question individually without the other present. See how their responses overlapped anyway...
What is your spouse most comfortable in?
Abhishek said: Indian wear or a tracksuit, or whatever suits the occasion.
She said: Correct. Indian wear, but increasingly all black if I’m travelling with a child because it’s safe and comfortable.
When asked the same question about her husband, Aishwarya said: Abhishek’s most comfortable in a pathani.
He said: Correct. I prefer pathanis or tracksuits myself.
What comfort food does your partner turn to?
Abhishek said: She’s fine with any junk food, as am I.
She said: We’re both big bingers, so we’re always munching on chocolate, namkeen and such.
Anything specific to Abhi?
Aiswarya said: Coffee. It’s his comfort drink.
He said: I run on coffee. She knows that only too well!
What does your partner consider his/her best role yet?
Abhishek said: She was sensational in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, Guru, Jodhaa Akbar and Sarbjit.
She said: HDDCS, Choker Bali, Raincoat, Jodhaa Akbar, Devdas, Provoked and Sarabjit.
And Abhishek’s best work, according to her?
Aishwarya said: He did a fantastic job in Guru, Yuva, Sarkar, Bluffmaster and even his first film, Refugee.
He said: I never like any of my own work!
Which holiday moment does your partner cherish the most?
Abhishek said: I think it’s when I proposed to her in NY. It’s my favourite holiday memory too.
She said: New York, where he proposed to me; Bora Bora, where we went on our honeymoon; Maldives, London and Goa, where we first holidayed with Aradhya.
Which activity is your partner least happy doing?
He said: She’s manic and weird about packing everything in a certain way. I don’t know if she’s happy doing it, but I’m certainly least happy watching her pack.
She said: He hates watching me pack. He doesn’t get how much thought and design goes into it. I’m a meticulous packer — even if we’re returning from a trip and are in a hurry, I’m OK with not sleeping the entire night and packing the way I like.
How would your spouse like to be remembered?
He said: As a good daughter, wife and mother. I just want to be remembered as a good guy.
She said: He’d like to be remembered as a good person. But I don’t want to be remembered as a good person, I want to be a good person!
What’s the best thing about being married?
He said: I get to live with my best friend. I can talk to her about anything, any inane thing, like ‘Someone scratched my car today’ and she’s there listening, saying, ‘Umm.. Umm.’
She said: That you’re with your dearest friend for the rest of your life!
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From HT Brunch, June 19, 2016
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