Aishwarya Rai

Provoked

Interviewed by Jaspreet Pandohar

“ Men will shift in their seats if they need to, or they should stand up and applaud if they don't... ”

She may have been crowned Miss World in 1994, but Aishwarya's beauty queen tag is long behind her. With over 35 Bollywood films under her belt, she has transformed herself into one of India's leading actresses. In 2003 she was invited to sit on the Cannes jury. A year later she made her foray into international cinema by starring in Gurinder Chadha's Bride And Prejudice, followed by The Mistress of Spices.

Provoked is her latest English language film, in which she takes the role of Kiranjit Alhuwalia, a Punjabi housewife who killed her husband, but was subsequently freed by the British judicial system. This landmark case redefined the word 'provocation' in the case of battered women. The film co-stars British talent Miranda Richardson, Robbie Coltrane and Naveen Andrews.

So, what persuaded you to be part of this film? Did your decision have anything to do with having suffered domestic abuse yourself, as you admitted some time ago?

Aishwarya RaiUltimately as a woman and as an actor I wanted to tell Kiranjit's story to the rest of the world. We will hopefully bring attention and a wider audience to an important story like hers. But with that comes a lot of responsibility. I am talking on Kiranjit's behalf so we had to be sensitive. After all, Provoked it an interpretation of the events that occurred, as none of us were there or lived through it.

What was the biggest challenge in playing Kiranjit Alhuwalia?

The fact that I hadn't met Kiranjit before filming meant drawing from within and interpreting her life and experience. We are telling the story of a real woman, with children, who's lived through a series of traumatic experiences, from her marriage to Deepak (Naveen Andrews), through to his death and her time in prison. Trying to get into her head was difficult.

Initially Kiranjit didn't want to meet us at all, but when she did meet us on the second last day of filming I was very nervous. Upon meeting there was an immediate connection.

How did Kiranjit react when she saw Provoked?

Well, she was disturbed and did tear up, especially during the opening sequence of the film. Pleased isn't the right word, but I think she felt justified and comforted by the narrative.

Aishwarya Rai

The film sends a clear message to men that violence towards women isn't acceptable. How do you think the men in the audience will react to the film?

They will shift in their seats if they need to, or they should stand up and applaud if they don't. But this is not only a message only to men, it's to all people. I'm not a feminist, I'm a humanist. I've been brought up to respect all human rights and that is the main message of the film.

The Indian media have been fairly harsh to you over the years about your personal life. Do you fear they will be unfair in judging you as Kiranjit?

It's horrifying when I read a quote in a newspaper that wasn't really said by me. But I get the chance to come in front of media and be judged and judged again with every movie. But Kiranjit doesn't that get that chance, so I do hope they will be fair on her.

Will the film be seen in India?

When the film was given a special screening at last year's Indian International Film Academy awards the Indian media suggested that it should be dubbed in other Indian languages and be seen across the different states. Provoked deserves that platform, to be made accessible to a wider audience.

Provoked opens in UK cinemas on Friday 6th April 2007.