Aishwarya Rai, Miss World 1994, is best known as a international film superstar and “the most beautiful woman in the world.” However, at the time she competed in the Miss World contestant, Aishwarya was a student of architecture at Raheja College who has recently entered the world of modeling. A Pepsi commercial she appeared in with with Aamir Khan caught the attention of filmmakers who were captivated by her beauty and memorizing green eyes, and led to multiple film offers, which she reportedly declined in favor of her studies.
In 1994, she entered the Femina Miss India pageant where she placed second to Sushmita Sen. With Sen representing India at the Miss Universe pageant, Aishwarya’s duties as the first alternate included representing India in the rival Miss World Pageant, held that year in Sun City, South Africa. There, Rai became an immediate crowd favourite.
A stand-out in the swimsuit and evening gown competitions, it was her performance in the on-stage interviews that revealed the qualities of a future star. During the top five final questions with judges, Aishwarya was asked what qualities the new Miss World should embody. She replied with the poise expected of an international titleholder, and with an impeccable British-influenced accent, “The Miss Worlds that we have had up to date have been proof enough that they have had compassion, compassion for the the underprivileged, not only the people who have status and stature, who can look beyond the barriers that man has set up for ourselves of nationality and colour. We have to look beyond that and that will make a true Miss World, a true person, a real person. Thank you.”
When the stunningly beautiful Aishwarya was named Miss World, few were surprised. Interestingly, the woman who had beaten her for the Femina Miss India, Sushmita Sen, won that year’s Miss Universe title, giving India the distinction of having the two most beautiful titleholders in the world.
In 1994, India enjoyed the distinction of having producing both that year’s Miss World (Aishwarya Rai, left) and Miss Universe (Sushmita Sen, right).
By all accounts, Aishwarya was an outstanding Miss World titleholder whose beauty, composure and eloquence caught the attention of Bollywood honchos during her reign. Just over a year after she crowned her successor, Rai officially entered India’s “Bollywood” when she appeared in her first film Iruvar (1997), by Mani Rathnam, for which she garnered the “Best Female Debutante Award”.
Aishwarya’s appearance in Devdas in 2002 was met with rave reviews, with the film becoming one of Bollywood’s most successful films. When the film became in international success and was invited to be the first Bollywood picture to have a special screening at the renowned Cannes Film Festival, the beloved Indian actress’ fame ignited in the United States. Rai soon was featured on the cover of Time and numerous other magazines, and being named spokesperson for L’Oreal. By 2005, 60 Minutes ran a segment on “the world’s most beautiful woman”, ensuring that American audiences could now share in the Indian treasure. Since then Aishwarya has appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The David Letterman Show, and countless programs worldwide.
In April 2007, at the age of thirty-three, Aishwarya married actor/producer Abhishek Bachchan, son of the revered Indian actor Amitabh Bachchan. In 2012, the couple welcomed a daughter, Aaradhya Bachchan, who is already being hailed as “Junior Miss World”. Now half of Bollywood’s most famous couple, and a member of the distinguished Bachchan family, Aishwarya Rai Bachchan is unquestionably the reigning queen of both pageants and Bollywood.