In an exclusive tell-all interview with ETimes, Anu Aggarwal opens up about films, fame, and the fateful accident that changed her perception of life. Excerpts from the interview…
How did you get into acting?
We started shooting for ‘Aashiqui’ in January and my mind changed when I started acting. I didn’t want to go back to modelling. My life changed after ‘Aashiqui’; I became an overnight star.
After the success of your film, how did you handle the fame?
After the success of ‘Aashiqui’, the kind of attention and love I got from the people was overwhelming. I was all by myself in the city as my parents used to stay in Delhi. When I would go out for a swim or dinner, fans would come and take my autograph; people used to stand outside my house to get a glimpse of me. I was not at all prepared for stardom. I didn’t know how to react or deal with all of it. I had never dreamt of being an actor. I was a social worker and my dream was to work with the United Nations. In fact, I was working towards slum development. So, my field was completely different, And now I feel it’s amazing that this has happened to me. And today, when you ask me this, I feel so grateful.
There was a lot of stuff written, which was completely untrue, but there was no way I could defend myself. We didn’t have social media then, where you could come out and speak. So, whatever was written in print was considered as the truth. At the end of the day, you had no say, and that was so frustrating. It is so confusing because I’m such an outspoken person; there are very few who would ask me before writing or printing things about me. Things that were written about would affect me mentally. And at that point, what else could have happened? What could I do? And then a friend of mine showed up and took me for meditation.
What kind of roles were you offered after ‘Aashiqui’?
I was offered some really amazing roles but I was adamant that I will only do a substantial, meaty role. I wanted to portray a woman in a good light, not just running around trees and doing nothing. And as luck would have it, I got a call from Rakesh Roshan and Mani Ratnam. I was also offered a good role in a Hollywood movie. So, I had a couple of good projects in hand, but I always wanted to get a script beforehand. Some of the films worked, some didn’t work in my favour. At the same time, I was also modelling as MTV had been launched in India in the year 1993. I was one of the few celebrities who would do a brand endorsement, as otherwise, back then only some cricketers would do it. And I was also managing a house alone and single. I didn’t have sugar daddies. I had a boyfriend, but he was out of the city. And with long-distance, our relationship was getting destroyed. And I was very alone and tough. One fine day, I decided to go to Los Angeles as I had been offered a big modelling assignment. When I went there and met them, I asked them if, with my skin colour, they would want me as the main lead. I hear people talk about racism today but 25 years ago, I knew that the girls who were the main leads were all fair. At that time, I was already on the top in my country, so why would I do a side role even if they paid me a lot of money. It’s not all about money; eventually, it is also about your position. They named a couple of directors and asked me to meet them, adding that maybe something could come up because they were keen to work with me. I agreed with them and came back to India.
My uncle, who is a yoga expert, asked me to meet and his talks inspired me. I felt good and wanted to have a deeper understanding of spiritualism. So, I went and enrolled myself in the university in 1997. At that time, no Indian was studying yoga.
How did yoga help you recover from the accident?
In the year 1999, I met with an accident and slipped into a coma. I used to live in an ashram before the accident where I had a spiritual name. After the accident, I knew nothing, but I knew my spiritual name. In 2001, I took ‘sanyas (renunciation)’ and kept my head shaved. I lived with a bag in one hand, in humble surroundings. just studying the mind and human psychology. In 2006, I came back and started meeting people and the press stationed outside my house. I would greet them with humility. After the accident, I had forgotten how to apply lipstick too. Soon people started to post my ‘before’ and ‘after’ pictures. My no-makeup look pictures went viral. I was so shocked to see so much happening around me. I was trying to get better, and the least the press and the newspapers could have done was keep quiet rather than write stuff and post pictures about me. If they couldn’t help me in my recovery, they shouldn’t at least say horrible things about me, right?
Did you think of getting back into acting?
Around 2007-2008, I was offered an overseas film, but I didn’t want to do all this. I wanted to work for the people. I wanted to work on yoga and study more about people and their mindset. People started saying things about me. Nobody understood that the female power and female energy had awakened within me. There was no loss. If I had to only do movies, I would have done so 10 years ago and signed international projects 20 years ago. But my search was for something else; my needs, desire, and hunger was to do something for the people. I am now advancing with mindfulness, and understand more and more about the human mind. Like how can the human mind be free of depression, why do people face anxiety or failure, why is it that there are people born who are challenged. So, these are the kinds of questions I wanted to know the answers to. And to do this, I had to separate myself from the world of Bollywood.
What do you do during your free time besides yoga?
I watch some really interesting stuff on the web. I keep myself updated. And I have a whole yoga schedule now. I sleep at a certain time. I am living the yogi lifestyle and not hurting, harming, lying to anybody, and wishing people health and happiness always.