And does she get the reviews she deserves? Looking through them, it seems to me she’s either derided for being too bland, too superficial, or she gets the surprised concessions of people who think she’s “in fact a good actress” – obviously her merits are elsewhere – and whatever artistic qualities she might have are often attributed more to directors than to herself. Had she been left to her own resources, she might have remained a model and nothing more. So I’ve decided to try and look more attentively to some of her roles and see if it’s possible to say that she does or not act well. For me, the answer is yes. And yet… “something” indeed is missing. She isn’t a first class actress, naturally. But I believe we are unjust to her, and a little blinded by the hype surrounding her.
To sum up the opposition, here are two opposite reviews (you can read them here):
I think some of the comments said about Aishwarya are rather harsh. She is beautiful as are many other women in this world-you can't say she is the most beautiful women in the world because we are just comparing her with the celebrity world. Nevertheless, she does have good acting skills and even though there are other very stunning ex miss world/universes from India like Priyanka and Sushmita, Aishwarya has made it the biggest because of the tremendous hard work she puts in, which is credit in itself. She would not be acknowledged solely for her beauty if her acting skills were poor only due to her beauty.
Raz, London, UK
She is such a bad actor!, I wonder if the guy who wrote this article did actually bother to see some of the forgettable films she's been in, because had he done so, I doubt he would even bother to interview this pseudo actress. Most Indian intellectuals and film students think of her as a bimbo and a talentless woman whose beauty is just empty and lacking the sensuality of females with charisma wheather actors or not. I'm fed up of her and her poses.
Zulifkar Kamal, Mumbai,
In one of these reviews, somebody has written: “Talent, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.” And given the amount of conflicting opinions, one could almost say that’s true. There is a certain talent which certain people don’t see. Don’t we judge Aishwarya Rai by our Western standards, which admit partly other criteria? I remember feeling a sort of uneasiness when I started watching old Japanese films: the actors all seemed to over-act, or something. I remember telling myself, aren’t I the victim of my Western artistic criteria as to what is “good” acting? Aren’t they doing something for which I don’t have the codes? (It’s true that Ash’s critic above is an Indian, nevertheless.)
The trap which Aish lays for people who talk about her is that we speak about her because of her fame, which is a direct consequence of her looks. That face again!. I’ve spoken about that face before. People have every right to say there are more beautiful faces, or on the contrary that she is “perfection”. That’s not my purpose here. What I want to stress is the quandary we’re in when we examine her as an actress. We are talking about her because of her fame, which is ultimately based on her looks. The looks were there first. Then came the fame. She wins these first two rounds: we are debating her skills, not somebody else’s, and that’s thanks to her beauty. It is of course the reason why we speak so much about her, and why we don’t want to be seduced or overpowered by them. This beauty introduces us in a situation where we cannot forget that a kind of “injustice” is at its origin. When we speak about politicians, of film directors, we aren’t drawn to them first because of their appearance. For me this particularity is a sign that a lot of what will be said about Aish about her acting is flawed. It cannot be said outside of that context, and she’s more a “victim” than a creator of that context. Of course she benefits from it, and she uses it. If you’ve read what I’ve said before, you know I think she uses it rather well.
Another “big” question (the world won’t crumble if it doesn’t get an answer, but…) is whether she acts well only when well directed. Because if she does, that would prove that she doesn’t have much personal talent, right? And that she is just there because of sheer opportunism. I believe that indeed she acts better when well directed. I won’t insist. But I also believe that she acts as the director asks her to act, or fails to ask her to act. Shouldn’t a good actor do what the director wants her to do and no more? If an actor is good with a good director, and bad with a bad one, well it also says something about the directors, right? Let’s have a look at a few examples. One of the films I’ve seen in which I found Aish playing poorly was Kyun Ho Gaya Na, by Samir Karnik. Type his name in Google, and you get 'I still don't know how to take a shot'. This article is from 2004. One can only hope he’s improved! The author of that other very poor movie, Shabd, where Aish is so pathetic (I thought), is Leena Yadav, and Shabd was her first film (see Meet the woman behind Shabd) . So there again, the blame has got to be shared, it seems.
Erica Wong, from Honolulu pretty much sums up my point of view:
Ash is not the best actress in Bollywood but her acting has improved over time. I want to see her in a film where she gets really ugly a la Charlize Theron in "Monster" so everyone can simply react to her [Ash] acting and not focus on her beauty in the film. And oh yeah, I am a fan of Ash and wish her nothing but in best in both her professional and personal life. (1)
I’ve seen a number of her films, and if you’re interested, you can go and check. On the whole I’d say Aish has managed, more than some others, to remain at her level of competence, which is already quite good, and has indeed bettered recently, even though I believe she had a lot going for her even at the start (I'm thinking of Aa ab laut chalen). The problem with her (as with other beautiful faces in the past) is that she’s got all that pressure, and she’s torn between acting to the standard where people will say: it’s more than the looks, and just forgetting it and be herself, which comprises surfing on that wave of easy acting because she gets all those offers. But she’s managed rather well so far. She would deserve some director willing to use her unsentimentally, and throw a weight on her shoulders. Raincoat was the closest result of that effort, Guru wasn’t quite the same perspective, but she did well there too. So let’s wait!
(1) A film like " Provoked " might be such a try. It's the closest I can think of, anyway.