Rai has appeared as a model in many Indian fashion magazines, including the Indian Vogue; she is currently featured in international ads for L'Oreal Paris, De Beers Diamonds, and Coca-Cola.She was first-runner up in the 1994 Miss India Contest; she lost to Sushmita Sen. Later, Ms. Rai won the Miss World title, while rival Sushmita Sen won the Miss Universe title.
On the crest of the ensuing publicity, she became an actress, appearing in Mani Rathnam's Iruvar in (1997). Her earlier films did not succeed at the box office; critics said that she couldn't act, and merely posed, as if she were still modeling. Her first big success was Sanjay Leela Bhansali's movie Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam. Later successes include Taal and Devdas. Rai has also acted in films for the Tamil-speaking regional film industry, such as Jeans, Kandukondain Kandukondain, and for the Bengali film industry, in Chokher Bali.
Devdas, in which Aishwarya joined Bollywood superstars Shahrukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit, was a lavishly-produced mega-hit. The film attracted overseas notice as well; it was the first-ever Bollywood picture to receive a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival.
Ms. Rai thus became a world-wide star rather than just a Bollywood heroine. In 2003, Rai was a member of the jury at the Cannes Film Festival. In 2004, she was chosen as one of TIME Magazine's "100 Most Influential People in the World." Rai was the subject of a 60 Minutes profile on January 2, 2005; the profile called her "The Most Beautiful Woman in the World." A month later she appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, and on April 25, 2005, she was featured on Oprah's "Women Across the Globe" segment. A wax figure of Rai is on display in London's Madame Tussaud's wax museum.
Gossip columns had frequently buzzed with news that Rai was being considered for high-profile Hollywood productions, but the job offers never materialized. Then British director Gurinder Chadha hired Aishwarya to play the heroine in Bride and Prejudice, a Hollywood-funded but Bollywood-ized version of Jane Austen's classic novel, Pride and Prejudice. Rai is now said to be signed for another Hollywood movie, Rolland Joffe's project Singularity. She will play opposite Brendan Fraser. She is in the cast for The Last Legion co-starring Colin Firth and Ben Kingsley. She is also said to be slated for a Bollywood film to be called Provoked, to be directed by Jas Mundhra.
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