Parineeti Chopra. She’s half-child, half goddess and a full-blooded woman at the same time. It’s hard to define her because you don’t know where to begin. She arrived with a bang with Ishaqzaade and then like a wayward comet, seemingly lost her trajectory. She was in danger of crashing out but bounced back with back-to-back films like Saina, The Girl On The Train and Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar, where her histrionics were universally lauded. She loves to chat and has an intelligent take on everything under the sun. She’s brutally candid about everything, be it body shaming, her failing career or her heartbreaks. She’s learnt to love herself, to enjoy whatever life throws at her and have no regrets. She’s learnt to be her own person and not give two hoots about what others think of her. She’s learnt the importance of family, of friendships, even of doing nothing. Because you need to exhale. After years of wilting under depression, she’s got her mojo back. She’s realised that the sun she’s seeking was blazing inside her all along. And she’s pulsating with newfound radiance and energy. She shares her wisdom, her naivete, her joys as well as her sorrows in this all-encompassing interview, which explores the inner landscapes of her heart, mind and soul.
What has been on your mind lately?
My philosophy of life has always been to live in the moment.I genuinely have no other focus in life. Of course, I want to focus on my career. I want to do the best films with the best people. I don’t want to be complacent anymore. So, what’s on my mind ñ living life with purpose. That’s my biggest thing right now.
After a long time, you’ve found your ground in Bollywood…
People always used to say they expect a good performance from me. That’s a very privileged position to be in and I let go of that. I abused that position in the sense that I thought even if I am mediocre in the film, they will love me. That’s not how it works.You shouldn’t take your audience for granted. Sometimes, I chased money, sometimes I chased a hero who was in the film, sometimes I chased just the director. But coming back to my core is what has worked. So Saina, The Girl On The Train, Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar they have really really worked for me. People are looking at me for my performances again.
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What forced you to go off track and then what forced you to come back again?
The first four years of my career were amazing and then the next four years didn’t work. So I said, Okay cool, I tried this in my life, it didn’t work, let’s go back to what I know.î And the best thing is that my gut is so strong that I know what I’m doing is wrong, what I’m wearing is wrong or the person I’m dating is wrong. Lot of people started telling me you need to just be sexy, you need to do songs in films, you need to just romance the hero and you need to learn how to be a heroine. I think that was really regressive advice coming from people who have clearly not changed with time. And it was my mistake to listen to them. I am so glad I made mistakes early in my career because at least while I am still in my prime, I have the chance to come back.
Do you regret doing movies for money?
The process of elimination always works. So even with films, when I see them and cringe, I’m glad because it gives me clarity. But regret is not a part of my life. You can’t regret, life is too short, you’ll go mad.
Were you overestimating yourself at some point?
I became complacent and a little less focused. That’s why this happened. That’s why I was saying okay to mediocrity. I was never overconfident. When you have five flop films, people say she has gone mad. But they’re actually just five bad decisions. I can proudly tell my grandkids that you know what, I did really bad work for four years. People abused me, my critics abused me and then I came back, what a great story to tell.
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What would the Parineeti of 2021 tell the Parineeti of 2012?
I would say don’t let what you have go easily. Don’t become overconfident. Don’t take it for granted. I was a child then and didn’t know how to handle so much success so early. I wish I could go back in time and teach me how to handle it, but in the same breath I will say if it hadn’t happened like that, I would have never learnt. I’m so much more appreciative of life. I’m so much more humble and thankful because these failures in all these departments gave me a crash course in life.
You are also a talent manager. So what would a talent manager tell Parineeti Chopra, the actress?
(Laughs) That’s a good question. As a talent manager, I would tell Pari, ìBalance it better!î. I think I lost that sense of balance, I think I chose my personal life in a little lopsided way and I put my career down.
At one point it seemed as if Sandeep Aur Pinky Faraar was not going to be released and today, it’s such a celebrated film…
I did a round table of best performances of the year and I was just looking at that list, and I was like wow, when was the last time I was in this list? And that too, for a film that everybody had given up on. This is a film I shot five years ago, like in my fourth year in the industry. You know Dibakar Sir is doing so many conversations because he is being called to discuss the film everywhere. And that’s just proof of the fact that in this industry you can’t plan anything. My first film Ishaqzaade itself was in the dabba for 10 years. Nobody was making it and then they made it and it started our careers. It gave me a National Award. It’s always been like that in my journey. (Chuckles) I think God loves drama. He loves taking me to the edge before giving me what I want. If I can win even one award next year, I am going to howl and scream on that stage because I waited too long and I have worked towards it for so long.
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So you would agree that failure is temporary and talent is permanent?
I would love to be the poster child of that. I have been that actor who wants to do all sorts of work and wants to prove my talent and wants to do the best films and I lost that in between. So if I can be that comeback story, I would be so happy with my life. If I hold one single trophy next year, I will consider my life complete. Because I’ve seen a big fall, I want to climb back. I used to hear these stories of people who picked themselves up from the ashes and I used to be like, ìHaan, whatever hota hoga.î I just want to be validated for my struggle and my jounrey of the last four years. I don’t want anything more than that.
Are you doing films for the right reasons now?
Yes, I really am. I would know my next eight films because I’d sign everything that came to me. That was a mistake. I was afraid of sitting at home and I was afraid of not having work. So I took up everything, which was a mistake. So today, if I don’t have a film after Animal, I am okay with it. I will wait till somebody casts me.
Once we were having a backstage conversation and you said, Ranbir and Ranveer, the way they talk about movies, the way they have facts and figures, you feel so clueless…
I think that when you grow up in this industry, this is your world, it comes a little naturally to you. My dad deals with the Indian army and the automobile business. Cars and defence forces are in my blood. So if I decide to go into the automobile business, it will be easier for me because I have heard those conversations all my life. So what I’m doing is constantly playing catch up with these guys. I have spent the last nine years doing that. I am still learning, I don’t think I will ever finish learning. Simple things like doing your makeup, doing your hair everyday, choosing your films, meeting the right directors and producers, understanding the trade, everything is alien to me. I learn from all these guys. I use the friendship to learn so much more, I listen more, I ask more questions because I do want to succeed.
Aditya Chopra has seen generations of actors. So when things were not going right with you, what’s the kind of advice he gave you?
Adi and my relationship is amazingly honest. He’s the kind of guy, if I mess up, he has the right to call me and scold me about it. And I’ll listen because he knows so much more and I trust him. A very senior actor met me on a flight one day and he said, ìI just wanna say one thing, Parineeti, you are capable of much more why aren’t you doing more?î and I was like ñ Wow! Everybody is saying the same thing to me, you know it was huge. It’s very difficult to hear this sort of feedback, including from Adi. It’s very difficult to keep hearing that you are messing up, you are messing up, fix it, fix it, fix it. But I am such an honest person that I was like, yes guys I agree, I want to do it. With Adi, I used to do the same thing. He used to tell me that I’m not doing well and I would sit in front of him and say, ‘Adi, I am gonna do better, I am gonna do better, I am gonna do better’.
You have been vocal about mental health and body shaming. Why are these things so important to you?
I’d been trying to lose weight even before I became an actor. Because you’re doing it in public, people feel that she didn’t do anything in the first three years. And when the results start showing suddenly then they think she must have done it because of Bollywood pressure. Body shaming was a great thing that happened in my life. I have always agreed with the critics. When the critics said, she is not looking her best, I was like yeah buddy, I know! Mental health was a combination of many things that went wrong ñ like I lost a very big relationship in my life. I went through a big breakup which affected me for a year. My career started going down, that affected me for a long time. It didn’t help that the journalists were writing rubbish about me. The Next Big Thing has gone down and blah blah blah. But there were nice people around me. My friends and my family were really amazing. The best thing that happened to me was that the producers and the directors didn’t lose faith in me. Nobody wrote me off. Otherwise, I would have never gotten a second chance. Nobody gave up on me. That’s why I couldn’t give up on myself.
What’s the kind of advice you would give people who are dealing with body issues, who are dealing with mental health issues?
For body shaming, you need to choose what you want in life. If you are unhappy with your fitness, stamina, health, size, anything, do everything you can to fix it because it’s only gonna be good for you. Don’t do it if you are happy with yourself, if you are happy with where your fitness is. Don’t do it because others are saying it. I couldn’t shoot for more than two hours without feeling exhausted. I used to hate my stamina, I used to hate my health. I used to not sleep properly, I was really unhealthy. Don’t listen to people, whatever size you are, if you are satisfied, you are fine. Don’t live your life for others. That’s what I would say with body shaming. Mental health, talk to people. I don’t think I would have been able to do it alone. I think I would have only taken the wrong calls and I would have slipped deeper into depression if I hadn’t picked up the phone and said I am going mad, please come, talk to me. So it’s important to have the right people around you, they can fix it within minutes for you. We women can really be complicated in our minds and we can make it worse for ourselves. But the right people can fix it for you.
Whom did you talk to?
My closest friends were Sanjana Batra, she is also a stylist, she was an amazing person to talk to and my brother Sehaj, who used to call me and abuse me whenever I would say something stupid. I would tell them of my issues and they would make me realise that they were non issues. They fixed it. So I think the people in your life can make it or break it. Your husband, wife, brother, sister…everyone can make a difference in your life. Being surrounded by the right people is the biggest gift.
What kind of relationship advice will you give girls?
I was never vocal about my relationships as I probably knew that they were not the one. If I find a man and I’m convinced that he’s the guy I’m gonna be with all my life, I will go public with it in a second. The relationship advice that I would give people is honestly, choose to be with the person who makes you happy more than anyone else. (Laughs) And please don’t ignore the red flags. We are so scared of being alone that we’re okay with mediocrity. It’s like we are so scared of sitting at home that we say okay to a mediocre film but when that film comes out, you regret it. So don’t be like that when it comes to your love life.
What are the red flags you chose to overlook?
A lack of independence, a lack of life experience, you should have done adulting for a bit in life, paid your house bills, paid your rent, paid your electricity, basic adultingÖYou should not ignore those kinds of adulting attributes in a person. You shouldn’t tolerate too much because you are not tolerating that person, you are teaching them how to treat you. You shouldn’t ignore that red flag. If a person shows you who they are again and again, you should believe it. You can’t live in hope, you can’t live in perpetual hope that they will change.
You think your men got intimidated by you because you are so solid and so together?
I did most of the caretaking in my relationships. I think I chose people who were right for me for that moment. I didn’t look at life-long potential. So they were very momentary decisions. I would just think about dating that person for now. I wouldn’t think it through and then three months later, I would be like,’ Oh God! Why did I do this?’ So that’s learning. This learning came to me after some experience. But I’m fine with my journey.
Has your relationship with your parents changed? In your teens, you had quite a combative relationship with them. Have you become a parent to them now?
You’ve answered the question for me. I left home when I was 17. So I left at that combative time. When I came to Mumbai and suddenly became successful, it was the worst phase of my life. Because I became selfish and self centred and thought only about my career. I didn’t give the required love and importance to my family. I was so impatient with them because I was suddenly the queen of the world. Today, as you said, they are my kids. Not only my parents, my brothers also, all four of them are my children. I appreciate them so much more because I have spent the last few years alone in depression. And today I realise it was wrong of me to sideline them. (Laughs) I’m so glad about that. My fitness has come as a lesson, my film choices are a lesson, the importance given to my family are my lessons. I love it that in my early 30s I have gotten all these lessons that one generally gets in one’s 50s.
During the lockdown, you had become this homebody and you started cooking and all that…
I know there were a lot of negatives, a lot of families were destroyed, a lot of lives were lost. But if I talk of only the positives, I played so many games online, I spoke to my family much more, I cooked so many things. If I know the A B and C of cooking it’s because of the lockdown. I cooked so much. Not only that, I was one of those rare privileged ones who got to travel a lot during lockdown. I lived in London for so long, I went to Turkey, I went to Austria, I went to Maldives of course. I just appreciated that privilege so much more, I appreciated life so much more. I understood the importance of my family and friends, of relationships so much more. I think it made me an even better person.
Tell us about your six months in London…
It was awesome. Because of masks, you could go anywhere. You could walk on the roads, take trains, take buses I was in Dubai till yesterday. I’d gone to meet my friends over the weekend and it was amazing to just take taxis everywhere and sit in coffee shops and do normal things I used to do when I was in the university. I was in Turkey, shooting a film that I haven’t announced yet. I was shooting a film for three months in Turkey when it was the worst time in India, that was March, April and June of this year. But we were in our little bubble, shooting the film and you really feel so thankful. I think COVID-19 helped all of us to look at life differently. So many people have moved out of Mumbai, they’ve started living in Goa or in their hometowns so as to be closer to their loved ones. And I think that’s the biggest change that has come in all of us. It’s beautiful.
Is there anything you miss about your old life?
Sometimes, you want to be anonymous, sometimes you don’t want to have the pressure of global scrutiny. But in the same breath I would say that global scrutiny and expectations from people is a privilege not every actor gets. So that means you are important enough that people care. If I was a nobody and if people didn’t care or if people didn’t mob me at the airport, I would be depressed. So it’s great that I am not anonymous.
Are you excited to shoot with Amitabh Bachchan in Uunchai?
Honestly, again at the risk of repeating myself, I’m thankful and humbled.When Sooraj Barjatya is directing you, when you are standing with Mr. Bachchan, Anupam Kher, Boman Irani, Neena Gupta ó you are like, have they made a mistake ñ How am I here? But when they talk to you and they give you that confidence, it makes you feel that you are doing something right. Same way with Animal, I feel like I am in a dream world with these two films. Sandeep Vanga has chosen me to be opposite Ranbir Kapoor and Anil Kapoor in his next big film after Kabir Singh. It really feels like, ìOkay, it’s coming back.î Slowly but surely it’s all coming back. So I feel humbled, I feel excited and I am like a little student. I look at everything that every actor is doing and I feel so grateful that they have chosen me and allowed me to be a part of this film.