The World's Most Beautiful Woman?

It's Aishwarya Rai, Queen of Bollywood

Who is the most beautiful woman in the world? Half a century ago, Hollywood would have presented her to us. Grace Kelly, Ingrid Bergman or perhaps Elizabeth Taylor.

But today? Correspondent Bob Simon reports the woman who currently holds the title, at least according to thousands of Web sites, Internet polls and even Julia Roberts, is someone you've probably never heard of.

Her name is Aishwarya Rai, and she is an actress living and working in Bombay, India. The reigning queen of Indian cinema, and also a classically trained dancer, Rai has starred in 24 films over the last seven years.

That may seem like a lot of movies, but Bollywood, India's film capital, is famous for churning out more movies a year than Hollywood. Three new films are produced and distributed worldwide every day, attracting a global audience of 5 billion people. That's twice the reach of Hollywood.

The reason Bollywood films have such universal appeal is because they're squeaky-clean. There are no sex scenes, not even kissing. Every time you think someone's going to do it, they'll burst into song instead.

"I'd assume that's really a reflection of our society," Rai says, when asked to explain the films' modesty. "Of course people kiss and of course people have a very healthy love life. This is the land of the Kama Sutra. But nevertheless, in our society you don't really see people around the street corner kissing or being extremely, overtly, physically demonstrative publicly. They do it privately but not publicly."

Unlike some of her Hollywood counterparts, Rai's very much like the women she portrays: wholesome, dutiful and deeply religious. So much so, she insisted we visit her favorite temple for this interview. It's more than 200 years old and every week more than 100,000 people come from all over India to make offerings and pray to Lord Ganesh, the half-elephant/half-man Hindu god of happiness.

At the temple, Rai started attracting more worshippers than Lord Ganesh.

She says being treated as sort of a goddess in this way, "makes me feel guilty. I'll be very honest. When there's a distraction at the place of worship I kinda get a bit guilty. And I kind of say, 'Lord, forgive me. This isn't intended.'"

Despite the attention, Rai says she doesn't think much about the way she looks.

"I am really OK with the way I look, It's fine," she says. "All this is transient. I mean, it's really, you know, it changes with time, and that's the external."

  • Tricia McDermott

60 Minutes App

New Look. New Season. The 60 Minutes app for iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch!

More from 60 Minutes

Comments