Gracing the cover of Time magazine and being voted Asia's most beautiful woman is not easy. Neither is taking a leap of faith from No 326 to No 42 in world tennis rankings in a year's time and becoming the first Indian since Ramesh Krishnan to break into the top-50 in world rankings. But Aishwarya Rai and Sania Mirza have done all that (respectively) and much more.
For a country riding high on the wave of new age economy, Rai and Mirza have helped redefine the way the world looks at India. As the world becomes a global village, boundaries of space and distance get dissolved. Barriers in trade, information and politics have been lowered and a new order has come into effect, as India takes the hot seat in the globalisation scenario.
Rai and Mirza, while adding to India's brand equity, have evolved as India's new face of globalisation. Talented, gutsy and successful, armed with loads of determination, the two have been successful in generating a considerable amount of interest. The two have also had the Western media going agog with their professional exploits.
What makes Ash a brand
Aishwarya Rai's moment of reckoning came when the 'Time' magazine called her Asia's most beautiful woman. Terming her the 'Queen of Bollywood', the magazine had also named her among the top 100 most influential people in the world. For the light-eyed Mangalorean beauty, the party had just begun.
From endorsing brands like Coca-Cola, Lux, Longines, DeBeers to being a member on the jury of Cannes, Rai presented an image of Brand India. Young, beautiful and confident with an air of poise and grace, Rai managed to set hearts aflutter, locally and internationally. With beauty in her kitty and a career in filmdom that was slowly looking up, having overcome the early duds, Rai was on a high.
And it was this taste of international success that made Rai broaden her horizons. Not content with being just restricted to Bollywood, she decided to venture out to Hollywood. Although her first foray in the West with Gurinder Chadha's “Bride and Prejudice”, inspired heavily by Jane Austen's 'Pride and Prejudice' failed to set the cash registers tinkling, India got its first crossover actor and a global brand ambassador.
After that there was no stopping Rai, as she signed on international projects, sharing space with Meryl Streep in “Chaos”, John Berges' “Mistress of Spices” and Jagmohan Mundhra's “Provoked”. Smart, articulate and intelligent along with her ethereal beauty-- Rai became the darling of the Western media as she made appearances on Oprah Winfrey and David Letterman shows, dispelling the notion that India was a land of elephants and snake-charmers.
While Rai was setting her sights on conquering the Western front with her charm and histrionics, a young teenager form Hyderabad was trying to perfect her backhand and serve. For Sania Mirza, it was in preparation for the struggle that she would eventually have to face in the form of Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, formidable names on the tennis circuit.
Young, talented and blessed with oodles of energy that saw her become the first Indian woman to reach the third round of a Grand Slam at the Australian Open in January 2005, Mirza made sure that she was not a flash in the pan. Having become the first Indian woman to win a WTA title, Mirza embodies the American ethos of tremendous fighting spirit and not cracking up under pressure.
Having made headlines for her game and her power drive, Mirza also epitomizes an ordinary girl's quest for success. Having jumped from No 326 to No 42 in world tennis rankings in a year's time, Mirza's aggressive streak saw her putting up a spirited fight against tennis champ Serena Williams at the Australian Open.
While the western media toasted to the success of a simple middle-class Muslim girl fighting her way up and making a success of it, Mirza herself knows that the fight has just begun and knows that she has long way to go.
What makes them work?
Rai's beauty, charm and sex appeal, along with her histrionic skills makes her a complete package. A former Miss World, Rai has managed to win over critics with her riveting performances in “Chokher Bali” and “Devdas”. Single, ambitious and an achiever - Rai exemplifies a perfect blend of Western and Indian values and has no qualms admitting that she likes living with her parents. She also debunks the myth that Indian women do not necessarily have to get married once they hit 25, upping her brand appeal.
Mirza, has generated a lot of interest on and off-court during her international exposure. At a time when most of her contemporaries are getting ready for college, Mirza, all of 18, who started playing tennis at the tender age of six, has been giving sleepless nights to her competitors, courtesy her sheer fighting spirit and display of skill at the right opportunity.
Rai and Mirza are bound by the common thread that although every venture need not reap success, their efforts are recognized. And more importantly, they DO get talked about. Despite Rai's international debut (Bride and Prejudice) managing a lukewarm response, she has been talked about a lot. And while Mirza, hardly has any major titles to her credit barring the WTA championship, her presence in any tournament creates a buzz.
Grit, determination and perseverance --that is what keeps these two going and makes them India's new face of globalization.