An observation most millennials I have spoken to have about twentysomethings is how comfortable the younger cohort is in their own skin—they come armed with confidence, unlike the generations before them. It was no different with Shanaya Kapoor while on the set of Cosmo India’s July/August cover shoot—also her first time ever as a cover girl.
“Can someone play Rihanna’s songs?”—was the only demand she made, and we obliged. In the hours that followed, Shanaya—she’s not even a movie old, mind you—brought forth, for want of a better word, main character energy. Later, as I sat down to interview the 23-year-old, I gauged a sense of ease that one would mostly correlate with the concept of ‘older and wiser’. Here’s a girl who is self-assured (credits to her Scorpio personality as well?) and insightful. However, she mentions that she didn’t develop this self-belief overnight. Over the last five years, she has learnt to distance herself from the rat race and is unfazed by the unnecessary chatter because she is focused on her own goals. And she intends to keep it that way. Read on as Shanaya talks about her passion for the craft of acting, how she’s one step closer to her dream,
Cosmo: It was your first cover shoot ever, and that’s got to be memorable, right? How do you feel right now?
Shanaya Kapoor: The experience has been amazing because I’ve worked with a team I know, and that makes so much of a difference. Also, being a part of Cosmo India’s cover shoot helps me connect with an audience that’s close to who I am [age-wise]. I always feel that the projects you are a part of should reflect who you (as a person) are so you get to showcase a side of yourself. This cover has allowed me to do just that. So, I’m happy.
C: I’m curious to know—who is Shanaya as a person?
SK: I think that my personality revolves around my work a lot. I am extremely passionate about the job that I do...in fact, I don’t look at it as a job. Of course, sometimes it can get overwhelming. It is a lot of fun to constantly be around my team as well as in front of the camera...I feel it is an extension of me.
C: We started this shoot early (at about 8:00 am). Are you a morning person?
SK: Honestly, I am not a morning person at all (laughs); I’m a night owl. When the lights are out in the house and everyone’s in their respective rooms, that is when I’m wide awake. That’s also when I munch on something and rewatch the films that I’ve already watched a million times...I keep rewatching scenes—mostly from Hindi, English, and sometimes even Korean films—time and again. Recently, when I was shooting (in Mysore) for my film (Vrushabha), I would wake up and watch scenes from Devdas, which is one of my favourite films. I have no idea why I do it (laughs). While I’m definitely not a morning person, waking up to be here for a cover shoot is exciting.
C: So, what’s your day like?
SK: On days when I’m not shooting, I wake up early and attend dance class—here, I get to switch off and be free. I feel very confident looking at myself. Dancing is about expressing what I feel and it is an art form that I have worked on for a couple of years now. I’ve restarted my Kathak classes, so I’m currently dancing on songs from films such as Pakeezah (1972) and Umrao Jaan (1981). I’m also exploring belly dance as an art form; it helps me understand a different culture altogether. Then there’s Bollywood, of course...right now I am going through the entire Katrina Kaif playlist—I am a big fan.
C: Given you hail from a family of actors and filmmakers, there must have always been immense pressure about bagging the right project for your debut. Did you worry about these things while growing up?
SK: I am from a film family and I acknowledge that...but I didn’t have any massive pressure from my parents or from my family. Growing up, and even now, I’ve always been around constant chatter about the industry—movies are a conversation starter at dinners or in casual discussions because everyone in the house is passionate about what they do. We’ve got producers, directors, actors, and stylists (Rhea Kapoor). However, there was no pressure about ‘this is what you have to do’ or ‘this is the film you have to bag’. For instance, my cousin, Anshula (Kapoor) went to Columbia University (Barnard College) and she’s doing what she loves. Everyone is just following their heart.
C: I can tell you’re a hardcore Bollywood fan and acting is your passion. But have you ever thought, if not an actor, what would Shanaya be?
SK: I don’t remember anything other than wanting to do this [acting] as a kid. I never had a moment where I told my parents ‘I want to act’. It was just understood with the drive I had as a kid—my personality was shaping up such that acting was the only thing I wanted to do. And, by the time I grew up, my whole life revolved around it. But, if I have to choose, I would definitely become a dancer—dancing is an art form that allows me to feel close to who I am; it helps me express myself.
C: Is there an actor you look forward to working with?
SK: I would be grateful to work with any of the actors, but I’m a very big fan of Ranveer Singh—he’s the OG. Also, if I could choose, a special thing would be to work with two actors—Ananya (Panday) and Suhana (Khan). Our lives revolved around films while growing up.
C: So, a Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara featuring Ananya, Suhana, and Shanaya...
SK: Yes...maybe I am just putting it out in the universe, but I think that would be pretty cool (smiles). They’re very talented actors and to share screen space with them would be really amazing.
C: Tell me about your pan-India debut Vrushabha, which also has South-based superstar Mohanlal, who is touted as one of India’s finest actors. You’ve worked as an assistant director on Gunjan Saxena: The Kargil Girl (2020). What was it like being in front of the camera?
SK: Sharing screen space with Mohanlal sir in Vrushabha is an incredible opportunity that I feel very grateful about. There’s a lot to learn from him; I’m constantly observing him on set and my mind is on high energy as I want to make the most of every second that I have with him. I am always trying to gauge what he’s going to do next. His aura, energy, and the confidence he exudes is inspiring. I felt very nervous being on screen with him...it just doesn’t feel real.
Working as AD on Gunjan Saxena... was an incredible opportunity; Karan (Johar; Shanaya calls him her mentor) gave me the chance to be behind the camera and learn what happens on a film set. And as an actor, that is very important to know. At that time, it was overwhelming but it was an important part of my journey...when I reached set as an actor on day one (for Vrushabha), yes, I was nervous as hell, but it also felt like I have finally reached home. I recall my first shot with Mohanlal sir—the camera was right in front of me and I was like, ‘Holy sh*t, I need a second’ (laughs). I thought that it was time for me to do everything possible to make sure that the camera catches every emotion I feel. I have to concentrate and be in the zone; this is a one-in-a-million opportunity, and I want to make the most of it. So, I had to pause because I was overwhelmed. However, at the same time, it was extremely special. It seemed like an extension of who I am—I felt like this is what I am supposed to do and I have to work hard so that I can keep doing this for the rest of my life.
C: There’s bound to be a constant comparison (with family members, the new batch of actors, and other star kids you are friends with). Does that scare you?
SK: I am not going to lie and say that I don’t fear things such as being compared to others or being trolled. I am human, and these things affect me. But I recall an interview in which Shah Rukh sir (Shah Rukh Khan) said something really interesting, and that stuck with me. He said: ‘I’m competing with myself. When you are in a race, you’re always looking at the finish line...you should only focus on your race and where you have to reach.” That thought changed my mindset. Whenever there are comparisons, I think to myself that everyone’s on their own journey. You are your own individual; what you have, no one will have, and vice versa. I think that in our industry, it is important to have healthy competition. But, I am my main competition. I am constantly asking myself if I am better today than I was yesterday or a year ago. That is how I think one’s outlook should be.
C: So, Shanaya is not part of the rat race...
SK: No! I think in the span between [ages] 18 and 23, there has been a big shift in my mindset. I am not going to lie and say that I am extremely confident and I’m not insecure. I have my days. But what stuck with me is that everyone has their own destiny, their own journeys and ups and downs.
C: But we all do have insecurities...it’s natural. What are you insecure about?
SK: Of course, we do...and I think it is human. When you are very passionate about a certain job, whatever it may be, you will have insecurities. Because you are always questioning yourself. But I think that when you’re not facing the camera, you have to be thick-skinned, and when you are facing the camera, you need to be vulnerable. It is important to keep that balance. I am never going to lose my vulnerability; I am never going to completely become this rock-solid person with blinders on as if I don’t feel anything. I honestly don’t want to lose that side of me either. These are things that I’m constantly working on.
C: Let’s talk about your style—what’s it like?
SK: Comfort is important to me, but I’m also very passionate about my looks. When I go to important events, I am ready to sacrifice comfort when I want my look to express what I feel. However, on a day-to-day basis, you’ll find me wearing sweatpants or denim shorts with a tank top. That is my personality—I’m laid-back, chilled out, and slightly tomboy-ish...I’m very sporty. My style is minimal and easygoing.
C: You’re an addition to the Puma family, congratulations on that. Tell us about the association and what one can expect from this partnership.
SK: For me, being part of Puma is, firstly, about wanting to send out a message to the younger generation (my generation), especially to the girls that it is okay to be yourself—be chilled out, be a little goofy, and mess up a little bit. Also, it’s okay if your day, your look, your hair, or your skin is not perfect all the time. My association with Puma is also about me showing my sporty side—not many people know that I was extremely athletic when in school. From participating in races, and playing basketball to being part of the long jump and shot put...I have done it all. Puma (her association with the brand)will allow me to showcase that (sporty) side of me, and I am excited for people to see that.
C: We recently celebrated International Friendship Day, and at Cosmo India, we believe that female friendships are extremely important. Friends often have healthy competition—is it the same for you?
SK: I am constantly learning from my friends (who are in the same field) because they understand what happens on set, and on social media; they know the feeling of being rejected, feeling insecure, or even overthinking at times. We are always there for each other. I am constantly learning from them and that is what motivates me. I would say healthy competition is also about constantly pushing each other to be your best versions. And, as friends, we keep doing that.
C: We live in times of constant scrutiny, and the privacy of celebrities is a thing of the past. Does the constant chatter and prying exhaust you, and how do you deal with it?
SK: Everyone has their ups and downs no matter the field they are in. But, it [this constant scrutiny] is something that I have signed up for so I am not going to sit here and complain about it. These things overwhelm me and even make me feel nervous, both in a good way. In fact, I am just grateful that I have not even started out yet and I don’t feel like I deserve it at this point, but it is happening. So, I’m not going to sit and complain that it exhausts me or upsets me. But yes, when it comes to trolling, it is something that you learn to snap out of because it is a part of your job in a way, so you can’t really do anything about it. I am not all confident every day, every second...there are days when I’m feeling really low and insecure. But I constantly remind myself that I am here to face the camera and to work hard. I am here to be a part of the industry—acting is an art form that I’m really passionate about. This noise is just a part of it, but that’s fine because the end game is worth it. Like I said, I built this mindset over the course of a few years after I turned 18.
C: So, what would the 23-year-old Shanaya tell the 18-year-old Shanaya?
SK: Chill out (laughs) and be patient, your time will come when it has to. Everyone’s journey is different and everyone has their own destiny. So, keep your head down, keep training and working hard. Keep working on yourself and also reminding yourself that you are here for the art form and not for the noise—don’t let that mess with your head. When it does, just shut it off.
C: Apart from doing good work and being part of great projects, what would you like to achieve before turning 30—which is a long time from now!
SK: There is a lot I want to do. When I graduated from school, I had a clear-cut plan—but nothing happened. It was my destiny, and I realise that when the timing is right, things will happen. There is always a reason for everything. So now, I don’t have a plan in place. I want to be part of great projects, I want to be the best version of myself, and I want to work harder tomorrow than I have today. I want to keep pushing my boundaries and be versatile as a performer. Also, I want to launch my own business later in life—I am very passionate about skincare. I have always dealt with acne-prone skin; it was my biggest insecurity and it still is. Yes, I am a confident girl, but while you’re growing up, having acne doesn’t make you feel good. When my skin changed, I felt happy about myself. But, yes, I remind myself that it is temporary. It doesn’t affect me much now, but it was such an important phase that I went through. So, I want to tap into skincare eventually because it is something that’s close to my heart.
Image one: Classics Beach Days AOP Crop Top, Classics Beach Days AOP Short Tights, Mayze Beach Days Wns Sneakers, PUMA X STAPLE Cap, PUMA Heritage Footie 3P Socks, and shoes, all PUMA; earrings, E3k
Image two: Eversculpt Low Impact Bra, PUMA X RHUIGI T7 Summer Jacket and Elevated Shorts, and PUMA Heritage Footie 3P Socks, all PUMA
Image three: Foil harness, Eckhaus Latta, bikini top, Urban Outfitters; textured pants, The Bae Club/ Ragged Priest
Image four: Bralette, Miu Miu; skirt, Light before Dark; earrings, Ishhaara; socks, Prada
Photographs by Sasha Jairam, Styled by Chandini Whabi, Hair: Mike Dasir; Make-Up: Riddhima Sharma; Fashion Assistant: Stacey Cardoz