Ae Dil Hai Asaan: The Real Aishwarya-Abhishek Love Story
Abhishek and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. (Photo: Reuters)
Abhishek and Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. (Photo: Reuters)

Ae Dil Hai Asaan: The Real Aishwarya-Abhishek Love Story

As Aishwarya Rai’s love story Ae Dil Hai Mushkil gets ready for release, we look at the real love story of her life when she met costar Abhishek Bachchan and the duo decided to get married. So many memories...

I first met Abhishek Bachchan in the winter of 1990. We were shooting a cover picture for the magazine I edited and had gone across to discuss details with Jaya Bachchan.

A teenage Abhishek with sister Shweta and his parents.  (Photo courtesy: Facebook/<a href="https://www.facebook.com/AbhishekBachchan/photos/a.330457297078697.1073741829.330449117079515/432370656887360/?type=3&amp;theater">Abhishek Bachchan</a>)
A teenage Abhishek with sister Shweta and his parents. (Photo courtesy: Facebook/Abhishek Bachchan)

Abhishek, then just a teenager, was playing with a friend in the living room of ‘Prateeksha’, their old home in Juhu. He saw me enter the room with his mother and promptly folded his hands into a namaste. As we walked around the place confirming spots for the next day’s shoot, his eyes followed us... large expressive eyes, full of trust.

During the photo shoot I discovered that out of all the Bachchans, Abhishek was the most awkward in front of the camera and I had never imagined that he would one day choose acting as his career.

Aishwarya Rai greets the crowd in Mumbai after winning the Miss World pageant. (Photo: Reuters)
Aishwarya Rai greets the crowd in Mumbai after winning the Miss World pageant. (Photo: Reuters)

I first met Aishwarya Rai in the summer of 1995. She was recently crowned the Miss World and had become the pride of India. Fans thronged at her Bandra residence for a mere glimpse and filmmakers clamoured to sign her as their leading lady.

Aishwarya was confused and sought the advice of Javed Akhtar. That sunny afternoon when Aishwarya dropped by to visit the Akhtars, I was with Shabana Azmi and met her briefly but her limpid eyes stayed with me for a long time.

We bumped into each other again in the green lawns of Hotel Leela Kempinski. The occasion was the launch of Amitabh Bachchan Corporation Ltd. All the top filmmakers, music barons and stars were invited and Aishwarya Rai was there too, not in the spotlight but lurking somewhere in a dark corner accompanied by her mother Vrinda.

Aishwarya looked dazzling but ill-at-ease in her new surroundings. People passing by stared at her but were wary of approaching her. She stayed aloof. Would she be able to fit into the jungle world called films? I was not sure.

Aishwarya Rai with Salman Khan in a still from <i>Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam</i>.
Aishwarya Rai with Salman Khan in a still from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

Years passed by... Abhishek transformed from the gawky teenager to a strapping youth, a few inches taller than his dad. Aishwarya followed her instinct and collected all kinds of films in her kitty - Mani Ratnam’s Iruvar, RK’s Aa Ab Laut Chalen, Subhash Ghai’s Taal and Sanjay Leela Bhansali’s Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

Abhishek quit his education mid-way to help his father resurrect his company and prestige. He now attended office, was production manager on the sets of Major Saab and few years later launched as hero in Refugee.

Abhishek Bachchan with Rani Mukherjee in <i>Yuva</i>.
Abhishek Bachchan with Rani Mukherjee in Yuva.

From Om Jai Jagdish to Phir Milenge and from Yuva to Dhoom and Sarkar, Abhishek galloped carefully and courageously. Aishwarya rose from Devdas to international projects. In their journey to stardom, both endured much heartbreak.

Every time Abhishek conquered a milestone, his detractors attributed it to his lineage. Every time Aishwarya scaled new heights, the critics attributed her success to her beauty.

Both exhibited rare courage in their lowly phases. Abhishek, always sensitive, went further into a shell, while Aishwarya, dealt with controversies by turning inaccessible.

A still from <i>Guru</i>.
A still from Guru.

Over the next seven years, Aishwarya and Abhishek starred in six films together – Dhai Akshar Prem Ke (2000) and Kuch Na Kaho (2003), when Aishwarya was a big star and Abhishek a struggler. During Bunty Aur Babli (2005) Aishwarya was a rage. In Umrao Jaan (2005), it was a down slide for Aishwarya and opportunities were looking up for Abhishek. During Dhoom 2 (2006), they were on equal billing and finally Guru (2007), their crowning glory unanimously approved by both, the box-office and the critics.

Abhishek Bachchan with wife Aishwarya. (Photo: &nbsp;Reuters)
Abhishek Bachchan with wife Aishwarya. (Photo:  Reuters)
Love blossomed for them on the outdoors of Umrao Jaan in Jaipur. Dhoom 2, shot around the same time, was cementing of the relationship, and Guru shot on another long outdoor, the perfect venue to confess attraction.
Abhishek and Aishwarya on the Cannes red carpet. (Photo: Reuters)
Abhishek and Aishwarya on the Cannes red carpet. (Photo: Reuters)

Jaya Bachchan once said to me that “Abhishek has always done things his way and when he decides to marry, he will make the right choice.” Vrinda Nair, Aishwarya’s mother, in a vulnerable moment shared, “My child has gone through tough times, but we have faith that at the end of the dark tunnel, there will be light”.

While attending the New York premiere of Guru, Abhishek popped the inevitable question and Aishwarya agreed. This was a rare case when the bride didn’t have to change her surname because the family’s original surname is Rai (Bachchan is Dr Harivansh Rai’s pen name).  
The much talked about marriage of Aishwarya and Abhishek. (Photo: Reuters)
The much talked about marriage of Aishwarya and Abhishek. (Photo: Reuters)

It was the most talked about wedding in the filmdom and Abhi-Ash, the most written about couple. I bumped into them from time to time on happy and sad occasions like their annual Diwali bash and the demise of grandparents, namely Teji and Dr Harivansh Rai Bachchan. Abhishek was always the responsible son and I was happy to notice Aishwarya comfortably fitted into her new role as a bahu. Had you ever envisioned that this is where destiny would bring you, I could not resist asking her. “No but I have faith that it travels you to the right destination,” she had replied.

Aishwarya and Abhishek in <i>Raavan</i>.
Aishwarya and Abhishek in Raavan.

After marriage the couple starred together in Sakar Raaj (2008), and separately Aishwarya released Jodha Akbar while Abhishek released Dostana. The media continued to speculate about their marriage and the highs and the lows in their careers. Abhishek, older and wiser, now took it all in his stride. He sparkled in Delhi 6 and Paa (2009), while Aishwarya celebrated three back to back releases - Guzarish, Action Replay and Mani Ratnam’s bi-lingual Raavan with Abhishek in 2010.



Aishwarya Rai Bachchan with Aaradhya. (Photo: Yogen Shah)
Aishwarya Rai Bachchan with Aaradhya. (Photo: Yogen Shah)

The birth of Aaradhya in 2011, like their marriage, was in the spotlight and when three years post the baby, Aishwarya showed no inclination to sign a film, everyone assumed she was not any longer keen on acting. Aishwarya did not bother to explain her stand. Their marriage, contrary to what the media had predicted, was going strong. Abhishek was the proud owner of kabbadi and football teams and as an actor entered the 100-crore club with Bol Bachchan (2012). We saw him chasing Aamir Khan in Dhoom 3 and dancing with Shah Rukh Khan in Happy New Year (2014).

By now Aaradhya was almost four years old and Aishwarya, queen of brands and festivals, was finally ready to green light scripts. Jazbaa (2015) followed by Sarabjit and now Ae Dil Hai Mushkil. Aishwarya is back to romancing the big screen but her home remains her priority.

 The Bachchans went sailing on Abhishek’s birthday this year in the Maldives. (Photo courtesy: Amitabh Bachchan’s <a href="https://www.facebook.com/AmitabhBachchan/?fref=ts">Facebook feed</a>) &nbsp;
The Bachchans went sailing on Abhishek’s birthday this year in the Maldives. (Photo courtesy: Amitabh Bachchan’s Facebook feed)  
When I last met her, she rolled her eyes and said, “I’m privileged that God has granted me everything. Marriage has been a blissful experience and I strongly recommend it”. Catching up with Abhishek at a nearby shoot he said, “At the end of the day I look forward to pack up because I have Maa and Paa waiting at home…I have Aish and I have Aaradhya. Not all are so fortunate and I express gratitude.

(Bhawana Somaaya has been writing on cinema for 30 years and is the author of 12 books. Twitter: @bhawanasomaaya)