1. Those eyes!
A hundred years from now, when we’re all long gone and a generation of Kapoor and Bachchan great-great-grandchildren are ruling Bollywood, audiences will still be talking about Aishwarya’s legendary eyes. Those aquamarines are to India what Elizabeth Taylor’s violet eyes were to America: they will define beauty for decades to come.
2. Her Flawless Dancing
Aish is an all-rounder in the old-school filmi sense: in addition to being an award-winning actress and classic beauty, she’s a trained Bharatanatyam dancer. After Sridevi and Madhuri Dixit, she’s the last great dancer in Bollywood, creating magic onscreen with numbers like Nimbooda, Dola Re Dola, Kajra Re, and Udi. They don’t make ’em like this anymore!
3. Her Courage
Many women in Bollywood have endured abusive relationships, but few have spoken about it openly. Perhaps they fear retribution from bigger male stars, or maybe they simply don’t want to kick up a fuss publicly. Whatever the reason, domestic abuse has become a part of the dark underbelly of Bollywood.
Aishwarya broke that pattern when she wrote an open letter to the media accusing ex-boyfriend and Bollywood heavyweight Salman Khan of abusive behavior. Stories of mistreatment on Salman’s end had circulated throughout their relationship, given credence by tales of on-set rows and police complaints filed by her parents. But Aishwarya herself confirmed those rumors when she released a statement dubbing her relationship with Salman a nightmare, saying, “I stood by him, enduring his alcoholic misbehavior in worst phases and in turn I was at the receiving end of his abuse (verbal, physical and emotional), infidelity and indignity.”
It’s been 12 years since that infamous letter was written, and since then, Salman has rehabilitated his image through his ‘Being Human’ charity, while Aishwarya has moved on to marriage and motherhood. But with domestic abuse being such a serious and widespread issue in India—and in many other places around the world—Aishwarya’s bravery and willingness to go toe-to-toe with Bollywood bigwigs stands out in an industry where private drama is usually swept under the rug.
4. She Knows Her Worth
Aish is a notoriously tough businesswoman who knows how to capitalize on every opportunity presented to her. She often negotiates and revises her own contracts, and has managed to land prestigious and lucrative endorsement deals with brands like L’Oreal, Longines, and Kalyan Jewellers. She was the highest-paid Indian actress before taking a hiatus in 2010, and she’s still among the highest tax payers in Bollywood today.
5. Her International Presence
Before Freida and Priyanka headed West, it was Aishwarya who put Bollywood and Indian beauty on the map. Aside from being a fixture on the Cannes red carpet for well over a decade, Aishwarya was the first Indian to serve on the Cannes Jury, a global ambassador for L’Oreal, the first Bollywood actress to be immortalized in wax at Madame Tussaud’s, and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the World.
6. She’s One Half of Bollywood’s Cutest Couple
Aish and Abhi give us MAJOR #RelationshipGoals. We love the way their marriage seems to be built on mutual respect. She looks at him like she won the Spousal Lottery, and he never fails to show up to publicly support her, even if that means letting her stand in the spotlight. Their pairing might have raised a few eyebrows when they first got together in 2006, but since then we’ve seen the light: they’re perfect for each other!
7. She Works a Red Carpet Like No One Else!
It’s hard to believe, but somehow Aish manages to outdo herself every year. Whether she’s wearing a breathtaking Ralph & Russo gown or a disastrous Neeta Lulla fusion number, her beauty and red carpet presence take her beyond fashion do’s and don’t’s, making every outing truly memorable. British film critic Peter Bradshaw once remarked that out of all the movie stars he had met, from George Clooney to Nicole Kidman, Aishwarya Rai was easily the most beautiful and glamorous movie star he’d come across. And looking at these images, it’s easy to see why!
8. She Balances Work and Motherhood Perfectly
Every glimpse we get of Aishwarya with little Aaradhya is downright precious! With this cutie at home, it would be understandable if Aish had decided not to go back to work…but boy, are we’re glad she did! Sure, she has the resources to hire a legion of nannies to help take care of her daughter while she puts in long hours on film sets, but Aish seems intent on doing all the hard work herself. It’s important for young girls to have female role models to look to as examples of success and fulfillment at home and in the workplace, and as one of the biggest movie stars in the world, Aishwarya certainly qualifies.
9. She’s…Kind of a Dork
Publicly, she’s known for her elegance, her poise, and her diplomacy. But it’s the small glimpses into her private persona that make her truly one of a kind. From impromptu red carpet jigs to her infectious giggles, we get the feeling that when the cameras stop rolling, the real Aishwarya is actually a little nerdy! She seems like the type of girl who would be down to watch a football match or jam out to Taylor Swift in her pajamas during her downtime, which makes her infinitely more relatable. Who wouldn’t love having a BFF like Aishwarya?
10. She Rocks Every Look
With long hair or short hair, black hair or red hair, in Western gowns or a traditional Indian look, Aishwarya nails every avatar she takes on. This year alone, she’s jumping directly from Sanjay Gupta’s testosterone-infused style of cinema to Karan Johar-esque melodrama, with films by Omung Kumar, Mani Ratnam, and Sujoy Ghosh also on the cards. It’s no wonder she’s played muse to some of the country’s most prestigious directors; her filmography paints a true portrait of versatility.
11. Her Confidence is Inspiring
When Aishwarya put on weight after delivering baby Aaradhya in 2011, the backlash she faced in the media created ripples internationally. It kickstarted an important conversation about the unrealistic expectations we place upon women, even when they’re at their most vulnerable. Still, no one would have blamed Aish if she had caved under the pressure of public scrutiny and hidden herself away, or resorted to cosmetic procedures to regain her svelte figure the way many other actresses do. After all, the mudslinging was enough to bring tears to even the most self-assured woman’s eyes. But Aishwarya did no such thing; she took as much time as she needed to lose weight slowly and steadily, and hit the red carpet with her head held high even when she was at her heaviest. And you know what? She looked amazing! It was an inspirational media moment for her female fans, many of whom realized that confidence and beauty don’t need to be defined by numbers on a scale. And today, she’s looking better than ever.
12. She’s a Trailblazer
Just a few years ago, it was popularly believed that marriage and motherhood sounded the death knell for a Bollywood actress’s career. But Aishwarya has played a large role in changing that perception. She got married smack dab in the middle of Ashutosh Gowariker’s magnum opus Jodhaa Akbar, and proceeded to release eight films between 2007 and 2010. After taking a five-year hiatus to raise her daughter, she made a successful comeback with the heroine-centric Jazbaa. And she isn’t planning on bowing out of the limelight anytime soon. She has several high-profile films in the pipeline, and her male costars range from Irrfan Khan (48) to Ranbir Kapoor (33). She is redefining what it means to be a Hindi film heroine, and her success could mean a major shift in attitude that will benefit generations of actresses after her. You go, girl!