INDIA goes holywood

MUMBAI - Last October, Aishwarya Bachchan grappled with a tough choice. The Bollywood star could either stay in Los Angeles to pursue a lead role in Will Smith's new film, Seven Pounds, or she could return home to Mumbai to celebrate Karva Chauth, a day-long ceremonial fast that some married Hindu women observe as a prayer for their husband's health and long life.

MUMBAI - Last October, Aishwarya Bachchan grappled with a tough choice. The Bollywood star could either stay in Los Angeles to pursue a lead role in Will Smith's new film, Seven Pounds, or she could return home to Mumbai to celebrate Karva Chauth, a day-long ceremonial fast that some married Hindu women observe as a prayer for their husband's health and long life.

Ultimately Bachchan chose to return to Mumbai and starve with a smile. National television channels covered her first Karva Chauth as headline news.

Two months later she shrugged off her loss in an interview. "You do what you have to do," she said. "Feeling torn and thereby unhappy, confused or guilty is not something I want. So you make your choices and go with it. You get some and some you don't."

This month Bachchan brings some of that clarity and traditionalism to a role she was born to play: that of Queen Jodhaa in the sumptuous-looking historical drama Jodhaa Akbar. The R70million film is one of Bollywood's biggest productions this year. It will be released worldwide today, in more than 115 theatres in the US alone, making it the biggest American release ever for a Hindi film.

Jodhaa Akbar focuses on that quintessentially Indian subject: arranged marriage. Set in the 16th century, it explores the marriage between the great Mughal emperor, Akbar, a Muslim, and his Hindu wife Jodhaa.

Historians have described the union as a political alliance, but in the hands of Ashutosh Gowariker, the film's director, the story has become "an epic romance with its share of battles, harem politics and intrigue" - he said in a phone interview. Gowariker isn't claiming factual accuracy but insists the film is "embedded in historical truth".

He cast Bachchan as the queen because "Aishwarya is a comic book princess with a certain dignity, elegance and sense of purity".

For the role of Akbar, Gowariker wanted someone with "the physique of a warrior and the face of a romantic", and selected another Bollywood superstar, Hrithik Roshan.

Gowariker described it as a dream cast, which, at least as far as box office appeal goes, seems accurate. Both actors are "beautiful", and are consummate superstars. With their ethnically indeterminate looks and impeccable English, Bachchan and Roshan could be India's first international movie stars.

Bachchan has made progress in that direction. She is the international face of L'Oreal and Longines, and always a glamorous presence at the Cannes Film Festival.

In 2004 she made Time magazine's 100 most influential people.

So far Bachchan's international projects have sputtered commercially and critically, but with her high-profile marriage, A-list brand endorsements and plum Hindi film projects, she continues to generate global attention. - Reuters

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