Mumbai, Apr 18: Countdown to the marriage of Bollywood's most eligible &13;couple Aishwarya Rai and Abhishek Bachchan begins here today with the &13;traditional sangeet ceremony.
The preparations for the most awaited marriage of the year were in full swing &13;since last fortnight with celebrated actor and the groom's father Amitabh &13;Bachchan personally supervising the arrangements while the groom's mother &13;actor-MP Jaya Bachchan handling the invitees.
The marriage will be solemnised at the Bachchan residence 'Prateeksha' in &13;suburban Mumbai on the evening of April 20 in the presence of close family &13;members and friends. The event is said to be a low key affair given the &13;deteriorating health of Amitabh's mother 88-year-old Teji Bachchan, who is &13;hospitalised for the last ten months now.
The venue of the marriage has been turned into a fortress with security guards &13;posted at Prateeksha and the other Bachchan bungalow Jalsa, to turn away &13;curious fans and media.
The list of invitees and the details of the preparations for the wedding &13;between the former beauty queen and the scion of the Bachchan family headed by &13;the superstar of the millenium Amitabh Bachchan have been kept a closely &13;gaurded secret.
Print and electronic media devoted volumes of newsprint giving details on &13;preparations and the people invited quoting different sources. Most of the &13;time, information in some newspapers or websites contradicted the details in &13;others.
Over the last few days, there have been contradictory reports about invitation &13;extended to UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi who once shared an extremely close &13;relationship with the Bachchans and Shah Rukh Khan whose reported strained &13;relationship with the Bachchans has been much talked about in the film industry &13;circles.
The spotlight of the marriage will not only be on Aishwarya and Abhishek who &13;have been named by the media as 'Abhiash' on the lines of Hollywood couple &13;Brangelina (Brad Pitt and Anjelina Jolie) but also the invitees.
Similarly, there were speculations that superstar Hrithik Roshan has also been &13;invited and would dance at the sangeet ceremony tonight. But, the information &13;was contradicted in another newspaper which said that Hrithik, despite being &13;Abhishek's childhood friend, was not invited. The newsreport also said that &13;reason behind the invite not being extended to the star of 'Krrish' and 'Dhoom &13;2' was that Abhishek was sidelined in ''Dhoom 2'.
It was also reported that the Bachchans had not taken kindly the onscreen kiss &13;between Ash and Hrithik. Ash and Hrithik are also playing the lead in Ashutosh &13;Gowarikar's period film 'Jodha Akbar'.
&13;&13; Over the last few days, filmmaker Karan Johar, Ajay Devgan, Ritesh Deshmukh, &13;Sonali Bendre and her filmmaker husband Goldie Behl were seen moving in and out &13;of the Bachchan residence. A red-and-blue air-conditioned tent with huge &13;mirrors was being put up in the garden of Prateeksha for the wedding. Designers &13;Neeta Lulla, Abu Jani and Sandeep Khosla are said to have designed the bride's &13;outfits.
The pre-marriage party (Sangeet) today features songs, dances and skits &13;performed by close friends and relatives including Amitabh, Jaya, their &13;daughter Shweta Nanda and the bride and groom themselves.
The wedding cards have been sent out by the Bachchans in the name of Mrs Teji &13;Bachchan and Mrs Indira Bahaduri, mothers of Amitabh and Jaya respectively with &13;a poem by late Harivanshrai Bachchan.
Curious onlookers had stationed themselves outside Prateeksha to hear the &13;music which will be played for the sangeet today. Local police and the traffic &13;police have assured the local residents that the flow of traffic will not be &13;affected throughout the day. The road on which 'Prateeksha' is situated is the &13;one which connects the busy SV Road to the Link Road in the western suburbs and &13;therefore experiences maximum traffic on weekdays.
The film industry, media and fans have been speculating whether Ash will &13;continue to work after marriage. The celebrated Bollywood alliance also fired &13;the imagination of Indian celeb gazers and made even the international press in &13;countries where Bollywood is immensely popular, catch their breath.
The wedding marks the culmination of the hush hush romance between the two &13;actors, rumours of which were doing rounds for the past one year. The couple &13;was engaged on January 14, two days after the release of their film 'Guru' &13;directed by Mani Ratnam.
Ash(33) and Abhishek (31) have been romantically linked in the past to other &13;Bollywood stars. Rai was crowned Miss World in 1994.
She shot to fame with Sanjay Leela Bhansali's ''Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam'' and &13;''Devdas''.
She has been India's face at the prestigious Cannes film festival in the last &13;few years. After testing waters overseas with films like Bride and Prejudice, &13;Mistress of Spice and Provoked, Ash hit the Bollywood market again with Guru &13;and Dhoom 2 recently. Her forthcoming film is ''Jodha Akbar'' opposite Hrithik &13;Roshan.
Ash and Abhishek have worked opposite each other in 'Kuch Na Kaho', 'Dhaee &13;Akshar Pyar Ke,'Umrao Jaan' and 'Guru'. Out of these only 'Guru' was an average &13;grosser in which Rai plays the supportive wife of Gurukant Desai (Abhishek) who &13;hails from a small Indian village and strives to become a top industrialist. &13;The film is said to be based on the life of late Dhirubhai Ambani, founder of &13;Reliance Industries, one of India's top conglomerates.
Abhishek, who made his debut with J P Dutta's ''Refugee'' worked in several &13;unsuccessful films before Mani Ratnam presented him in a negative role in &13;''Yuva''.