On Sunday, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan — a global face for L'Oreal Paris for two decades now — joined some other prolific ambassadors of the beauty brand at Le Defile at Paris Fashion Week, a fashion walk that emphasises its motto of 'Walk Your Worth', embodying the vision of inclusion and sisterhood, connecting with audiences around the world and making a bold feminine and feminist statement. A day before the iconic walk on the Esplanade of the Eiffel Tower, Aishwarya interacted with t2 over a video call from Paris.
I hope you are enjoying Paris till now...
We have just come in today! It's a very short trip, but it's always wonderful. Great weather today and it's refreshing.
What does walking at Le Defile at Paris Fashion Week mean to you?
This is the sixth edition of Le Defile with L'Oreal Paris. I have been here twice before consecutively, though last year I was unable to participate because it was on the day of the release of Ponniyin Selvan I. This time, being such an integral part of the L'Oreal (Paris) family, everybody really wanted that I participate. So this year at Cannes (Film Festival) itself, we made sure the dates were locked. And here I am.
On a more serious note, I think it's wonderful and meaningful. And that's something that's always grabbed my attention. I have always been a part of showbiz from the beginning, but when there is an opportunity for deeper meaning, for larger impact, or at least contributing in that direction, I have always been there. I am not making any grandiose statements that here we are and that we have brought about changes. It isn't possible overnight. And it isn't possible singularly, or even just by a niche handful. Change will come about through the contribution of a larger number. When we can have that kind of participation and that kind of definitive work done in a direction, that will definitely accelerate change.
What's fabulous is that we have brands like L'Oreal Paris that have always spoken about I am worth it, you are worth it, we are all worth it, right? And then when that leads to the opportunity of making it to Paris Fashion Week and a fashion walk that says 'Walk your Worth', it's fabulous.
That's because you are giving it dimension and meaning and you are drawing attention to a movement called 'Stand Up', which was initiated by L'Oreal Paris partnering with Right to Be, an NGO that's been
working towards hoping for harassment to just end in all walks of life, but very, very strongly in the direction of women feeling secure out there on the streets, on public turf, something that some of us have the blessed life of enjoying so freely.
At the same time, it is statistically proven that almost 80 per cent of women feel insecure about walking without possibly being harassed. It is shocking that even in this day and age where we believe we are enjoying empowerment and greater equality and non-discrimination, this is a stark reality. So this certainly needs to change. And I think it's wonderful that a fashion walk can be an opportunity to draw attention to something so important. I will go ahead and speak for all of our spokespeople of the L'Oreal family, that we are all very, very happy to be part of this larger voice through an experience of an evening of fashion.
Is an initiative like 'Stand Up Against Street Harassment' even practically possible, despite all measures taken, in a country as populous as India where the acknowledgement of private space is less?
While we will naturally recognise the impossibility of the situation in a country like ours, with the kind of population, with the kind of public transport, or with the street harassment that has been documented by journalists like you over the years, at the same time, the reality is that it isn't limited to just countries like ours. This is a problem across the globe. And that is why there's such a strong need for attention in this area.
In over 43 countries of the world, they have actually been successful in initiating and running training programmes to help people — boys and girls — and everybody who needs to understand that even if you're witnessing, you can help. Sometimes people are helpless and they just walk on or they just choose a nonchalant approach out of sheer lack of knowledge of what to do instinctively at that point in time, or out of concern that we don't know what really we can do. It's like the start of your question. Can we really? We will never know until we begin to work in that direction, until we try, until we talk about it, until we bring attention to this, because it is a reality that we all know has existed. And it's time someone does something about it.
So at least let's talk about it. Let's draw attention to it. They've initiated training programmes where there is a methodology about distraction, delaying, documenting, directing...
What does empowerment mean to you as a woman and as an actor?
I think empowerment is about the freedom to be, to be true to yourself, to be who you are, to be comfortable being who you are and making that choice to just be who you are and be comfortable in your skin in action — in mind, spirit and choices, in opinion, in creativity.
If we move a little away, what do you love the most about being at Paris Fashion Week?
I am so focused on this being one of the strongest reasons for my participation this year, it remains in that world of the way I am perceiving Paris Fashion Week currently. But given that I have been part of the fashion world and of showbiz for so long now, it's wonderful to see the evolution of creativity. I think that's just who we are as a people and it's nice that it's celebrated the way that it is. Yes, everybody recognises that consumerism and marketability is always a very, very strong aspect of every such experience, but that's entrepreneurship, right? That's the way of the world.
What can you tell us about your look at Le Defile this year?
Falguni (of Falguni Shane Peacock) has done my look this time. This time, they asked me if I wanted to bring in someone from India and I was like: 'I would love to!' Falguni and I were interacting on something else, we are friends, and so I was very happy that Falguni Shane Peacock has come on board and they have created a fabulous look.
L'Oreal Paris has been an integral part of your journey for many, many years now. How have you grown and evolved with the brand?
Yes, this has been an incredible association for nearly 20 years now. And when it's been for that long, it transcends just being a brand ambassador. I genuinely feel like I belong to this family. It's a familial kind of bond and experience that you share because it really is over so many varied experiences, platforms, and opportunities... be it at important events or important movements like these. It's wonderful that over the years, we have together enjoyed this association beyond it being just a face to a brand.
You have known me for so many years now and you know that I don't make a lot of choices in these areas. It's selective, but true. And that's why it's all about keeping it real. It's about being more meaningful. And that's proved in choices like this, as well as my other brand associations... they are long, they are true, they are solid, they are real and they are meaningful.
When they (L'Oreal Paris) came to me, I was very happy to associate because I love the motto, which is: 'I am worth it'. It's nice when you know you can be part of something like that. We also had the 'Worth It' awards in India created as a platform to celebrate so many women who have triumphed over all their possible situations and yet come through with such amazing ventures. They have triumphed through situations, they have created businesses.... It was wonderful to celebrate all the ladies.
I started out in showbiz straight out of college. And even while making that career choice, I wanted to contribute. And I am happy that stays true even today as we speak.