We first met in 2006 when you had just signed Om Shanti Om (2007). How different were you as a person then? Did you, at that time, anticipate your superstardom?
The person that I inherently am, when it comes to shyness and awkwardness, hasn’t changed. People talk of my success or confidence, but I am still such an introvert. I think a lot, I process a lot. Everything about me is internal, there is a lot going on in my head. But the little girl who left Bengaluru still exists in me. My upbringing and values are still the core of everything I do and every decision I make.
Did I anticipate the stardom? I knew I had a purpose; it’s just that my medium was cinema. My purpose was to make a positive impact. I wanted to challenge the system; I wanted to change ideas that people did not even question. Why can’t things be different or why can’t things be more than this? I knew I wanted to bring value and purpose into people’s lives and I just happened to do it through movies.
Q/ How is life after Pathaan (2023)? What has changed for you, work-wise, with a film that crossed Rs1,000 crore at the worldwide box office?
A/ It’s bizarre, because I’ve never been fascinated by numbers whether it was maths in school or the numbers of Pathaan. I was just happy that cinemas had come alive again, that people had come alive again. I was really grateful for that. But my journey sort of got its boost since Cocktail, 11 years ago. That is when people accepted what I could bring to the table as an actor. It’s because of what I bring to the table that Pathaan came to me. Of course, the film has now further cemented this.
Q/ I feel you have slowly and carefully crafted this journey of yours. Everyone who I speak to about you uses the same word: discipline. What makes you disciplined? What gives you this sense of professionalism?
A/ I think like an athlete. All my role models are athletes. I am inherently still an athlete. There is no other profession that teaches you as much as sport does. My discipline comes from my sports background.
Q/ Your career has seen you mix glamorous as well as more accessible roles―from Chennai Express (2013) to Piku (2015) and Chhapaak (2020). Is this deliberate?
A/ It’s a combination of where I am in life, what I am offered and what I am capable of doing. As a craft, I am capable of doing Piku, Chennai Express and Pathaan. I believe I have the skill sets, so those opportunities exist for me. And lastly, I need to assess where I am emotionally at that point in life. My choice is not linear; this is my triangle of picking films. It’s almost a spiritual process.
Q/ Your biggest films are with Shah Rukh Khan―Om Shanti Om, Chennai Express, Happy New Year (2014), Pathaan. Are you his lucky charm or is he yours?
A/ We are each other’s lucky charm. But honestly, we are beyond luck. We have a sense of ownership over each other. There is deep trust. I think we can be vulnerable with each other. I am one of the few people he is vulnerable with. There is so much love, trust, respect, and I think that luck is just the cherry on top.
Q/ The last one year alone has seen you at Cannes, the Oscars and FIFA World Cup. Do you still have global ambitions?
A/ Yes, one hundred percent. I have global ambitions, but much of it is being beyond a movie star. There is a lot I want to do globally as an individual. I find it fascinating and strange at the same time to think that we were almost apologetic about who we are and where we came from. We have always overcompensated because of this. I don’t feel I need to move to another country or speak the way they speak in order to be accepted. Has the journey taken longer? Yes. But I sleep better knowing I am in my culture and I did it on my own terms.
Q/ Tell me about your investments in startups. Why did you feel you needed to invest in businesses?
A/ I just wanted to manage my money well. When you make the kind of money you do, you don’t want it just lying around. You want to invest it well. But I wanted to invest in companies whose values align with mine, and I wanted to help small businesses grow. I think it was important for me to add value, with my time and my money, to help Indian businesses. All my investments are in homegrown brands. I have just invested in Blue Tokai coffee. It has not been announced yet, but please feel free to break the news (laughing).
Q/ How did Louis Vuitton, the biggest luxury label in the world, come to you?
A/ You have to ask them that, as no other Indian had been the face of a global giant before. My team kept telling me, “Louis Vuitton is trying to get in touch and they were interested in a campaign.” But I thought it was a prank. Plus, it was a global brand ambassador, not a “friend of the brand” or some such. I am too practical and pragmatic, I didn’t realise how major this was until I actually saw their campaign. I was shooting in Spain for Pathaan when they wanted to shoot the ad. It was decided they would shoot it in Barcelona. Then, weeks later, I was at Cannes as a jury member for the film festival. I was driving past the promenade, and to my right was this huge Louis Vuitton store with my face staring right back at me. That’s when I realised what had really happened. Ranveer (Singh, husband and actor) was with me and he photographed that moment. I have that picture on my phone. Everything I had manifested for what more we could do as Indians came true.
Q/ You don’t charge for special appearances in films?
A/ No, I don’t. I wanted to be a part of 83 (2021) because I wanted it to be an ode to women who stand behind their husbands’ glory. I watched my mother do it. This was my homage to wives who make sacrifices to support their husbands’ careers. Other than that, any special appearance for Shah Rukh Khan, I am there. Same with Rohit Shetty.
Q/ Is it true that you still own the first home you purchased in Mumbai?
A/ You know I moved to Mumbai as an 18-year-old with just one suitcase. It had everything I thought I would need, like a model’s kit of a black bra, a skin-coloured bra, multiple types of shoes. I moved from one aunt’s home to another aunt’s home, and I took public transport everywhere. If I had to go to town (south Mumbai), I would take an auto to Mahim, since they don’t ply beyond that, and then change to a taxi. If I took a taxi all the way and back, that would cost as much as my day’s earnings. So the first thing I did was to buy a car and hire a driver―this meant that I could lug my shoot bag with me and I could safely doze off in the car.
When it came to buying my first home, I found a dilapidated little two-bedroom apartment in Pali Hill, owned by an old Maharashtrian lady. But I could afford it, and it had so much greenery around and a lovely energy. I’m very emotionally attached to it and I’ll never give it up. It’s on rent now, and I make a little money from that (laughing).
Q/ Why did you launch your skincare brand―82°E?
A/ It’s a self-care brand. It’s authentic to who I am in its core values and belief systems. It’s a marriage of what is real to me and the gaps in the market. India didn’t have a great luxury beauty brand that wasn’t about ayurveda. The ethos of 82°E is between the east and the west. And it stands for who I am. I am very proud of who I am and where I come from, and that I have had access to a global outlook. The brand is a vision of that.
Q/ It’s less than a year old, but is it profitable?
A/ It is early, but we are definitely on track.
Q/ Ranveer Singh and you are called the number one ‘power couple’ of Bollywood. What does it mean to be a power couple? Do you command a separate rate for ads or films, than you do as individual stars?
A/ Yes, we do charge a premium for when we come together. I think we are positioned quite uniquely. In that, there’s usually an imbalance in a power couple, but not with us. Plus, both of us have started from scratch and it’s something we are very proud of. To achieve success on merit and on one’s own terms makes us special.
Q/ How important is an ‘airport look’ for stars today? I think you have become a prototype―there are Instagram reels on a sea of actors who have begun to ape your style.
A/ Nobody wakes up looking gorgeous. I have a professional who puts together my looks for me. But I don’t do it because I know there will be paparazzi photographers in places; I just like to dress up. I feel good when I look good and I enjoy getting ready. Ranveer loves that I enjoy getting dressed up, too. But to be honest, I dress for myself. Anything related to fashion and Deepika Padukone exists because I love clothes. I love planning looks, I give my stylists time and I am open to trying out new things. I love myself as a clotheshorse. Let’s not forget I was a professional model.
Q/ Who advises you on films?
A/ I have a team that advises me. But it’s the triangle we spoke of that really matters to me. The final decision is always mine. I don’t discuss work with my parents or in-laws or even my sister, but yes I will update them. I do discuss a lot more with Ranveer since he is in the same profession.
Q/ Who advises you on brands?
A/ It’s the same.
Q/ And finances?
A/ I have a fund manager, Jigar Shah. He is also the cofounder of 82°E.
Q/ You have had more than your share of controversies and been subject to severe trolling. But this has not shaken your star power, or your films. What do you attribute this to?
A/ Half the time I don’t know I am being trolled. It doesn’t exist in my emotional bandwidth. My work doesn’t get affected because I have laser focus. I don’t have the bandwidth to focus on the menial or the trivial.