November 1, 2002 
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Aishwarya Rai
Ash Rai pleased with response in Hollywood
For the last fortnight the actress met agents, executives and directors discussing prospects

Som Chivukula in New York

Aishwarya Rai is not likely to forget her experience at Cannes any time soon.

Rai, who was at the prestigious film festival in May promoting Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Devdas, received plenty of kudos for her work, not to mention her drop-dead looks. Many members of the European and US media also encouraged the star, who turns 29 Friday, November 1, to pursue film projects in Hollywood.

Hollywood agents also persuaded her to fly across the Atlantic and become familiar with the system.

But her tight schedule prevented her from coming to America at that time. However, in mid-October, Rai was scheduled to appear for a fundraiser in New York benefiting the Kochi Konther Ashor foundation.

For the last couple of weeks, Rai met with several Hollywood people, including agents, executives and directors discussing prospects.

The results, she says, have been extremely positive.

In an exclusive conversation with, Rai says she is almost ready to sign with a US agency, adding three top firms are vying for her services: William Morris, Creative Artists and International Creative Management. The formal announcement will come in the next 30 days, Rai says as she makes up her mind.

"There has always been a lot of talk back home from the media that I should pursue Hollywood, which I smiled at," she said, hours before boarding a flight to Mumbai, October 30. "[But] the world is becoming smaller and opportunities do come up. The response in Cannes was great. So I thought I should come here and give it a go."

Rai, who was dressed in blue jeans with a leather jacket over her black T-shirt, says there is a lot more homework to be done. She has received about a dozen scripts, of which she said she likes two. But negotiations are in the initial stages and her busy schedule in Bollywood may play a significant role in determining whether she signs on for a Hollywood movie.

"This does not mean that I am leaving back home," she said, letting out a smile. "It's just another movie and it does not mean that I am leaving there and coming here for good. There are people in the Chinese film industry who come up and work here and go back."

The fans that have created a following worldwide will also play a role in her decision, Rai says.

"The choices I would make have to make my community pleased with the decision I take. They have been genuinely loving through all my phases, beginning with Miss World, all these years," she said.

According to Shiva Natarajan, a personal friend of Rai, the popular actress met with actor Robert De Niro, filmmaker Julie Taymor (Frida), Miramax honcho Harvey Weinstein during her stay, just to name a few.

"We've discussed this and she is only interested in quality roles. She will not do roles that require nudity," he said. "She wants roles like Salma Hayek in Frida or Julia Roberts in Notting Hill."

The bottom line is that the next few weeks are the key as Rai mulls her options, Nataraja added.

Getting lost in the Hollywood buzz is the fact that Rai came to America to support a worthy cause --- helping underprivileged children. Funds are still being collected; hence organizers could not cite a specific amount that has been raised. Rai also attended an event to support New York Governor George E Pataki, a fundraiser that raised $80,000.

Rai, who has voiced support for eye bank "I was pleased and touched with Mr Pataki's bond with the community and what he's been doing here," Rai said, adding she supports causes that do not have a voice.

Rai, who has voiced support for eye bank associations in India, also wants to find a way to help the elderly. Women's and health issues are also near to her. "Life comes full circle and very often that tends to get overlooked," she said.

Despite her charity work and Hollywood pursuit, perhaps the one issue on everyone's mind is to get her take about the controversy surrounding ex-flame Salman Khan.

But it is a topic she does not want to discuss publicly. Much has been written and said about them, but Rai says she has no time neither to confirm nor deny various reports. It is rare that she speaks to the media, and when she does it is to promote a film. "I am a sensitive person and I can't deny it. It makes me a bit helpless but I have not gone out and worked out a modus or agenda in terms of damage control to make a correction," she said. "The girl in me does feel helpless. To put it simply, it would be ridiculous not to recognise that the press reports various incidents of your life when you become a public personality.

"But I think there is a fine line between attention and intrusion. I really wish people would recognise that," she continued. "All in all people (the public at large) have been wonderful. Silence is golden and you speak when you need to be heard."

Photographs: Paresh Gandhi


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