In India Aishwarya Rai needs as little introduction as a Hindu goddess. Since being crowned “Miss World” in 1994, the emerald-eyed beauty has starred in over 30 blockbuster Bollywood movies, been the face of Pepsi and L’Oreal in India and last year became the first Indian actor to be a judge at the Cannes Film Festival. Now 31, Rai is the Hindi film industry’s highest paid star, the object of more than 17,000 Web sites and has been dubbed “the most beautiful woman in the world” by none other than Julia Roberts.
Not content to rest on those laurels, the crowned Queen of Bollywood is set on expanding her kingdom. December sees the American release of Rai’s first English film “Bride and Prejudice,” an all-singing, sari-swirling Bollywood-inspired take on Jane Austen’s classic from “Bend it Like Beckham” creator Gurinder Chadha. Though British press panned the film last month for bastardizing Austen, Rai herself was credited with a charismatic performance. Rai’s Western credentials are growing fast: next year she’s starring alongside Meryl Streep in “Chaos” and Brendan Fraser in “Singularity.” NEWSWEEK’s Emily Flynn spoke to “Ash,” as she is known by her fans, by telephone from her studio in Mumbai about what it’s like to bring Bollywood to Hollywood.