Page last updated at 08:16 GMT, Monday, 9 June 2008 09:16 UK

Aishwarya Rai's rise to stardom

Aishwarya Rai
Rai joined stars including Eva Longoria at this year's Cannes Film Festival

Suniti Singh
BBC News

Bollywood blockbuster Sarkar Raj, which opens in UK cinemas this weekend, is something of a family affair.

The drama stars celebrated husband and wife team Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan alongside Abhishek's father, legendary actor Amitabh Bachchan.

Often hailed as the "queen of Bollywood", Rai, 34, married Bachchan last year, forging the ultimate Bollywood dynasty.

Born into a middle-class South Indian family, the elegant Rai first charmed the nation at just 21, winning Miss World in 1994.

The rise of Rai
Born in Mangalore, India, 1973.
Trained to be an architect.
Modelled for Pepsi and Coca-Cola, and was the face of L'Oreal.
Can speak several languages, including Tamil and English.
Crowned Miss World in 1994.
Made her acting debut in 1997.
Married Indian actor Abhishek Bachchan in 2007.
Forthcoming role in Pink Panther sequel.

Her acting career began three years later in the Tamil film Iruvar, but was branded a disaster, with one critic describing her as "wooden" and another calling her an "ice-maiden".

Two years on, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam, a love triangle starring Rai opposite her then-boyfriend, Salman Khan, marked a turning point winning her the Filmfare best actress award.

The film's director Sanjay Leela Bhansali went on to cast her alongside Bollywood hunk Shahrukh Khan in the lead role of Devdas in 2002.

The movie had a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival and marked Rai's arrival on the international film scene.

One year on, the 30-year-old became the first Indian actress to sit on the Cannes jury. Also in 2003, she appeared on the cover of Time magazine as the global face of Indian cinema.

Elusive hit

Aishwarya Rai
The glamorous actress has become a favourite on the red carpet

A wax figure of Rai went on display in London's Madame Tussaud's in October 2004, cementing her worldwide fame.

The same month, her first foreign film, Bride and Prejudice - directed by Bend It Like Beckham's Gurinder Chadha - was released. Soon she could be seen stepping out on red carpets all over the world.

In 2005, Rai embarked on a charm offensive in the United States - featuring on the Late Show with David Letterman, Oprah Winfrey and CBS's 60 Minutes.

But a major international hit continues to elude her.

The Mistress of Spices, co-authored by Chadha, and The Last Legion starring Ben Kingsley disappeared without trace.

Provoked, based on the true story of a British woman who killed her abusive husband, won praise for Rai's acting skills but failed to draw large audiences.

Fairytale marriage

Bollywoods most famous couple
Rai has starred in six movies with her husband Abhishek Bachchan

Last year, after being linked to several co-stars, Rai tied the knot with the most eligible bachelor in the Indian film industry, Abhishek Bachchan - bolstering her star wattage.

Together, Rai and her husband have become an advertising powerhouse.

And the success of her first post-marriage release, Jodha-Akbar, has made her one of the highest earners in Indian cinema.

For the future, the actress has several major international projects in the pipeline, including next year's Pink Panther sequel starring Steve Martin and Andy Garcia.

Hollywood will be watching.

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