A couple of years ago, in an interview with CBS News' 60 Minutes, Rai said she never dreamt of being an actress. She grew up in a strict middle-class home, the daughter of a merchant marine and a writer. She was an "A" student on track to becoming an architect.
Then she entered the Miss World pageant, with the goal of changing the way the world sees India. Rai was 21 years old when she was crowned Miss World in November 1994. Not long after that, she became the brightest star in Bollywood.
Rai has found much success in movies in India, and won especially good reviews for her portrayal of a rape victim in a film titled "Hamara Dil Aapke Paas Hai" (2000), which carries the tag line "Where the heart is."
"Bride & Prejudice," released in 2004, was Rai's first English-language film. That same year, she became the first Indian female to be immortalized in wax at Madame Tussaud's wax museum in London.
In her next Hindi movie, "Umrao Jaan," Rai plays the key title role, and she recently became the "brand ambassador" for the Diamond Trading Corporation (DTC).
More than 18,000 Web sites are devoted to her, though she recently launched her official site, AishwaryaWorld.com. Like all the other unauthorized Web sites, hers includes plenty of photos and video of the star.
But, in her 60 Minutes interview, Rai said she doesn't think much about the way she looks.
"I am really OK with the way I look. It's fine," she said. "All this is transient. I mean, it's really, you know, it changes with time, and that's the external."
And in case you have trouble pronouncing the name that goes with that face: ash-wah-REE-uh RYE.