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Ash leads the Bollywood brand


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Former Miss World Aishwarya Rai is India's best known brand ambassador.
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MUMBAI, India (CNN) -- Think global brands and the first names to come to mind might be Microsoft, McDonald's, Toyota or Samsung.

For India, that global brand is Bollywood, the massive film and entertainment industry that has its heart in the city of Mumbai.

And its best-known brand ambassador is former Miss World Aishwarya Rai, an actress who is proving adept at a multilingual and multinational approach to picking scripts.

In an industry of glamorous and glorious excess, where bigger is always better, Bollywood's film output is the biggest in the world.

Its reach extends to every corner of the globe where an Indian community has access to a cable channel, a video store or a cinema.

Since the advent of the "talkie" move in 1931, India has produced more than 30,000 feature films.

Hundreds of these movies are produced every year in Mumbai on the sets of studios such as Film City, RK Studio and Kamal Amrohi Studio.

These mainly Hindi-language films offer a spectacular mix of fantasy, action, violence and romance, all set to an exuberant musical score.

Their stars are household names across India -- men like Amitabh Bachchan, Hrithik Rosnan, Sanjay Dutt. The female leads include Preity Zinta, Mahima Choudhry and Madhuri Dixit.

But the biggest female name, and Bollywood's world brand ambassador, is undoubtedly Aishwarya Rai.

Ash, as she is known to all and sundry in India, came to attention globally two years ago at the Cannes Film Festival, for her role in the Indian romantic drama Devdas.

Since then, she has been named by Time magazine as one of the world's hundred most influential people and was recently voted by Hello magazine as the world's most beautiful face.

In May, she launched a new advertising campaign for L'Oreal Paris.

Now, she is looking to be the first big Bollywood star to cross over to Hollywood. She has signed with the world's top talent agency, William Morris, and is being talked about in the same league as Julia Roberts and Meg Ryan.

She recently completed "Bride and Prejudice", a film by British director Gurinder Chadha of "Bend It Like Beckham" fame.

Rai told the Times of India last week that she chose "Bride and Prejudice" because she loved the Jane Austen-inspired script, rather than seeing it as a "calculated foray into Hollywood".

Calculated or not, Rai looks to be on her way to even greater international acclaim. She says she has been offered plenty of cameo roles in Hollywood, but wants something "meaty."

One of those meaty roles is playing alongside Meryl Streep next year in Colin Serreau's film "Chaos."

But by far the biggest project is a mooted role with Michael Douglas in "Racing the Monsoon," said to be an action adventure along the lines of "Romancing the Stone."

If the role comes to fruition, Aishwarya Rai's horizon will extend well beyond Bollywood and add to a heritage that goes back to 1913, when India's first feature was shot.


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