With Sarbjit poised for release on Friday, let’s take a look at the North American box office history of the film’s leading lady: Aishwarya Rai Bachchan. Nineteen of her films have released in the United States since 1999, the earliest year for which I have reliable data. Two of those movies — Raavan and Robot/Enthiran — released in multiple languages in 2010, a time when accurate box office info for Indian films in languages other than Hindi was hard to come by. I included only amounts I could verify, so the Total Gross for both films featured in the chart below is likely lower than the actual total (whatever that may be).
While it appears as though Aishwarya’s career has had a lot of ups and downs, do not be deceived. All but one of the movies in the chart above ranked in the top half of Hindi films released in North America that year. The lone exception — Kuch Naa Kaho — ranked seventh out of the twelve Hindi movies that showed in US theaters in 2003. Even her lowest earning movies are average performers compared to the rest of the field. Aishwarya doesn’t make flops.
Her career also notably includes forays into international cinema, having made four English-language films between 2005 and 2009. Her biggest box office success came in a supporting role in the Pink Panther sequel starring Steve Martin.
Aishwarya’s English movies didn’t lead to a Hollywood career, but they did make her a recognizable star here, further cemented by her annual appearances on the red carpet at Cannes. She’s the face of Bollywood to many Americans, and Roger Ebert famously called her “not only the first but also the second most beautiful woman in the world.” Undoubtedly, her English films paved the way for her juniors to start their own international careers. Does Priyanka Chopra get the leading role in an American TV series without Aishwarya? Probably not.