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What’s In a Kiss?

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February 2005
What’s In a Kiss?

By DEEPA AGARWAL

Apparently quite a lot and especially so, if Aishwarya Rai, one of the most beautiful women in the world, does it on the silver screen.

"It would definitely be a topic of discussion," Rai told Bob Simon, in an interview on CBS's prestigious news magazine show, 60 Minutes, this January 2nd. And topic of discussion it has become, indeed!

"Will Ash kiss on screen?" said the Times of India; "Aishwarya Rai ponders onscreen kisses," claimed The Hindu; "Most beautiful woman ponders kiss," affirmed CNN.com; "Bollywood actress in two dozen films but never been kissed on screen," screamed the Canadian Press; "Bollywood actress hasn't smooched on film," reported the Associated Press; "Aishwarya faces prospect of onscreen kiss," asserted the Daily Times of Pakistan; and "Aishwarya does not rule out kissing in films," said the Daily Star of Bangladesh.

I mean imagine Aishwarya Rai playing Ilsa in Casablanca and saying: "Kiss me. Kiss me as if it were the last time?!".

Pretty darn sad, isn't it, considering that Rai's interview on 60 Minutes was touted to open the eyes of the American public to the colossal power of Bollywood? Eagerly anticipated, it was supposed to be the curtain-raiser for the long-awaited movement of Indian talent into global arena.

Instead, the "universal appeal" of Bollywood from Africa to Russia, and UK to the Middle East, simply got attributed to its "squeaky clean image," whereby song-and-dance sequences simply became the irresistible metaphors of love and intimacy. And all that ever got spoken and written about was whether Rai would bow to the demands of Hollywood and agree to smooch on screen.

Wow, makes one wonder, what's the big deal? Not only have several other Indian actresses including the likes of Karisma Kapoor, Dimple Kapadia and Madhuri Dixit already kissed on the big screen; but the year 2004 has also survived many a ?murder'-ous kisses, what with the Mallika Sherawat's of a newer and adventurous Bollywood.

Without a doubt, the profile of Aishwarya Rai on 60 Minutes and the subsequent story highlighting Bollywood's crossing over into Hollywood on ABC's Nightline (on January 14), was more than just that. It was a celebration of the growing acceptance of Bollywood in the West.

Though, if the CBS interview with Aishwarya, was intended to serve as the "vanguard of Bollywood's impending foray into Hollywood," then it left a lot to be desired. While Rai, at 31, certainly looked stunning, her behavior was more like that of an 18-year-old. Laughing coquettishly, she completely undersold the accomplishments of Indian cinema. Instead, she chose to focus on the more "transient" aspects of her "real" self.

Maybe Rai deserves the benefit of doubt. Perhaps it was CBS and Bob Simons who steered the interview into shallow land. But in any case, while she may have impressed many by her pageantry, she served as a superficial rather than a substantive marker of Indian cinema and culture.

At a Mumbai restaurant with Bob Simon, Rai ordered kebabs, fish, cashew chicken, and prawns along with garlic cheese naan and giggled about how she loved butter and cheese and bread. Did she honestly think that we would believe that she would eat all of that? And whoever cares about carbs, anyways! Well, didn't we of the Indian diaspora who she so proudly represents require a little more display of wisdom and maturity from one of Time magazine's 100 most influential people on the planet? Sashaying on the floor of her favorite designer shop, she left Simon dumbstruck. Wouldn't it have been a lot better, though, if her answers to his questions had had the same effect?

If educating international audience about her country was one of her missions during the Miss World pageant, it definitely did not seem so for this interview. Might be a better idea if next time we have some "real" women, or men for that matter, of the likes of Shabana Azmi or Naseeruddin Shah, represent India and do the job for Indian cinema.


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