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Ash does fine on Letterman

By Aseem Chhabra in New York
Last updated on: February 09, 2005 13:46 IST
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After all the hype, the change in the scheduling from Wednesday to Tuesday, and thousands of e-mails that cluttered the desi community's mail boxes in the US, David Letterman introduced the AmericaN public -- or least those who stayed up after 11.30 last night -- to the person he described as the biggest movie star in the world.

"The irony is, she is barely known here," he added. "This resets our perspective on the world. It is going to change the way we look at the world."

"Who is it, who is it?" demanded Letterman's sidekick and band leader Paul Shaeffer, as the child in him could not wait any longer.

"Her name is Aushworya Raai," Letterman added. "And she is also the most beautiful woman in the world."

"I can hardly wait," Shaeffer said in his overtly enthusiastic voice, as the audience laughed at the applause signal.

Letterman also explained a little bit about the origins of the word Bollywood ("What is that?" Shaffaer asked, this time trying to sound naïve and ignorant)-- that the letter 'b' came from Bombay and the 'ollywood' portion from the word Hollywood. It did not take much for the audience to laugh again.

And this is how America finally discovered Bollywood star Aishwarya Rai -- not through her January appearances on the prestigious CBS 60 Minutes episode with Bob Simon, where she mostly giggled and rolled her eyes, and the ABC Nightline segment on Bollywood, where she sounded a lot more intelligent.

Rai's short pre-recorded, but uncut segment on the Late Show with David Letterman on CBS -- America's second-ranked late night talk show, after NBC's Jay Leno -- was her only public appearance in New York to promote her foray into Hollywood, Gurinder Chadha's new film Bride And Prejudice, which opens in select American cities on February 11.

A few days before she flew into New York, publicists working with the film's distributor Miramax announced to the entertainment press that Rai was not going to give any one-on-one interviews, conduct no round table conversations with journalists or even address a press conference.

The press day for Bride on Wednesday, February 9, will only feature Chadha and two other actors from her film -- Martin Henderson and Naveen Andrews. This is a very rare occurrence in Hollywood's film marketing strategy. Normally even the biggest stars in Hollywood -- Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and top directors Steven Spielberg, among others -- make themselves available to the press before the release of their films.

"Ash is really tired," Chadha told from Los Angeles. "She is coming straight from a shoot." (She has been shooting an item number for Yash Raj Films' Bunty aur Babli, directed by Shaad Ali, with Amitabh and Abhishek Bachchan).

Rai came on the Letterman show ready to take on the world, dressed in a short black dress that reached above her knees, a brown leather jacket and black boots. She appeared nervous, giggling (something she did a lot more on 60 Minutes), but also fairly confident. And there were some moments of brilliant sparks in her.

At one point when Letterman was trying to figure out how she broke into films, Rai, giggled, spoke briefly, and then instead of answering the question -- she shot back one directly at him: "How did you get into doing this?" Letterman looked confused and muttered something and moved on the next question.

Later Rai decided to take on a flirtatious tone -- she fluttered her eyes, put her hand under her chin and gazed directly at Letterman. Flirting always disarms Letterman -- something the likes of Uma Thurman and Madonna have shown in the past. He becomes speechless for a brief moment and that gives the audience enough fodder to laugh.

Letterman tried to gain an upper hand in the show, by suddenly throwing an irrelevant question at Rai: "Did you see the Happy Days reunion?" he asked, as Rai fluttered her eyes one more time and gave a confused look that said 'what is this man talking about?'

The oft repeated question about how she would handle kissing and nudity in Hollywood films was not raised, but Letterman did ask her whether it was common for adult children to live with their parents in India. "We don't have to make appointments to have dinner with our parents," Rai replied.

The desi community in the US will now send out countless more e-mails analysing Rai's less than 10 minute appearance on late night American television. But her handlers and publicists must be thrilled.

Letterman's show was Rai's first real test on handling the pressure of a 'live' show with a large audience. And Ash did fine.

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Aseem Chhabra in New York