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Aishwarya Rai (Tulu pronunciation [əjɕʋərjaː rəj]; born 1 November 1973), also known as Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is an Indian film actress and model. She won the Miss India and Miss World pageants of 1994, and has received two Filmfare Awards, two Screen Awards, and two IIFA Awards for her performances in Hindi films of Bollywood. She is a leading contemporary actress of Indian cinema and is often cited in the media as the "most beautiful woman in the world".
Rai made her acting debut in the 1997 biographical film Iruvar and starred in the commercially successful 1998 film Jeans. She received wide public recognition and several Best Actress awards for her leading roles in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 1999 melodrama Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam and 2002 period film Devdas. She gained critical appreciation for her portrayal of Tagore's heroine Binodini in Rituparno Ghosh's 2003 film Chokher Bali, and a depressed woman in Ghosh's 2004 relationship drama Raincoat. Following a series of commercially unsuccessful films, Rai featured in the 2006 blockbuster adventure film Dhoom 2, the 2008 historical romance Jodhaa Akbar, and the 2010 science fiction film Enthiran. She garnered wide critical acclaim for her work in Bhansali's 2010 romantic drama Guzaarish.
Following a tumultuous relationship with actor Salman Khan, Rai married actor Abhishek Bachchan in 2007. Her off-screen roles include duties as a brand ambassador for several charity organisations and campaigns; she is a Goodwill Ambassador for the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). She was awarded with the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2009, and the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the Government of France in 2012.Rai was born in Mangalore, Karnataka to a family belonging to the Bunt community of Tulu Nadu. Her father, Krishnaraj Rai, is a marine biologist, while her mother, Brindya Rai, is a writer. Her elder brother, Aditya Rai, is an engineer with the merchant navy and the producer of the Hindi film Dil Ka Rishta (2003, starring Rai). Born to a conservative household, she was raised as a Hindu, a religion she continues to practice.
Rai's parents were settled for work in Mumbai, where she did her schooling from Arya Vidya Mandir Secondary School. While in the ninth grade, she appeared in her first modelling assignment for Camlin Pencils. After graduating from secondary school, Rai attended Jai Hind College for a year, and later passed high school from DG Ruparel College. While at Jai Hind, photographs taken by her English professor (an amateur photographer) were published in a fashion magazine. These pictures were spotted by advertising agencies and she was cast for several television commercials. In 1991, Rai won a supermodel contest (organised by Ford) and was eventually featured in the American edition of Vogue. After abandoning an idea to pursue a career in medicine, Rai enrolled for a course in architecture at the Raheja College of Arts. However, she dropped out of college to pursue a full-time career as a model.
In 1993, Rai gained public recognition for her appearance in a Pepsi commercial with actor Aamir Khan. The following year, Rai stood second at the annual Femina Miss India beauty pageant (losing out to Sushmita Sen). Rai eventually won the Miss World pageant of 1994 held at Sun City, South Africa.Following a successful modeling career, Rai made her acting debut in 1997 with Mani Ratnam's Tamil film Iruvar, a semi-biographical political drama, featuring Mohanlal, Prakash Raj, Tabu and Revathi. The film was a critical success and among other awards, won the Best Film award at the Belgrade International Film Festival Rai featured as Pushpavalli and Kalpana – dual roles; the latter was a fictionalised portrayal of politician and former actress Jayalalithaa. Due to Rai's weak Tamil-speaking skills, her dialogues in the film were dubbed by a dubbing artist. That same year, she was cast as Ashi, a naive teenager in her first Bollywood film – Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya, a romantic comedy opposite Bobby Deol. The film was a commercial failure, and reviewers were critical of the film and Rai's acting ability.
Rai next appeared in the 1998 big-budget Tamil romantic drama Jeans, directed by S. Shankar and co-starring Prashanth and Nassar. Rai played Madhumita, a young woman who travels to the United States to seek medical attention for her ailing grandmother. A commercial success, the film earned Rai praise for her dancing skills. Unlike in Iruvar, Rai practiced and dubbed for her own lines in the film. Jeans was later submitted as India's official entry to the Academy Awards for 1998. Her first role in 1999 was in the melodrama Aa Ab Laut Chalen. Directed by Rishi Kapoor, the film was a critical failure and had a below average performance at the box office. Rai's portrayal of Pooja Walia, a traditional Indian woman living in the United States, met with negative reviews; Rediff.com published, "Aishwarya Rai sports a plastic smile and never gets a scene where she can portray any depth. All she does is cry and smile and look pretty".
Her next release, the romantic drama Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, marked a significant turning point in her career. The film, an adaptation of Maitreyi Devi's Bengali novel Na Hanyate, was directed by Sanjay Leela Bhansali and co-starred Salman Khan and Ajay Devgan. She played the leading role of Nandini, a Gujarati woman who is forced into wedlock (with Devgan's character) despite being in love with another man (played by Khan). TheMovieReport.com praised Rai's performance over her co-actors and noted, "Rai, in a luminous, award-winning performance (largely considered her big dramatic breakthrough--and justifiably so), fills in the conflicted emotional shades that Khan fails to bring with his one-dimensional presence". Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam emerged as a major commercial success and won Rai a Filmfare Award for Best Actress. Rai next took the leading role of Mansi, an aspiring singer, in Subhash Ghai's musical Taal; alongside Akshaye Khanna, Anil Kapoor, Amrish Puri and Alok Nath. A moderate domestic success, Taal was notable for being the first Indian film to feature in the top twenty listing at the American box-office. Rai received a second Best Actress nomination that year at the Filmfare Awards ceremony.
In 2000, Rai starred in Kandukondain Kandukondain, a Tamil language adaptation of Jane Austen's novel Sense and Sensibility. Directed by Rajiv Menon, the film also starred Tabu, Mammooty and Ajith Kumar in prominent roles. Rai was cast as Meenakshi (based on the character of Marianne Dashwood), the younger sister of Tabu's character. The film was a critical and commercial success and earned Rai positive comments from critics; a review carried by The Indian Express summarised, "Attacking her role with just the perfect dollop of innocence, Aishwarya does full justice to her part, and matches up perfectly to Tabu.".
Rai next starred alongside Shahrukh Khan and Chandrachur Singh in the action drama Josh. She portrayed Shirley Dias, the sister of Khan's character who falls in love with his arch enemy's brother (played by Singh). The casting of Rai as Khan's sister was considered an unusual pairing at the time; director Mansoor Khan, however, described it as "perfect". Despite earning mixed reviews from film critics, Josh emerged as a moderate commercial success. Satish Kaushik's social drama Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai was Rai's next release; she played Preeti Virat, a rape victim, in the film. Co-starring Anil Kapoor and Sonali Bendre, the film was well received by critics. Film critic Sukanya Verma praised Rai's decision to star in the film and added that she "conveys the turmoil and pain of a rape victim well. But it is her transition from an emotional wreck trying to gather the broken pieces of her life back together that is amazing.". Rai eventually earned a third Best Actress nomination at Filmfare.
Following a leading role in the box-office flop Dhai Akshar Prem Ke, Rai took on a supporting role in Aditya Chopra's ensemble romance Mohabbatein. Rai's role was that of Megha Shankar, the daughter of Amitabh Bachchan's character who commits suicide after a failed romance with one of her father's students (played by Shahrukh Khan). Despite earning mixed reviews from film critics, Mohabbatein emerged as the second highest grossing film of the year and earned Rai a Filmfare Award for Best Supporting Actress nomination. The following year, she starred alongside Govinda and Jackie Shroff in the romantic comedy Albela. Upon release, both the film and her performance received mostly negative reviews; Taran Adarsh of Bollywood Hungama criticised the film and mentioned Rai as "plastic in some scenes".