August 12, 2022
The indelible magic of Indian cinema lies not in its good and bad films, but in its zeitgeist-defining moments that transfix an entire movie theater, chip away at the audience’s indifference, and make them fall in love. Rajinikanth flipping a cigarette into his mouth, Madhuri Dixit dancing to “Ek Do Teen,” Hrithik Roshan bursting onto the screen in a mesh t-shirt and trademark choreography, Shah Rukh Khan opening his arms wide enough to contain his lover and the world, Sridevi in a rain-soaked blue sari dancing alone, and, more recently, a lovesick Allu Arjun dragging his feet after the woman he loves.
One other such singular moment was Aishwarya Rai walking into the frame in a white blouse and skirt set in the intoxicating “Ramta Jogi” from Taal (1999), striking a pose that would warm the hearts of erotic sculptures adorning temples all over India. And, just like that, a star was born. Subhash Ghai’s Taal, a musical love story starring Rai, Akshaye Khanna, and Anil Kapoor, is a memorable film not because it is good cinema, but because it understands our keen idolization of stardom on screen. Taal hedges all its bets on a then-rising star who would come to grip an entire generation — a once-in-a-lifetime beauty who was an elegant dancer with an old-world stillness and arresting screen presence. Aishwarya Rai is central to what makes the Subhash Ghai movie an essential film for understanding the Indian film actor as a magical, hypnotic superstar.