'I didn't choose Aishwarya'

IF THERE'S one thing that director Jagmohan Mundhra is not, it's frivolous. At a time when filmmakers are chasing money and awards, all Mundhra wants to do is tell a true story. A true story of a woman used and abused by her husband, so much so that...

By N Anandhi (Contributor)

Published: Mon 9 Apr 2007, 10:35 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 11:46 PM

ashshe became his killer. The woman is Kiranjit Ahluwalia, an Asian wife in the UK who set fire to her husband and killed him after years of domestic abuse and repeated rapes.

Her story, well chronicled in her book Circles of Light, was picked up by Mundhra and made into a film starring none other than Aishwarya Rai. Now in India to promote Provoked with Kiranjit Ahluwalia and producer Sunanda Murli, Mundhra has some time to spare for our questions on the film and his choice of Ash.

But questions on Aishwarya can wait. Uppermost on our mind is what made the Bawandar director choose Circles of Light for a screen adaptation. "One line in the book that said in prison, I feel free. It gave me goose bumps when I read it," says Mundhra. What further strengthened the director's decision was the fact that Kiranjit wanted to save others like her from the same fate. She wanted to send the story forth to other battered wives. "I went up to her and told her that no matter how successful a book is, its reach is limited. I said Cinema as a medium has the widest reach, and if I can take your message to a wider audience, I would like to do that," the director recalls. Kiranjit's consent obtained, Aishwarya entered the scene. Asked how Kiranjit reacted to Ash, Mundhra says: "Kiranjit first saw the film at Cannes, where she held Aishwarya's hand and cried. It's not easy to have your life open up in front of strangers."

ash1Her beauty is flawless, her fame worldwide. But Ash is hardly the first name that comes to mind when one searches for a lead actress for a serious film. So what made Mundhra choose her to play Kiranjit? "I didn't choose Aishwarya Rai, she chose me. I didn't have any access to her because I've always made art films with Nandita Das and Shabana Azmi. Aishwarya was shooting for The Mistress of Spices in London when she met Sunanda Murli, who produced her earlier film Jeans. He told her of some projects he's doing with me. Ash told Murli she was impressed with Bawandar. In March 2005, I narrated the script of Provoked to her and she agreed to do the film," Mundhra reveals. The actress dates, however, were available only for 2007, but some adjustments later, she managed to give Mundhra two months in 2005. Provoked was shot in 36 days at a stretch. Wasn't he apprehensive that Ash might not be able to do justice to this performance-oriented role? "I had seen her in Raincoat. I feel that Aishwarya's beauty is her boon and her curse. Nobody sees beyond her beauty. When I was talking to her about the film, all her feelings showed in her eyes. She expresses a range of emotions through her eyes. My only advice to her was that five minutes after the film starts, I want people to forget that she is Aishwarya Rai." One can't deny that Aishwarya's presence in the film has invited a lot of interest and given it eyeballs it might not have received is she wasn't involved. Point this out and Mundhra agrees. "After Aishwarya agreed to work in the film, the funding came through in no time. A large part of the audience that would otherwise not go to watch a social issue film will now do so because of her. I am grateful to her for her participation." Whether her participation finds favour with the audiences and the critics still remains to be seen.

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