Do you know Aishwarya once said, "My right and left sides are different, my skin isn't in great shape, my smile is lopsided, I have dark circles." Do you also know that her favourite perfume is Happy, that she is terrified of cockroaches, is a complete chocoholic, night bird and an insomniac?
Makers of sites devoted to the beauty queen know all of this and more. The name Aishwarya Rai is enough to inspire more than a hundred sites, and over a few hundred pages online.
"I once tried searching for sites on Aishwarya and Madonna. Can you believe Aishwarya has more?" proudly declares Santosh Gadi, 23-year-old software engineer in California and maker of Fall in Love with Aishwarya. 22-year-old Prateek Rastogi (http://www.7wonders.net/ash) informs us, from feedback his site has received over four years, that "even people who don't understand the language watch her films and are crazy about her. In fact, there are more people abroad, than in India, who are completely crazy about her."
The reasons for dedicating sites to her are manifold. Prateek, who put his site up four years ago, has an emotional one: "I love her. It happened somewhere in between the Pepsi ads and her Miss World crown. Armed with a bit of HTML knowledge, a few photographs and some Megs of space, I decided to dedicate a site to her." Others like Shantanu Shah used his site as an opportunity to sharpen skills in HTML and web design.
For Shital Shah (aishu.org), it was because no other site measured up. "There were four or five popular sites but they lacked consistency and completeness. You have to visit different sites for bits of information, so I simply tried to glue all the pieces together. When you're an Ash fan, you have to create the best site for her to share with other fans."
Unlike fickle Bollywood audiences, makers of Aishwarya sites are a loyal bunch. They don't seem fazed by ups and downs in her career or gossip surrounding the actress. Shantanu says, "When I began the site, she wasn't even counted as an actress!" Another site owner Prathab, based in London, insists, "She has such a fan following now that flops would not make a difference. Besides, can any movie starring Aishwarya be a flop?"
Today, getting information on the actress is easy. As Mahrishi Akilla, who set up his fan site four years ago points out, all one has to do is "open the newspaper and you are likely to find one or two articles related to her." The initial going, however, was tougher. "Though she has always been in the limelight, when I started the site it was difficult to find information and pictures. I was constantly asking for favours from my friends to help scan pictures or get me articles on her," explains Prateek.
Most site owners narrate how their biggest source of information is other enthusiastic fans online. Shital says, "If you look at my mailing list there are hundreds of posts in just over two years, each containing some new find about her. If you try hard enough, you can get around 1500 unique images online, 100 personal interviews, 500 original pieces of writings and countless news items."
Maintaining a site is another story. "Building a site for her was a very personal thing. It's not just writing and uploading pages, you put your soul in it," says Shital, about his labour of love. For Varun Sud, it meant hours of discussion over design, with professionals, to help improve the look of his site. "Everyone is aware of my passion, so when Aishwarya went to my cousins' school to shoot for 'Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai,' they clicked photographs for me so I could put them up."
And is she really the most popular Indian woman online? "Yes," says Payal Seth. "I have fan clubs on all popular actresses, but this is the only club with over 1000 members, while the other clubs don't even have a 100." So popular is Miss Rai that all domains with almost every combination of her name have already been taken.
There are instant rewards to be had though, for this hard work. "Someone thought the site was good enough to be her official website and that, to me, was the biggest compliment ever," gushes Pradeep. Prashant Shekhar (Aishwraya Pics)has a funny incident to narrate: "A 14-year-old guy from Bahrain thought I was Aishwarya and wrote pages declaring his love for me." Prateek Rastogi suddenly became a celebrity in his college after being featured on the BBC for his effort. Mahrishi Akilla and Varun Sud have over 30,000 subscribers, and the latter declares, "I was even suspended by my host server as hits grew to more than the allowed number. All electricity bills, phone charges, Internet and hosting costs would not be in vain even if Aishwarya wanted this site
dedicated to her for free!"
But what are fans really looking for? Pictures rule the roost, while screensavers, news and gossip are also hot. "There are always some weirdos who want nude pictures, but I have also had a lot of people asking for pictures of her in traditional saris," says Prashant.
Site updates are frequent, with most on a weekly, and some on a daily basis.
Money and time are no criteria, say most site owners. 16-year-old Prashant has his tenth standard exams, but still dedicates over 5-6 hours to his site. Prateek used to have a date every Saturday night to update his site for many years till final year engineering exams demanded his complete attention. Shantanu spends huge sums of money, especially because he updates his site from a cyber café. Pratab and Payal, who live in the US and Canada, both spend huge amounts on posters or the latest magazines.
As far as competition amongst sites is concerned, most shrug it off. "There is not much 'competition' between Ash fans. We share information and news using every means we can, instead of keeping it a secret. If there's a new site we are more happy and even make an effort to keep it up," says Shital.
When rumours of the Aishwarya and Salman Khan affair broke out, Prateek explains how he and many site owners loaned their shoulders to many who were heartbroken. "Fans are very disappointed. They hope she will realise he is not worthy of her especially as incidents of her being beaten up ."
All in all, an emotional lot.
Prateek thinks she is the world's best model, Shantanu passionately says that he is just "an Ash fan, not a Bollywood fan," and Pradeep says he will never sell his site, "because emotions are not for sale!"
Speaking for the majority, Prashant rounds off: "If I could ask Ash to do just one thing, it would be to get a professional to create an official site where regular pictures, interviews and the latest information could be maintained. I think it would be the best way for her to keep in touch with her fans."
Take a quick site tour on the sites dedicated to Aishwarya Rai
Tell us what you think of this article