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Born in the steamy southern climes of Karnataka, this former model and Miss World 1994 shares a strained relationship with journalists for one reason alone: Salman Khan, the ex-boyfriend who just won't quit.
The much-chronicled relationship, born on the sets of the blockbuster hit Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, has served as a focus for the agitations of conservative Hindu politicians (Salman Khan is Muslim; Aishwarya is Hindu). But the majority of the scandal has arisen from Khan's questionable treatment of her. Her black eye at a televised awards ceremony (attained, she claimed, through a fall) provoked whispers of domestic violence.
time, Ash firmly dismissed the idea. "For
some perverse reason, no one wants me to believe that I fell down
the stairs. First the media calls me the woman of the millennium,
a woman of substance. Then how can the same media make me out
to be such a doormat? I'm a self-respecting woman, I don't take
nonsense from anyone. No one tries caveman tactics on me. Even
Arnold Schwarzenegger can fall and get hurt, so why should I be
any different? If I had been accosted or physically beaten, I'd
have reacted violently. If there has been no reaction from my
side, it means there's no truth in those stories about me. My
silence fanned the rumours. I don't react to mudslinging."
(Filmfare, May 2002)
Finally, after years of denials, Aishwarya admitted to the Times of India in September 2002 that her relationship with Khan had been a troubled one -- even after their official split. "Salman and I broke up last March, but he isn't able to come to terms with it," she told reporter Afsana Ahmed. According to the actress, the couple split after he inadvertantly admitted that he had been unfaithful to her. "After we broke up, he would call me and talk rubbish. He also suspected me of having affairs with my co-stars. I was linked up with everyone, from Abhishekh Bachchan to Shah Rukh Khan. There were times when Salman got physical with me, luckily without leaving any marks. And I would go to work as if nothing had happened." She also claimed that Khan would physically abuse himself in order to gain her attention. (The Times of India, September 27, 2002)
that the negative attention has lost her roles, but fresh from
her triumph in Devdas, Aishwarya can afford to scoff at the idea:
"It's sad that I'm being projected as unprofessional and
calculating. Filmmakers who have signed me know that the only
healing factor in my life is my work. This is a male-dominated
industry and I guess it has been difficult for many to digest
a woman holding her own with dignity. Nevertheless, there's somebody
up there who's with me." (ibid.)
On other fronts, Aishwarya and Manisha Koirala exchanged harsh words in a series of interviews in the mid to late 1990s. In the December 1999 issue of Showtime Magazine, Aishwarya recalled how the feud got started:
In the beginning of '94, a leading magazine came out with this 'red hot scoop'. Ranjeev was supposed to have dumped me for Manisha. I called up Ranjeev the moment I came to know about this asking what all the crap was about. Ranjeev was a very good friend of mine nothing beyond that. I told him I didn't want to get roped into their love story. After two months, they weren't seeing each other. Manisha was seeing a different guy every second month.
Time passed by and around '95 I'd come down to India as Miss World who was visiting India. That was when I saw Bombay in Tamil and thought it was brilliant. I'd reached Bombay on 1st April, and coincidentally, Ranjeev called me. I was exclaiming to him about how excellent Manisha was in the film and that I was planning to send her a bouquet to congratulate her. At that he laughed at me and asked me whether or not I had been reading the papers. He informed me that Manisha claimed that she'd discovered some love letters that Ranjeev had written to me. I couldn't believe it! It came as a very rude shock to me. I mean, if there was any kind of authenticity to this article, why didn't this piece of info come out in July '94? If that was the reason for her split with Ranjeev in a couple of months, then why brood on it for nine whole months and then come out in the open?
This Manisha episode really affected me a lot in the beginning. I cried like crazy. I was really hurt miserable with all that was happening around. After saying so much she kept saying that she had been misquoted. After that split she had had innumerable affairs according to the media, so why didn't anybody ask her why she hadn't come out with the info the previous year itself? I never wanted to be bracketed with any particular name. But today the media has played it up so much that if somebody takes my name, Manisha's name comes to mind instantly and vice-versa. Today, it's four years after that incident, but she still keeps bringing that topic up. It naturally means that all this is stemming from something else and not merely a lost relationship. However, I'm beyond this nonsense. She criticized even her seniors like like Rekha and Sridevi, so who's Aishwarya Rai? Her conduct only reflects her poor personality.
One of Manisha's close friends, actor Jackie Shroff, got involved, giving the cold shoulder to Aishwarya. In return, Aishwarya disparaged him in the press. She explains:
As far as Jaggu is concerned, there are no negative vibes. I don't usually fly off the handle, but on one occasion, I was needled and made some statements about Jaggu. That interview was not an angry retaliation as it was made out to be. People who know me insisted it wasn't me at all. Well, the article at least proved I'm not a spineless creature, saccharine sweet, almost diabetic. Akshaye laughingly asked me, 'Ash, you'll never bitch about me like that, will you?' But Jaggu's interview was also uncharacteristic of him.
It was reported that he sent me flowers and an apology afterwards. Not true. What he did send me was a copy of my interview and a note, 'So glad you're human. Now we're quits. Love, Jaggu.' Later he called me to ask, 'Arrey, tu zinda hai!' [Hey, you're alive!] My answer was, 'Do you need to do this to find out?' To be frank, until then, things were a little strange. Jaggu would often drop in on our sets but never say a word to me. But after that interview of mine, we've actually become close. Now he's more relaxed. He says he finds it easier to talk to me now because 'now I can relate to you, you're human. Earlier I thought you had fallen straight from the skies. Now I believe tu apun ke jaise hi hai'. [You're human like me.] Well, all's well that ends well.
As far as reconciliation with Manisha is concerned, "I swear on anything dear to me, I never said [that she was seeing a new guy every month]. I said that the media has insinuated that she's seeing different people. Once and for all, please let me clarify that Manisha and I aren't the best of friends... there's no love lost between us... but for goodness sake, I want all the viciousness and bickering to stop. I'm pained by the fact that a war has been created for nothing at all. The magazines fill their pages, but think how damaging it has been for both of us. You won't believe this but I feel no bitterness or resentment towards Manisha. In fact, I hope she finds happiness soon. That sense of stability may make her feel more secure and calm her down in life." (Filmfare, Feb. 1999)
Aishwarya steadfastly denies the widespread allegations of her unprofessionalism. "If you look up at the word unprofessional, you will never find it linked to my name at all. Talking about movies, ad-films or even live shows, I have always been good at my work. Not in one place can you point out that I was unprofessional. My strong undertaking to the kind of responsibility I take on is something which has been appreciated by many." (indion.com)
And on the romantic front, the latest reports claim that Aishwarya is involved with actor Vivek Oberoi, who recently launched a public offensive against her ex-boyfriend. He told reporters during a live press conference that Salman Khan's drinking and offensive behavior had gotten out of control, and later raged to the Times of India, "[Aishwarya] is free to see whom she wants, get married, have an affair... [Khan] has no business to harass her like this." (Times of India, 4/1/03) (For more on this bizarre press conference, check out Vivek's bio.)
While neither Oberoi nor Rai has confirmed that they are involved, Oberoi was spotted waiting for her on the tarmac in early April, when an accident on the sets of her film fractured her ankle and caused her to be airlifted to Mumbai for surgery. Fans are crossing their fingers for a happy-ever-after, even as they hope that the couple's upcoming film, Kyo, Ho Gaya Na? will be the hit that secures Aishwarya the Number One status she deserves.