Not Ash?s Wednesday - Anti-climax on US show but for a repartee

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By K.P. NAYAR in Washington
  • Published 9.02.05

Washington, Feb. 9: It was the chance of a lifetime and Aishwarya Rai blew it.

Last night ? Wednesday in India ? she appeared on the larger-than-life Late Show With David Letterman, probably the only Indian to be featured on America?s phenomenally popular late night TV comedy, but the encounter was an anti-climax after Letterman?s build-up for her as the ?most beautiful woman in the world? and the ?most famous star in the world?.

Beautiful she certainly was on Letterman?s sets, but after clips of Bride and Prejudice, her movie to be released in 15 cities here this weekend, were featured on the show, most American viewers would have wondered what makes her so famous as a star.

David Germain, film critic for the Associated Press, whose reviews are used by thousands of provincial US newspapers and local TV stations, said Bride strains credulity as an update of Jane Austen?s 19th century novel, recast in Bollywood.

Most Americans familiar with Indian films have come to expect in them songs and dances that grab attention even when they are mystified by them.

But Germain lowered expectations, when he wrote: ?The opening wedding dance presents a colourfully costumed but lacklustre introduction to the musical parts.?

Germain added: ?The subsequent tunes are similarly tepid, the music unremarkable and the choreography too stagy to feel as though it is springing spontaneously out of the action.?

Aishwarya?s encounter with Letterman was to have been the climax of a carefully choreographed public relations build-up on the eve of the premiere of her English language debut at Union Square Theatre in Manhattan.

But unlike for her January performance on 60 Minutes, a CBS news magazine watched by over 15 million Americans twice a week, Aishwarya appeared not to have been coached what to expect last night.

To start with, many viewers had fantasised that she would appear in exotic Indian clothes as she did in 60 Minutes.

But she walked into Letterman?s studio with a live audience in a short black skirt way above her knees, a black blouse, a brown leather jacket and black boots, taking viewers by surprise that she did not have sexy legs of the kind Americans have come to expect in film stars.

Unlike Bob Simon, who interviewed Aishwarya for 60 Minutes, Letterman was clearly not bowled over by her looks. She appeared unprepared to handle Letterman?s curious brand of humour and his style of interview mixed with jokes.

Aishwarya and Letterman ended up making faces at each other. The only point when she was applauded by the audience was after Letterman rather disparagingly asked Aishwarya, 31, if she still lived with her parents. In India, ?we don?t have to make appointments to have dinner with our parents?, she shot back. Applause!

The Bollywood star, who is definitely making waves across North America, must have gone for the Late Show expecting questions about the taboos of kissing and nudity in Bollywood and pressures on this score if she moved to Hollywood.

Such questions have been the staple at her other media interactions here, but Letterman carefully avoided the subject and left her at a loss for words, giggling more than usual, instead.

Letterman?s guests usually poke fun at themselves when they show up for the Late Show. Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, for instance, told Letterman at the height of his campaign last year that he was for eliminating income-tax altogether: ?Just ask Teresa (Heinz Kerry, his fabulously wealthy wife) to cover the whole damn thing.? Another Kerry quote at that time was his suggestion that estate tax should be waived for families with at least two US Presidents, a dig at Bush.

Democrat John Edwards, who unsuccessfully fought vice-president Dick Cheney in last November?s election, announced his bid for presidency earlier during the campaign on a late night show. Among such shows, Letterman alone has a nightly viewership of 4.3 million.

Most guests who appear on America?s late night comedy shows make the most of their slots. Aishwarya did not, but her Indian fans here are hoping that with experience she will do better or will have to, if she eventually migrates to Hollywood.