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