Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai Anil Sinanan
“I feel like Miss World or Miss Universe, I am so happy!” Shah Rukh Khan beamed, when he unveiled his waxwork at Madame Tussauds in London earlier this week. King Khan’s dummy is the third Bollywood star to be displayed alongside Amitabh Bachchan and Aishwarya Rai at the popular tourist attraction. The Big B’s waxwork is currently “one of the top three most viewed” by visitors, so I asked Khan whether his debut will change this equation in the museum’s popularity charts. “I have never been someone to calculate numbers,” Khan replied, adding that “telephones have numbers, not actors.” Was the waxwork an accurate replica of him in every department? “I have not seen it without its clothes, so I do not know!” Khan smiled, whilst puffing away on yet another cigarette.
I left Khan and rushed to meet Aishwarya Rai who was also in London to launch Faces, an exhibition of Bollywood star photos, at a Covent Garden Indian Restaurant. India’s most famous star photographer, Gautam Rajadhyaksha, was in a chirpy mood as he commented on the pics. He described 1970s superstar Rajesh Khanna as a “sour faced man”, pin-up girl Dimple Kapadia as “most unphotogenic”, eternal diva Rekha as “narcissistic” and wished that bad boy Salman Khan “could be as great an actor as he is a model.” Rai and Rajadhyaksha indulged in some typical mutual bolly-banter: she described his work as “iconic”; he described her as an “icon”.
Rai was running late for the Provoked press conference which was taking place at a central London hotel. The much delayed film, which had its debut at Cannes in 2006, is finally being released on Friday April 6 in India and the UK. The press was under strict instructions not to ask Rai any personal questions or about Shilpa Shetty, so it was a rather mechanical affair.
Earlier, I did manage to ask her whether she was going to continue pursuing a Hollywood-Bollywood career. “This is a conscious decision on my part,” the soon- to- be married star told me. “My debut was not in a typical Hindi film but in Tamil cinema. I have also done Bengali and two other British films in English. I am continuing to play distinct women in all types of cinema.” I ended our chat by asking her to reveal the secret of her super slim (size zero?) figure. “Oh, I never had a fitness regime until recently as I had to get fit for two action-orientated roles. Even so, I only worked out for a month,” the surprisingly chatty Rai stated.
Helen, the dancing star of over 500 Hindi films, was in London last week to attend the recently concluded Tongues on Fire Annual Asian Women’s Film Festival. We had coffee at her Mayfair hotel and I asked Helen-aunty what she thought of the dances in today’s Bollywood. “It is lots of gymnastics, like a gym workout,” the golden girl of Hindi dancing commented. I asked her how she was able to maintain her shape over the course of a career spanning at least three decades. “I dieted a lot, eating lots of boiled vegetables but I am making up for it and it is really showing now, as you can see!” the chirpy, chubby actress chuckled