When Incubus released their lead single, Pardon Me in 1999, and I discovered it many years later, what struck me was how obsessed singers and players were with the prime number, and how much of a life-defining time this could be for someone who had turned 23.
At the sweet spot of being young and carefree, still wafting through corridors of rebellion, very rarely has 23 been known for internalising and exuding a cool state of equilibrium, self-assuredness, and inherent grace—qualities our cover girl Khushi Kapoor embodies effortlessly—turning her into the MVP [most valuable player] at 23 as she made her debut with The Archies on Netflix this month, ending the year with a trailblazing new beginning.
Walking into the studio, 10 minutes before her call time and the pre-promotional rounds for The Archies were set to take off, Khushi eased into the set for her first solo debut cover shoot [ever!!!], immediately relaxing the hecticness around her with her cool demeanour. Showing only a hint of nerves as she stood in front of the camera with hair and make-up in place, she slipped into the first look after keenly going through the rack of glam, thoughtfully curated for her. With every click, Khushi met the frequency of expectations the crew and I had, giving us a whole range of expressions and emotions, telling of an actor who understood what was needed and put her all and everything into delivering it.
When we finally sit down separated by distance, connected over call and our shared experience at the shoot, Khushi lets me into her world with the same relaxed disposition as the day we met. Open, thoughtful, reflective, poised, and incredibly centered talking about life so far, her love for cinema and fashion, her tryst with destiny, her incredibly illustrious family and support system, The Archies and her hope for the future.
Pratishtha Dobhal: Congratulations on one of the most talked-about debuts in the last few years. What is your current state of mind like—grateful, anxious, excited?
Khushi Kapoor: Honestly, it changes every day—there are so many emotions and feelings because all of this is extremely new to me. But most of all I am hopeful because we have made the film with a lot of honesty and sincerity, and hope that people appreciate the work we have put into it. There is a lot of nerves since this is the first time, I think, I am really putting myself out there as myself, but at the same time there’s a lot of excitement too.
PD: Take us back to how it all came together—the process of being cast as Betty and travelling back in time through the course of the film to a different era, your learnings about yourself. Plus, how different or similar is Betty to Khushi?
KK: I think I must have auditioned at least four times (the first took place in January 2021) before I got locked in as Betty. I did two auditions as Veronica and then I auditioned for Betty. There was a lot of research that went into the accuracy of being in the ’60s. Zoya [Akhtar] immediately gave us all a handful of comics that we would all read and carry everywhere. We went into it, studying the costumes and the looks while working with an amazing team.
As far as the casting went, I feel Zoya saw a lot of similarities that resonated with the characters we were meant to portray. We all completely trusted her. Although it is a fictional world that has been created, each character has something that someone will relate to and connect with. I found a lot of myself in Betty and that’s why I felt so connected to her. I didn’t feel I had to really do too much, since I feel that innately I am like her.
Through the course of filming, I was discovering a lot of positives and negatives about myself. While there were moments of doubt, I learnt how to put that behind me and have faith in myself as an actor, acknowledging in the process that we had been chosen because Zoya saw something in us.
PD: The Archies is set in the ’60s where the ensemble cast is in their coming-of-age era, all of 17! What was a regular day in the life of 17-year-old Khushi like until a few years ago?
KK: I was doing drama in school and was most excited for my theatre class every day. The highlight of my day was coming back home from school to my dog, Panda (who has been with us for 10 to 11 years, and now we have Mochi too) followed by watching TV as any normal 17-year-old would. I was also quite big on sports until Grade 10 and played a lot of basketball, would go swimming, do a lot of track and field. My mom would always tease my sister because I’d always come back with five or six medals and my sister would just come home covered in mud, nothing to show for it.
PD: What are your earliest memories of being enchanted by the magical world of cinema? On set highlights, enacting your mother’s films—anecdotes you’d like to share which left a lasting impression before you became an actor...
KK: I think it was all I knew when I was a kid because my playground was a movie set and I think it is a blessing for me. But at that time, I was so young I didn’t even realise where I was and what my parents were doing or that it was a huge thing to be actors and producers in this world. Since birth it was very normal for me because it was the only thing I was exposed to. When my sister and I were not on set, we would be at home enacting scenes and watching films. I have this specific memory of putting on Om Shanti Om at home and I would do the wave that Shah Rukh Khan and others would do, making my cousin tie my dupatta on her bracelet to repeat the whole thing. Mom would hate to watch her own movies at home and would get shy and awkward, so we would end up watching them when she wasn’t around and re-enact funny things she would do in them. I remember the Charlie Chaplin impersonations we would make her do at home.
PD: Given that your mother, the late Sridevi ji, has been one of the most celebrated and legendary actors Indian cinema has ever seen, and your dad breathed life into ideas through the massive production and projects he has taken on—did you have observational takeaways that you made a quiet note of, or discussed openly with your parents and sister?
KK: I think Janhvi and I were both raised in a way where we were always told to have a positive and humble attitude towards everyone. I think that’s the one thing that I have observed on sets from both my mom and dad—how they speak and treat other people around them which also makes it easier for other people to want to work with you. Mom started acting when she was probably four years old, so for her it was just second nature. She could easily switch on and off and I know I would never be able to come close to that in my entire career. But I think just watching her taught me so much.
PD: Do you remember the first movie you saw that you couldn’t get out of your head? How did it affect you? What kind of cinema do you like—the director wishlist (national and international) you would like to work with?
KK: I think the first movie premier I have a distinct memory of is Jaane Tu ...Ya Jaane Na. I was really young but I remember I watched that movie every single day for a whole year. And then I remember watching Shutter Island starring Leonardo DiCaprio, which sparked an interest in me, making me obsessed with a wide range of movies across genres, learning a whole lot from all of them.
I love diversity in cinema, so there’s no specific box I would put myself into because as an actor I don’t want to restrict myself either. I am grateful that I got to work with someone as amazing as Zoya, and there are a lot of people I Iook up to and would want to work with...Imtiaz [Ali] sir, [Sanjay Leela] Bhansali sir, Karan [Johar] and so many more people. They all have such distinct ways of telling a story. Internationally, Greta Gerwig comes to mind right now. I recently saw Lady Bird, which is impactful as it allows you to feel that as a young adult you can do something that brings about a change.
PD: Who do you go to for sage advice and pick-me-up moments when or if you are shrouded in self-doubt? And what’s the best advice you keep turning to?
KK: I think between dad, Janhvi, Anshula, and Arjun, I go to them for different advice, depending on the situation. My first call in most situations would be to Janhvi. She always knows the right thing to say to me to make me feel better and calmer. Anshula is the best gift giver. She will always send me the right dessert that makes my heart feel a little better, and Arjun bhaiya gives the best career advice. My dad is always involved in everything I am doing—he’s constantly checking in with me. I am really grateful to have so many people in my life who are so nice, caring, and supportive of me.
PD: Glimmers is the opposite of triggers—a big theme in our issue this month—which means little moments of positivity that can help you feel calm and safe. Are there any recent glimmers that became highlights on a mundane day? How do you temper your emotions?
KK: Unfortunately, I feel I have been exposed to the negative aspects of social media for so long. In my head I would always think there would be a lot backlash to everything I do. But it has been so refreshing and nice to be able to meet people who are so supportive and excited to see what we have made, to see what I have to offer. That is something new for me, which makes me feel warm.
When it comes to mental health, I strongly believe in therapy and checking in with yourself because prioritising your mental health is as important as your physical health. I used to journal a lot, also talking to people you are close to helps. I love listening to music on the set, particularly when I try to take on a character or scene. While filming The Archies, I made a playlist of a lot of ’60s music from films such as Grease and Hairspray. When you are doing something dark and heavy on set you don’t want to bring that energy back home because it can get really taxing on someone to carry that for so long. I have done a lot of acting workshops that help you control and channel these emotions into your work without having to carry the weight of it all the time. At the New York Film Academy, I could step away from certain types of pressure. Doing the same course here came with a lot of expectations attached.
PD: Speaking of diversity and being experimental, you are already touted as fashion’s IT-girl. When did the love affair with all things sartorial start for you? Who would you walk the runway for and who are you gravitating towards as far as designers and styles go?
KK: When I was really young and we’d go for these award shows, I would wear whatever my mom would pick out for me. I probably started taking interest in fashion with the Tumblr era, when I was about 14 years old. I wanted to be a fashion girl and dress like people I looked up to yet bring my own flair to it. Watching my mom and sister, who also loved fashion, was also helpful.
Speaking of someone in India I would like to walk for, it’ll be designer Manish Malhotra—I think his clothes are beautiful. Internationally, there are a lot of new and unknown designers. There is this Swedish model Elsa Holsk who has a new clothing brand, which I recently found....it matches my current aesthetic—it is very right now, chic, and classic. And, of course, there is always Dior.
PD: You have minimal but impactful tattoos—what does getting inked mean to you?
KK: At 16, I got mom, dad, and Janhvi’s birth dates tattooed, and I remember my mom freaked out when she saw it but I told her ‘it’s your birthday so you are not allowed to be mad at me’. But I have so many now that are extremely meaningful to me. I have one that is from a letter Anshula wrote to me and I got it tattooed in her writing on her birthday. I have Betty’s cycle tattooed as well...it’s my latest one. I have some that I thought looked cool. I have always drawn all over myself in school. I would take markers and doodle on my arms and legs and my teacher would yell at me. Now that I am older, I have a lot of tattoos but I think I’m done now.
PD: New Year plans? And, of course, what are you most looking forward to in 2024?
KK: I want to start off the New Year in a way that sets the tone for the rest of the year. So, hopefully around New Year’s, I will be working on something and on the 31st night, maybe I’ll just bring it in with my close friends and family. As for 2024, I have lots of tick marks in my head when it comes to work. I want to keep my head down, and hopefully people will be appreciative of whatever work I am trying to put out and relate to some of the work that I am doing. I’m excited to just dabble in everything and explore and experiment, whether it is movies or in fashion. I think there’s so much I am blessed to be exposed to, so I am just looking forward to the ride.
Stylist: Mohit Rai Photographer: Vaishnav Praveen Make-up: Tanvi Chemburkar; Hair: Aanchal Morwani; Styling Assistants: Shubhi Kumar, Tarang Agarwal
Look 1: Outfit, Gaffe Studios; Jewellery, Swarovski
Look 2: Outfit, Shivan & Narresh; Jewellery, Swarovski
Look 3: Outfit, Rhycni; Jewellery, Inayat Fashions; Shoes, Christian Louboutin
Look 4: Outfit, Rahul Mishra; Jewellery, Swarovski
Look 5: Outfit, Shivan & Narresh; Jewellery, Swarovski