Aishwarya Rai's striking beauty might make her seem an obvious fit as a model, but the truth is that India's 1994 Miss World winner originally took up modeling as a part-time job to get her through school. She was studying to be an architect, but due to her obvious talent on-stage and in front of the camera, -- most notably in a wildly popular Pepsi campaign -- the starlet began accepting the movie offers that had been pouring in. Rai began her reign as Bollywood's favorite leading lady in the film Iruvar, following it up that same year with ...Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya. They both earned her critical praise and the latter brought her a Best Female Debutante Award. More awards would follow, including Best Actress by Filmfare and Zee Cine for 2000s Straight from the Heart. As the actress put more and more films under her belt, her position as India's darling cemented. Her role in 2002's Devdas was especially auspicious; the movie was the most successful in Bollywood history and received a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival -- the first Bollywood film to receive such an honor. The next year found Rai making still more headway for Bollywood when she became the first Indian member of the grand jury at Cannes.
By 2004, Rai had appeared in well over 20 films in just seven years, and it was finally time for her to star in her first English-language film. The Hollywood/Bollywood crossover hit Bride and Prejudice reworked Jane Austen's classic love story Pride and Prejudice with the Bollywood film style, bringing together Eastern and Western actors, as well as themes. The film proved to be yet another successful example in Rai's history of helping to bring India's culture and film into the world spotlight, delighting fans all over the globe. Having sampled Hollywood, Rai was now ready to make a serious foray into American films. She signed on to star with Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley in 2007's historical epic The Last Legion as well as French director Coline Serreau's remake of her 2001 film Chaos, which would cast Rai alongside Meryl Streep. The actress had no intention of abandoning the cinema of her heritage, however, and simultaneously jumped on board with Indian movies like the The Heart of India and the historical romance Jodhaa Akbar -- in which she would play the title role of Mungal king Emperor Akbar's Hindu wife and queen.
By this time, Rai's success as an actress unwilling to compromise her love and devotion to her national background had made her the highest paid actress in Bollywood history. Her fame had also buffered her image as the face of India, helping bring the art of her home country into the world-consciousness through countless magazine covers in multiple countries, a listing in Time Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World Today," as well as Hello Magazine's "Most Attractive Women in the World" and Rolling Stone's "Hot List." Rai even joined actresses Catherine Deneuve and Andie MacDowell as a member of L'Oréal Cosmetics' Dream Team, acting as an ambassador around the world.
In 2007, Rai married fellow Bollywood superstar Abhishek Bachchan. ~ Cammila Collar, Rovi