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The Brand 'Ash'

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    By: Sneha Hazarika
    Thursday, February 08, 2007
    After being the hot property for years, the Ash fixation continues till today. Aishwarya Rai was touted as the next Miss India way back in 1993, months before she even participated in the contest. The grey-green eyed beauty was a well known supermodel and when she came second to Sushmita Sen by a very small margin, there was much disappointment in the air that cleared only after she was crowned Miss World and embarked on a Bollywood career. Almost fourteen years later, things are still the same.

    Today too, she is as hot as she was during those days. The biggie Dhoom 2 has done well, and one of those to have gained most out of it is undoubtedly Aishwarya Rai. With her re-invented look, her Adonis- Venus kind of pairing with handsome hunk Hrithik Roshan, she is in the wanted list. And importantly, all the films in her kitty are an impressive lot - Mani Ratnam's Guru, Ram Gopal Verma's Sarkar 2, Ashutosh Gowarikar's Jodha Akbar, Suneil Shetty produced Raaste alongside John Abraham and Abhishek Bachchan and Gaurang Doshi's Happy Birthday which is in the process of getting finalized.

    Ash is in great demand in spite of the fact that many can't really recall her last big solo hit. It was Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam in 1999 more than seven years ago. One can count the 2002 hit Devdas too but Ash didn't really carry the film on her shoulders. The fascinating Madhuri Dixit was there to give able support. Taal in 1999 and later Josh and Khaakee did average business. And to the surprise of many, highly anticipated films like Hum Kisise Kam Nahi, her home production Dil Ka Rishtaa, Shabd and the more recent Umrao Jaan bit the dust. Her tryst with art house cinema courtesy Ritu Parna Ghosh's Chokher Bali and Raincoat wasn't exactly satisfying either. As a whole, her acting capabilities have been questioned many a times. Even her affairs have portrayed her in bad light, be it the unfortunate Salman Khan episode, her association with Vivek Oberoi or the liaison with current 'good friend', Abhishek Bachchan. She has been dubbed manipulative. Her dressing sense too hasn't been spared (especially in Cannes).

    Then too, the most beautiful Bollywood lass is the highest paid actress today. So what is it that keeps Ash going? Is it her ethereal good looks, her amazing personality, her marketing and PR skills or something else which has put her in this extra ordinary league? It's the same case as that of Kareena Kapoor some years back. The fair maiden didn't have a single hit in hand and yet had everyone from Shubhash Ghai, Karan Johar to Yash Raj films and Mani Ratnam wanting to work with her. So was the case with pretty starlet Sonam in the late 80s who had signed more than 40 films even before her debut film was out.

    And following the footsteps of Ash is supermodel Deepika Padukone. The stunner has just done one Kannada film Aishwarya (co-incidence of sorts!) and is all set to make her Bollywood debut against the mighty Shah Rukh Khan in Farah Khan's Om Shanti Om, and then she will be seen alongside Hrithik Roshan in Rakeysh Om Prakash Mehra's Delhi 6. Seems, the phenomenon has got something to do with a person's incredible aura.

    That is called 'A brand in making'. But what about the current hot brand called Ash. "Aishwarya has got extra-ordinary good looks. She has a positive attitude towards life and work. She gets a lot of good feedback from international filmmakers a lot of who wants to work with her. She must have had many flops in India, but internationally she is sought after a lot. You cannot deny the luck factor either. But she is ultra professional and also having her in a film is like having the ultimate glamour," says film critic Taran Adarsh trying to analyze the situation.

    But then, did her international projects make waves? 'Not really' would be the right answer. After promoting Devdas in Cannes, there was news every where about Ash going international. Films like Chaos, Singularity and The Windfall have not yet seen the light of the day. She was seen opposite New Zealand actor Martin Henderson in Gurinder Chadha's Bride and Prejudice but overall, the film was called a much hyped dud and The Mistress of Spices, where she was seen as Dylan McDermott's arm candy fared worse. Ash didn't publicize her UK film Provoked and The Last Legion with Sir Ben Kingsley and Colin Firth is yet to release.

    In fact more than her films, her international appearances have been deemed more successful. In 2003, she was a member of the jury at Cannes. She has appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, and on Oprah's "Women across the Globe" segment. There have been titles like being in Time Magazine's 'Asia's 100 Most Influential People list', Hello Magazine's "Most Attractive Women in the World", Rolling Stone's "Hot List", many other 'most beautiful' and 'sexiest' titles as well as being chosen as L'OrÉal Cosmetics' international ambassador. Not to forget her wax figure on display in London's Madame Tussaud's wax museum.

    All this has surely made her super famous. One of Ash's good friends Preity Zinta recently stated that irrespective of what others may say, Ash is the only Indian star who's recognized on the red carpet at Cannes. Hollywood biggie Will Smith couldn't stop gushing about Aishwarya's great looks and fame on his trip to India earlier this year. "It's not a myth. Ash is actually quite famous in our side of the world. In fact my film Hitch was offered to her but she was busy with Bride and Prejudice and hence couldn't do it. But I hope to work with her soon in future," Smith had stated.

    International connections have indeed been very helpful for Ash, feels young film critic Mayank Shekhar.

    "See it's not the question of being saleable. A lot of assignments are determined through your PR skills. She has been in the right company at the right time and with the right people. She has managed better films than many other actresses because of her international stature. She has been everywhere from international shows to international magazine covers like Cosmopolitan. Its all because of her good marketing which in itself is a well thought out drill. News like Julia Roberts thinking of her as the most beautiful woman in the world and Will Smith wanting to work with her has reasons. It's because she is the only actress they must have heard of. It is better management of her career and the campaign that has sustained around her," he explains.

    However Ash's first Bollywood director, Rahul Rawail (Aur Pyar Ho Gaya) thinks differently. "It's not just marketing, because that alone cannot help you. There has to be something in the person. It's all about that spark," he says.

    Rakesh Roshan too has similar reasons to give. "She is very talented. Her talent is speaking more than the success of her films. The way she presents herself onscreen garners her more movies and good work. Basically she is a fine actress. In Dhoom 2 Hrithik and Ash complemented each other. They looked good together and they have given their best in the movie," he says hoping that the Hrithik-Ash pair would rock in future too.

    Ash has some supporters no doubt, but detractors too she has many. Unlike Rani Mukerji, the heroine of many hits, Ash is not a part of any camp. She is not a Chopra camp, a Johar camp or a Bhansali camp regular. She is not on great terms or working anymore with the big Khans (read Shah Rukh, Salman, Aamir and Saif). There are people who don't hold her in high regard. "I have not seen any of her movies. I don't know her and really don't want to know," said Mahesh Bhatt when asked to comment on Ash's career graph.

    But the lady seems to care less with her great management skills, beauty and luck in place, which have indeed stood her in good stead so far. The Ash aura is unlikely to diminish so soon and the brand is here to shine for couple of more years.

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