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The Muse and Her Director: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sanjay Gupta Talk Jazbaa

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 8/10/2015 E. Nina Rothe

2015-10-08-1444306652-2975065-Jazbaa_067.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-08-1444306652-2975065-Jazbaa_067.jpg
If a few months ago someone had asked me who is the movie star I'd most like to be friends with, before Cannes last May, I honestly would have been at a loss for words. Yes, me. But once I met and interviewed Aishwarya Rai Bachchan on a yacht -- the actress wearing a stunning ball gown for an upcoming red carpet, while I sat cross legged near her in my bare toes -- I realized she's exactly the kind of woman I'd like to share a meal with, along with some girl talk. Sit down for this, because Rai Bachchan is all the beauty, talent and smart you've always known her to be, and more. But she's also so much fun, ready to laugh at herself and the world and willing to share a moment reminiscing about a common friend. And if you've ever watched that 60 Minutes interview with Bob Simon, you know the girl can eat!
In Cannes this year, the actress was there to promote her upcoming film Jazbaa, the feature directorial debut for Bollywood mega producer Sanjay Gupta, and her return to acting after a five-year hiatus. Aishwarya Rai Bachchan, as she is now known following her wedding to fellow Hindi cinema superstar Abhishek Bachchan eight years ago, has been off the screen lately but hardly out of radar view, choosing to play mother to her soon-to-turn four years old daughter Aaradhya, instead of her more typical leading lady roles.
And with Jazbaa, the former Miss Universe will also be switching things around for her fans, playing the role of a bewildered mother, a professional woman who finds her world destroyed in the blink of an eye. While one could never ever call Rai Bachchan straggly or unkempt -- I remember a behind-the-scenes video of her future husband Abhishek talking about Aishwarya falling asleep on a long haul flight, and how perfect she seemed even doing such an unglamorous activity -- her performance, alongside another favorite actor of mine Irrfan Khan, appears perfectly organic for the role.
I sat down with Aishwarya Rai Bachchan and Sanjay Gupta for what seems even months later, a lovely moment in time, a stop away from the hustle and bustle of Cannes, to a corner of the city where an alternate universe existed, during the Festival. A place where both the enchanting muse and her enchanted director could speak freely and feel at home, and where this blogger sitting in their presence experienced a magical afternoon. Almost like a Bollywood dream.
How was your experience working together?Sanjay Gupta: The answer is quite simple. Who would not want to work with Aishwarya?! For me, it's a milestone ticked in my career. I'm hoping that this is the first of many times because we have so many stories.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: Gladly!
Sanjay Gupta: Apart from that, at times it plays in your mind this baggage, that you're working with the most beautiful woman in the world. It's the expectations of people. Everyone has these expectations of you and that's the first thing you want to put aside when you go on set. Because you've got a story to tell and you want the actor to come in there and do it the way you want her to do it. Obviously at first it does get you, not nervous, but anxious. Will she, won't she, how much?
Then you start working and suddenly you see that there she is, she has absolutely discarded any trappings of being a star, or a diva, this larger than life person. And there is just this great actress. I'm in the same boat, a lot of times people have said about my films that it's more style than substance and with her a lot of her fabulous performances -- every time she's pushed the envelope, any number of roles -- every time that persona takes over, people are just in awe of her -- "oh my God it's Aishwarya Rai!"
2015-10-08-1444308630-5846564-10480564_515662281922295_1497961076721289391_o.jpg © Provided by The Huffington Post 2015-10-08-1444308630-5846564-10480564_515662281922295_1497961076721289391_o.jpg How did you feel working with this iconic filmmaker, known perhaps for a genre, but certainly an icon? Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: Absolutely, and that's why it was so exciting, because here was a subject and a very strong human drama and I'm so glad you identified that. He's always had his intention in this content and yet he has a unique signature to his visual storytelling. All throughout this press activity I'm realizing what I've faced is also what he has had to face. While he has the content, and people love it and enjoy his cinema, yeah he does get recognized as a stylized filmmaker. That's the first adjective that goes with recognizing his body of work. There is that commonalty where the visual gets talked about first and then the content gets recognized. I just realized we have that in common!
That's not something I'd thought about but it excited me that in fact I was working with a director like him, who was going to tell this thrilling human drama in a way that only he could and this combination to me was extremely fascinating and exciting because this too would be new to my body of work. As an actor and as a creative energy I think you're always looking to experience something new and that's what makes going to work exciting. The same story can be really told in so many ways but I really want to see a Sanjay Gupta movie at the end of this.
Did you find it difficult to go into this character, as a mother yourself?Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: That's the paradox of answering every question. Because while yes, this was the subject I wanted to go to work on every day, this isn't a situation I would wish upon anyone. Mother, father, uncle, aunt siblings. Any relationship, godfather, god mother, whatever be the relationships we have with children in all our lives, I wouldn't wish this situation upon anybody. So that's the paradox, I know, where I say I wouldn't wish this on anybody but this is the subject I want to go to every day. This is a story I did want to share with the world because of the challenges the protagonist goes through every day. She's a single mother, she's also a professional, by means of her vocation, she's a criminal lawyers, and she's put through exceedingly challenging situations. There is this real human drama that she's going through every day and even within that drama it does touch on such important subjects of society. We're not carrying a placard throughout but at the same time we are talking about so many important aspects of life itself that I was very, very happy to be on board of such a story. When you see it you'll know what and why.
Cinema to me is a great way to understand other cultures. It's what I go to when I want to know about the Arab Spring or what is happening with the farmers in Punjab, I turn to cinema first, not to the news. Because you feel the emotions that way, you're not just learning a story. Do you feel that with this film you're going to be highlighting some very serious issues?Sanjay Gupta: Yes we are. It's some extremely serious issues that we're highlighting. Like you said, cinema is very submersive, you go in there. A lot of people ask me this question, why do my films have a certain look? There is always a certain tonality to the film and I explain that for each film I try to create the universe of that film. So I choose specific locations, I choose specific colors so that I'm not making cinema that is a slice of life. I don't do those kinds of films. For me, cinema is larger than life, it has to be.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: I find that exciting. Because that to me is a first, working with an artist, a creative force who is saying, "hey lets sit here and recognize what is cinema meant to do." It's meant to first visually engage, you engage your audience and draw them into this unique world, get them to actually experience the content of this character and immerse yourself in the world of that story. And I recognize this as Sanjay's work. So I think it's fascinating that he's actually using all the tools of what you would naturally recognize as belonging to cinema. What cinema is meant to do. All of that!
Sanjay Gupta: We are, and I can't really talk about it too much because the film is a suspense movie and I can't give away the ending... But the film is dealing with the biggest problem that India faces and is continuing to face and we are taking that problem head on. Completely. At times, when people ask me the message of my films, I very nonchalantly say I'm not a professor, I'm not a teacher, I'm an entertainer, I want to tell good stories. But this is the first time even for me that I am taking on a very, very strong issue.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: A number of issues, one that will stand out but a number of issues are being spoken about. As a woman, this was very exciting for me.
Can you each describe the other in three words?Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: Three words? (laughs) Too little, sorry!
Sanjay Gupta: Tremendously hard worker, mother and buddy. You know, I've been working with my friends, mostly guys and people then asked me, "How is it working with her?" I said "the same, she's like any other guy on set." There is nothing chick-like about her.
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan: Love working with him. Every day is not about statement-making and all that, it's just been so natural and so easy and really working with him, which is why we could say "buddy" today. I don't feel it's the first time we are working together. I feel I've always known him.
Jazbaa opens worldwide on October 9th.
All images courtesy of Essel Vision Productions, used with permission.

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