Iranian-German model-turned-actor, who is known for her acting chops in Sacred Games and Made in Heaven S2, and singer on beating the odds, breaking into Bollywood, and staying true to herself.
Cosmo: You started modelling at a very young age. Was it a lifelong passion?
Elnaaz Norouzi: Absolutely, I have always liked being in the spotlight. Since childhood, I aspired to become an actor and at some point, it developed into a stronger desire of becoming a Bollywood actor. I remember I was 11 years old when I suddenly became very tall. By the time I turned 14, I naturally had the figure of a model. That was the main reason why I could start so early. Also as a model, you do get to act in ad-films, and that helped me understand the camera enough to be comfortable experimenting in front of it.
C: How has the transition from modelling to pursuing an acting career in Bollywood been like so far?
EN: Modelling and acting are very different. Modelling is about quick projects while acting demands sustained commitment. You have to put all your heart and soul into that one project and disconnect with the world to be able to get into that character. It’s been a beautiful transition, given that I’ve always wanted to become an actor. However, becoming a part of the film industry in India was particularly tough for me because I had no support to begin with. I had to find a means of living, pay my bills, and navigate life on my terms while also trying out for Bollywood at the same time. I had to kind of stop modelling to put more hours into my acting career.
C: Take us through the time you knew you had finally broken into the film scene.
EN: The evolution was tough but breaking into the film scene felt like a dream. When I got my first project, Sacred Games, I thought this was it! Made In Heaven Season 2 was another milestone. I think I have made it, but as an outsider, it still took a lot of struggle to get to this point.
C: What kind of characters and roles are you looking to portray in the future?
EN: I am looking for projects in which I can portray complex characters with a lot of layers. I tend to challenge myself and such roles would allow me to do just that. I’d also love to experiment with different genres like action and thriller, where I can showcase my range as an actor.
C: It’s been a few years since you’ve been a part of the film industry. Do you still feel the pressure of fitting in?
EN: It’s hard, to be honest, because they don’t let you in easily and I’m constantly hustling with making my place here.
C: How do you ensure you stay true to your identity in an industry that often puts people in a box/ stereotypes them?
EN: There have been quite a few instances where I have felt the pressure to conform. I feel like I have been losing my sense of self and trying to be someone I am not but I am constantly trying to fight it and push through even when times get hard. In the end, you have just got to stay grounded, trust yourself, know who you want to be, and hope that it works out.
C: Is language and diction something you focus on?
EN: I have learnt how to read and write in Hindi and the Devnagri script. I remember once somebody made a joke on set that other than Amitabh Bachchan ji, only Elnaaz asks for a Devnagri script [laughs]. I really try to work hard on my diction and make sure that my pronunciations are correct.
C: Share your journey as a singer and talk to us a little about your latest releases.
EN: Throughout the years, whenever I would sing, people would always make it a point to tell me that I have a nice voice. Initially, I did not want to take up anything that I am not trained for. During the pandemic, I met a music manager in Germany while I was stuck there. I had no work or shoot so I thought to myself, why not work on my voice and make some music. So that was what I did, my songs were actually born in Germany.
My latest song, 'Jamal Jamaloo', has been making waves across the world. Being the only Iranian actor in India I thought it was my duty to put out a cover on it. So, my inspiration for creating music came from the people who encouraged me to sing, along with the fact that music is therapeutic to me and I love the creative process that goes into making a good song.
C: How do you usually centre yourself on a day when things are not going the way you would like them to?
EN: Praying, meditating, breathing and seeking my friends’ advice help me stay grounded. I have great friends who I can really count on. They stand by me and help me go through the craziest times and I am extremely grateful for that.
C: What comes to mind when you think of home?
EN: India is home, so whenever I am outside the country I think of my apartment. Iran and Germany are always on my mind for the most part because that was where I grew up.
C: Are there any exciting projects in the works? What are you looking forward to in 2024?
EN: I’m looking forward to Ranneeti: Balakot & Beyond, my series that will be coming out on Jio Cinema. I got a chance to do a little action sequence in it, something that I have always wanted to do. I am also part of a suspense thriller with Nawazuddin Siddiqui called Sangeen, which hopefully should be out this year. Apart from that, I have been working on a lot of interesting music projects abroad, and I’m excited to put out those songs for the world to hear.
Quick bytes with Elnaaz
C: What is your favourite fashion trend RN?
EN: Sustainable clothing—being aware of what you’re wearing is super cool.
C: Your fail-safe beauty secret to looking fabulous at all times?
EN: I make sure I exfoliate on time and moisturise the hell out of my skin. As funny as that sounds, a lot of people I know don’t use toners, so you might want to rethink that decision.
C: Who is Elnaaz when she is not acting or modelling?
EN: Elnaaz is a little goofy girl who is full of love and constantly in need of comforting hugs.
C: Your go-to song when you want to unwind...
EN: I’d put on a whole Adele album. Hope that doesn’t sound too weird [laughs].
C: Your role model in life
EN: Women like Angelina Jolie, Jennifer Lopez, and Heidi Klum. In Bollywood, it would be Tabu, and Shah Rukh Khan—his journey is enough to inspire millions.
Styling by Medha Bahuguna; Photographs by Vansh Virmani; Hair and make-up: Komal Gulati
On Elnaaz Norouzi:
Look 1: Gown, S&N by Shantnu & Nikhil; top, H&M; boots, Dune London; handcuffs, Zara; earrings, Mango
Look 2: Dress and blazer, Forever New; top, H&M; stockings, gloves and earrings, all Zara; shoes, Dune London
Look 3: Blazer, shirt and dress, Ralph Lauren; boots, H&M; earrings, Aldo; bag, Dune London; belt, stylist’s own
Look 4: Denim jacket and bag, both Diesel; shimmer pants, Mango; earrings, H&M