Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam to Dhoom 2: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's 6 Powerful Roles

Ahead of Ponniyin Selvan 1's release, here's a list of 6 Aishwarya films with fleshed-out female characters.

4 min read
Hindi Female

Bollywood, famously, lacks nuance. Mainstream Indian films have evolved over the years, but its treatment of women, queer folk and other marginalized communities is still falling behind.

At a time when production houses and streaming channels are just opening up their avenues to three-dimensional, fleshed out female characters, global superstar Aishwarya Rai Bachchan's body of work shows a steady commitment to a sensitive portrayal of women.

Be it the vivacious Nandini in Sanjay Leela Bhansali's 1999 hit Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam or the enchanting poet Saba in Karan Johar's 2016 film, Ae Dil Hain Mushkil, it's clear that the former Miss World picks and chooses her roles meticulously.

Ahead of the release of her much-awaited Ponniyin Selvan 1, here are six Aishwarya films that present an honest portrayal of well-written, complex female characters.

1. Nandini in Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999)

Ahead of Ponniyin Selvan 1's release, here's a list of 6 Aishwarya films with fleshed-out female characters.

A still from Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam.

(Photo Courtesy: Pinterest)

Having started her acting career in 1997, it took Aishwarya two years to bag a plethora of roles that massively boosted her professional trajectory. Sanjay Leela Bhansali's Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam is easily a top contender. The way her character Nandini evolves from a spoilt, wild child to a heartbroken, stoic woman who maddeningly pursues Salman Khan's flamboyant Sameer speaks volumes about women fighting for their agency in love.

Nandini gets forcefully married to Ajay Devgn's Vanraj but doesn't let that deter her. After finally reuniting with Sameer, she gives up the possibility of a life with him and goes back to Vanraj, having realised what true love looks like.

The same year gave us Aishwarya as Mansi in Subhash Ghai's Taal - another film where her character upholds her agency and irrespective of countless deterrents, goes for what she wants.

2. Binodini in Chokher Baali (2003)

Ahead of Ponniyin Selvan 1's release, here's a list of 6 Aishwarya films with fleshed-out female characters.

A still from Chokher Bali.

(Photo Courtesy: Twitter)

Adapted from Rabindranath Tagore’s first novel of the same name, the late Rituparno Ghosh’s Chokher Bali revolutionised Bengali cinema at the time. Aishwarya’s portrayal of Binodini - a deprived, vengeful and sexually frustrated young widow - is an emblem of the plight of child marriage, young widowhood and the social ostracization of widows in the 19th century. Besides holding up a stark image of female autonomy, Chokher Bali also won several National Awards.


3. Neerja in Raincoat (2004)

Rituparno Ghosh and Aishwarya continued their creatively enriching relationship, thus giving us another masterclass on first love and female desire: Raincoat, a retelling of O. Henry’s heartbreaking short story, The Gift Of The Magi.

Aishwarya’s Neerja shows incredible restraint in her honest portrayal of a woman, broken down by an endless class struggle; while she gives everything she has to help her first love, Manoj (Ajay Devgn).

With the award-winning Raincoat, Aishwarya pushed countless boundaries as the sullen, cynical Neeru who expresses depths of emotions with a single glance.

4. Sunehri in Dhoom 2 (2006)

Until Sanjay Gadhvi's Dhoom 2, the audience had only seen Aishwarya as the elegant girl-next-door with complexities of her own. However, essaying Sunehri's role was not only a direct contrast from her previous body of work but also brought in a transformative change in her future role.

It was thoroughly entertaining and refreshing to see Aishwarya as a bold and fierce international thief swindling both Hrithik Roshan's genius conman, Aryan and Abhishek Bachchan's somber cop, Jai Dixit.

While the film seriously lacked a solid plot, Aishwarya-Hrithik's electrifying chemistry and screen presence changed the face of anti-heroes in Bollywood.


5. Mala in Action Replayy (2010)

Ahead of Ponniyin Selvan 1's release, here's a list of 6 Aishwarya films with fleshed-out female characters.

A poster of the film.

(Photo Courtesy: Google)

With more than 10 years of experience in the film industry, Aishwarya was ready to take on even bolder, unexpected roles. Vipul Shah's quirky, Back To The Future-esque romantic comedy, Action Replayy might not have proved to be a success at the box office; but Aishwarya's Mala is a character with a plethora of shades. From being a bully to Akshay Kumar's naive Kishen to a frustrated, bickering wife: one might argue that the film's saving grace was Rai Bachchan herself.

6. Saba in Ae Dil Hain Mushkil (2016)

Ahead of Ponniyin Selvan 1's release, here's a list of 6 Aishwarya films with fleshed-out female characters.

A still from the film.

(Photo Courtesy: YouTube)

Directed by Karan Johar and starring Ranbir Kapoor and Anushka Sharma as the protagonists, the film also features Aishwariya Rai Bachchan in a key role. After breaking off ties with Alizeh (Anushka), Ayan (Ranbir) gets involved in a brief but passionate affair with Saba (Aishwarya).

At a time when Bollywood's sexist, age-inappropriate casting is on an all-time high, a 42-year-old Aishwarya romancing a 33-year-old Ranbir on screen is a welcome change. Saba's actions are largely determined by her desires - a rare imagery in mainstream cinema.

With an extensive variety of roles essaying strong female representation under her belt, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is all set to star in a dual role in Mani Ratnam's magnum opus, Ponniyin Selvan 1.

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