Attended the Arya Vidya Mandir at Santacruz, Mumbai, then entered Ruparel College, Matunga, Mumbai. She was an A student and was on track to become an architect. Rai began modeling on the side while studying architecture. She was a contestant in the Miss India 1994 pageant, which she lost to Sushmita Sen but later went on to win the Miss World title that same year.
Aishwarya Rai debuted in Mani Ratnam's critically acclaimed Tamil language film, Iruvar with Mohanlal and Tabu. She played a dual role in the film. She was introduced to Bollywood by Rahul Rawail in the film, Aur Pyaar Ho Gaya; the film was a poor performer at the box office. However, her third project, a Tamil-language film, Jeans by S. Shankar was a popular success. She then appeared in the extremely popular films Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam (1999) and Mohabbatein (2000). In 2002, Rai appeared with Bollywood stars Shah Rukh Khan and Madhuri Dixit in the lavishly produced Devdas, which was a major box-office success. The film attracted overseas attention as well, receiving a special screening at the Cannes Film Festival and garnering international attention for Rai.
In 2003, Rai was a member of the jury at Cannes. In 2004, she was chosen by TIME Magazine's Asian Edition as one of Asia's "100 Most Influential People." She was the subject of a 60 Minutes profile on January 2, 2005 - "The Most Beautiful Face in the World." A month later she appeared on the Late Show with David Letterman, and on April 25, 2005, she was featured on Oprah's "Women Across the Globe" segment. A wax figure of Rai is on display in London's Madame Tussaud's wax museum.
In the past, Indian actors and actresses were celebrities in South Asia, Central Asia, and the Middle East, but mostly unknown to the rest of the world. Aishwarya is one of the few Indian actresses to have become a Western celebrity. Although frequently the subject of gossip column speculation about an imminent Hollywood career, it was only in 2004 that Rai finally acted in a foreign film, when British director Gurinder Chadha hired her to play the heroine in Bride and Prejudice, a Hollywood-funded but Bollywood influenced version of Jane Austen's classic novel, Pride and Prejudice. The movie came just shy of breaking even at the US box office but earned over 400% return on investment in global revenue.
Her next overseas venture, Mistress of Spices, written by Gurinder Chadha and her husband Paul Mayeda Berges, from the novel by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni and directed by Berges, was released in the U.K. in April 2006 to a milder critical and commercial reception but rave reviews in Middle East and Asia. Aishwarya has several other international, English-language films in the pipeline, including Provoked, and The Last Legion.