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Who is Liz Hurley? ask locals in Jodhpur

Opinions differ among the city residents when it comes to describing the British actor.
By HT Correspondent, Jodhpur
UPDATED ON AUG 07, 2013 11:49 AM IST

"Is it this old woman who's getting married?" asked Kastury Ghosh, a bridal shop manager in the west Indian city of Jodhpur, as she peered over her glasses at a picture of Elizabeth Hurley. "She is the oldest bride Jodhpur has ever seen," Ghosh said of the 41-year-old actress.

"This is how they dress in the West, isn't it?" she added, commenting on the infamous Versace gown held together with safety pins worn by Hurley at a 1994 film premiere, which shows off her breasts in a way that would not be possible in a sari.

The residents of Jodhpur were not aware of Elizabeth Hurley's existence until she decided to take over the grand palace on a hill overlooking this dusty, chaotic city on Wednesday for three days to celebrate her marriage to Indian businessman Arun Nayar.

But a consensus has quickly formed among locals in the last few days: she is beautiful, but isn't she a bit old to be an Indian bride? And what is she famous for?

Indian women are commonly married off in their teens to a man of their parents' choosing, and are a cause of despair if they are still a spinster at 30.

India also has its own parallel universe of celebrities, mainly from the massive Bollywood entertainment industry and most of whom are unrecognisable to even the most avid reader of Western celebrity tabloids. Likewise, only the biggest Western stars seep into the Indian consciousness.

"Can you tell me even a single hit movie she's been in?" asked one of the hotel staff looking after Hurley for the next few days, who wanted his name withheld for his job's sake. "Is she an artist?" wondered a man in a city camera shop when asked if he knew of Hurley.

Hurley is best known as a model, for once being the partner of British actor Hugh Grant and for performances in movies such as Bedazzled, for which she often receives unflattering reviews.

Rathi Raxit, who owns an electrical store in the city, said he was not fond of English movies. "I prefer comedy Hindi movies," he explained, echoing a widespread preference here.

Locals are indeed excited about a big celebrity wedding at the palace, but not Hurley's nuptials. Bollywood's hottest couple, actors Abhishek Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai, had looked at the Umaid Bhawan Palace as a possible venue for their wedding, according to media reports.

Like Hurley, 33-year-old Rai, a former Miss World, has also raised eyebrows for being older than her fiance. But even if India is only just getting to know Hurley, she may endear herself with locals who understand the need for lavish, attention-grabbing wedding celebrations.

Marriage remains a fundamental rite of passage and symbol of a family's status in India. Even the humblest family will save up to make sure their children are paraded regally around the neighbourhood by lantern-bearers and a brass band. In India's fiercely hierarchical society, most people are expected to marry a partner from the same background, caste and religion, so Nayar's marriage to a white, non-Indian and non-Hindu woman has also attracted curious comment.

"An Anglo-Indian wedding has never happened here before," said Durgsingh Rathort, another bridal shop worker. But no one thought to criticise the arrangement - in India, the rich can make their own rules.

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