The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Tolly, Holly and then Bollywood
- Aishwarya talks of her newfound love and deal abroad

Calcutta, Dec. 17: Bollywood can take a backseat. For Aishwarya Rai, it’s time for Hollywood and Tollywood now.

A week after disappearing into Tollygunge studios for Rituparno Ghosh’s Chokher Bali, Aishwarya emerged today — in blue jeans, cream top and bewitching smile — to announce that her “fruitful and enriching” brush with Bengal is not just a one-film fling.

“I found the conditions here totally conducive. I would love to work here… And Binodini is my favourite character at the moment,” gushed the actress who has decided to keep her Bollywood assignments to the bare minimum (just Rajkumar Santoshi’s Khaki and Sameer Karnaik’s Kyon Pyar Ho Gaya). She’s targeting Holly-Tollywood instead.

“I will be doing Gurinder Chadda’s Pride and Prejudice from next July,” confirmed Aishwarya. The feelers had started coming when she was in Cannes for the premiere of Devdas — her first brush with Bengali literature (Sarat Chandra Chattopadhyay) and Bengali words (eesh, shotti, e ma).

“Just recently,” she said, an agreement had been reached with William Morris, the 102-year-old agency that has handled Charles Chaplin and Marilyn Monroe, Jane Fonda and Goldie Hawn.

For the moment, though, it’s all things Bengali for Ash the actress, and maybe even Ash the ‘sister-producer’.

At a promotional event for home production Dil Ka Rishta (co-starring Arjun Rampal), brother Aditya admitted that Bengal was a target area for their company’s next line of films. Aishwarya and Aditya together run Target Films, a production company.

“After Dil Ka Rishta, we are looking at two avenues — NRI films and a regional sector, especially Bengal. Ever since Ash started working for Devdas, we have realised the richness and depth of Bengali literature. Once we identify the right stories, we could surely make films in Bengal,” said the co-director of Target Films.

Ash, surely, wouldn’t mind. She admitted to having read “some Rabindranath Tagore stories” in her school texts but never dreaming that she would, one day, play “such an important character as Binodini”.

That her Bengali is much better than her Devdas days was apparent from the near-effortless smattering of “Ki, kemon achhen…. Keno…” “Ritu (Rituparno) took pains to teach me Bangla. The language is as sweet as the people here and everyone from the Chokher Bali unit has been so nice to me that have never for a moment I missed home,” gushed the actress, before leaving for Mumbai.

Ash travels to the banks of Benares in early-January for the second stint of Chokher Bali, before returning to Tollygunge in early-February.

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