Over a video chat, for the first-ever Work From Home Issue, Cosmo Editor @nandinibhalla interviews Cosmo covergirl Sobhita Dhulipala about what she's up to in quarantine, why she loves spending time alone ("it's like meditation!"), sibling rivalry, and how she created the iconic #WFH cover for Cosmo India, without a make-up artist, photographer, or stylist in sight.
@nandinibhalla: What have you been upto, during the lockdown?
@sobhitadhulipala: “So, I must confess that I have not worked out since 2015 and this is not something I am proud of. I used to work out before I started working on my first film... But my director, Anurag Kashyap, told me, ‘Listen, for this film, I don’t think the character is supposed to be super-fit. You need to look like someone would in real life. Do not look so toned.’ I said okay, that makes sense. So I stopped. And then I took up another film, where I felt my character should have a real body, so I gained 7-8 kilos. It was something I felt was needed for the role. I became incredibly passionate looking like the characters I was playing, and I gained or lost weight accordingly.
In the process, I became so stubborn about enacting the character properly that I ignored fitness. I think I attached it too much to vanity. But now I have realised that it doesn’t have to be that. So I finally started working out at home this year, and then this lockdown began. So I work out for an hour in the morning—yoga and functional training, as soon as I wake up...
Oh wait, I also just started—as of yesterday!—drinking something called bullet coffee, I don’t know if you know about it...”
NB: No, I don't...
SD: “So the first thing I have in the morning is a cup of black coffee with a spoon of butter or ghee in it. It's called 'bullet coffee', and it gives me a slow release of energy throughout the day. It also burns fat!”
NB: Does it taste weird?
SD: “Surprisingly, not so bad.. So I wake up, drink bullet coffee, work out, and then I chill. I go through my phone..I find some random articles about the cosmos or aliens or the lithospheric plate of the planet or some sh*t like that. I like reading about such stuff... Then I read a book, cook, and watch something. Also, I have this thing that at 4pm, I have to make coffee. It’s like my soul tells me, 'Please go make coffee!'. And I read some more, while sipping coffee. I have a compulsive need to read, because if I don’t, I feel like I am missing out on life. Then I speak to my mother on the phone for about one hour. We talk about everything on the planet. So, yeah, my day basically involves functional training exercise, eating, reading books, and watching stuff. And before I go to bed, I read poetry.”
NB: Are you closest to your mom?
SD: “Yeah, I am very close to her.”
NB: And do you speak with her every day for an hour?
SD: “Yeah, I think in the past four or five years I have developed a friendship with her that goes beyond the ‘mother-daughter’ dynamic. There is a bit of an age gap, my parents are 40 years older than I am...
So it was a parent-child equation, throughout. But something changed when I moved to Bombay—suddenly, they found the courage to let me be there by myself. I think they put so much faith in me that I felt the need to live up to them. I speak to my parents often, I am a good daughter...I think. Not a good sister, but definitely a good daughter.”
NB: Why do you think you're not a good sister?
SD: “Well, my younger sister Samantha—she is a doctor—and I used to compete a lot as kids. I don’t know if it is normal...”
NB: Sibling rivalry is totally normal...
SD: “She [Samantha] always had more spunk. She is naturally, how do I say it...interesting, charming, and extroverted; while I was always very geeky. I was a nerdy, scared child who would sit in a corner. So it is really strange that we have swapped places...like, she is a doctor and I am an actor. I think I used to be pissed off with her for being the cooler one.”
NB: We were talking about your body and fitness... What is your relationship with your body and how has that changed over the years?
SD: “We were brought up to stay focused on academics. I mean, nobody in my extended family had anything to do with the arts or the entertainment industry. So how you looked was not a priority. I was a really good student and I loved economics and I thought I would take up something in that zone. But I was also curious, and wanted to do something different, but I did not know what. It took me a while to figure that out. I think in the process, I did not pay attention to my body at all. I still don’t...I don’t think I am very attached to my physical self. For instance, I will dress a certain way because I enjoy it, and I am certainly not afraid of ageing. As a child, I often thought, ‘Sh*t, I am so ugly! All the boys like the other girls! Oh my God, I am lame!’ So my attention automatically shifted to developing my skills. I was like, ‘F*ck it, if I am not the prettiest one in the room. I will be the most intelligent. So I think I focused on learning, spending a lot of time at the library.
Even today, I am a lot more interested in developing my personality and experiencing life to its fullest, and I am not very obsessed with how I look. Which is why I can take risks in terms of the different characters I play, because I don’t feel the need to fulfil any kind of vanity. I feel free. So it is a good thing, I think!”
NB: In the past, in other interviews, you have spoken about really value ‘alone time’. Is that how you feel now as well?
SD: “I am someone who can just bury herself in books and read for hours, or go on solo backpacking trips, so I have a natural tendency to thrive in all kinds of environments. I don’t feel lonely if I am by myself. I am comfortable. I also think everybody wants validation, to feel like we matter or to be loved, or important or something you know? I have wanted it, too. Especially in my college years, I was going through such an identity crisis. With time, I have been trying to get away from that constant need for validation because I am happier being neutral, you know? It is like yoga or meditation, or reading or travelling alone. These are things that recharge me, revitalise me, and make me question who I am, where I am and who are the people I love, why do I love them... I like to introspect, listen to my thoughts. I find it very luxurious, as an experience.”
NB: That's a gift, Sobhita... Not many people enjoy their own company...
SD: “I have been through that grind. So I read something that goes, 'If you move your hand five inches away, you can watch it move'. Similarly, you can watch your thoughts too. Your mind is a mediator, your mind is not you. If you are able to discipline it, if you cross that hurdle, I think everybody can be comfortable in their own company. I feel we get tempted to fill the void with distractions. I think it is really about getting past that, to be able to train your mind, as people train their bodies.”
NB: You are an avid reader, I could even see well-stocked books in the photographs you took for Cosmo. Tell me about some of the books you love.
SD: “I am attracted to books that deal with subjects of mythology, migration, and rural or family conflicts. I am naturally drawn to these subjects. It started when I was young, when I was too scared to socialise or make friends. The school library was my safe haven. I would go there and felt so entertained by the books I read, from cartoons to comic books, even Encyclopedias! I was like, ‘Oh my God, I have all these fun facts, and I will go and share them with my classmates. I became the class entertainer, and everybody was like, 'Do you know this, do you know that?!' I was the teacher’s pet because I had all this extra information. These experiences made me feel very close to books. Reading truly is a gift that keeps on giving. I think one life is not enough to live out all my thoughts and dreams and fantasies, so books are a nice escape into living many, many lives. I am fond of authors like Amitav Ghosh, Arundhati Roy, and Mohsin Hamid. A couple of years ago, I read a book called Today’s Past by Bhisham Sahni, which was a complete surprise to me...
Also, while in college, I was obsessed with Marilyn Monroe. I read every possible biography of hers. I realised how different people wrote about her very differently. It made me realise that perspective was such a wicked thing...”
NB: In the past, you've spoken about how you’ve got this "fire in your belly" when it comes to work. Do you feel the word 'ambition' is sometimes seen as a 'dirty word' for women to use?
SD: “I don’t think ambition must be limited to gender at all. But I do want to talk about how women are not always very supportive of other women. They become very competitive and bitter. I don’t know how it it's the same for men...if they are as catty with each other, but I have met very few women who have it in their heart to watch another strong woman grow, thrive and not feel reduced by. How we will make that change, I don’t know. But here is the thing: I honestly feel empowered as a person because of the choices I have made. I bore the consequences of every one of those choices, sometimes good, sometimes bad. My journey has not been smooth...it had its share of turbulence.
I have gotten to this point, wherever I am in life, on my own. So I feel I am self-made, I have an understanding of what I like and don’t like. I am aware of my shortcomings too. Today, I won't be swayed by somebody’s opinion of me. Somebody cannot just come and suppress me, because I am empowered. I am empowered, because I feel educated, I feel financially secure, and I feel emotionally stable. I can take care of myself and do not need somebody doing my sh*t. Maybe that is a step forward...empowered women do not view 'ambition' in a negative way. Education truly is the way forward...and financial independence, that's so important.”
NB: And where does this 'fire in your belly' come from?
SD: “Being an introverted child gave me the space to observe and to listen, because when you are not busy talking, you just soak in the moment. I know my parents’ life story, their triumphs, their failures, the sacrifices they made for me and my sister so we could have a good life and education. I was never lazy because I felt like it was morally wrong. Even as a child, I felt the need to excel at whatever I did. Even though I went through major lows in life, feeling like I am not cool enough, I was always very dedicated towards doing and being better. I always felt like anything other than that would be a sheer waste of flesh.
Landing my first film turned out to be an extremely character-building experience for me because I worked with people who were so supremely talented and passionate, and did everything that they did for the right reasons. It had a very positive influence on me.”
NB: How do those closest to you, your family and friends, know Sobhita?
SD: “They know me as someone who is extremely emotional and very, very sensitive. I cry while watching cartoons. That is how they know me. I am also someone who is impulsive...like, I could just buy a ticket to Antarctica and leave. But I do accept that I overdo it sometimes. I am very honest with myself, in the sense that I do not lie to myself to feel better. I am blatantly honest and also a little detached...and this is something my family and friends do not like about me. They feel like they can't quite get a hold of me...but I am always there when they need me...when sh*t goes down, I am there.”
NB: What about fame and popularity...how do you feel about that?
SD: “My greatest heroes in life are people who did not necessarily have fame in their time. But that did not change my admiration for them at all. I also know a lot of people who have immense fame but, at the same time, are absolutely and utterly uninspiring. To me, fame or popularity does not equal significance. People that I look up to can cause change. I admire people who are honest and poetic in the way they have lived their life, and those people were not necessarily famous. I never felt the need for fame, to be honest. Of course, everybody wants to be celebrated among my friends and family or to people that matter. It is something I have learnt to deal with in time.
As a teenager, I thought it was so cool when other girls got attention. I did not get that while I was in school or college because I was super-geeky. But after I started modelling, and started getting noticed by people, I realised that it does not thrill me. Attention gives you a temporary rush and then you are back to feeling the way you did before. It is like a drug, like any drug—the more you have it, the more you need it.”
NB: What do you think women need to do differently to become more loving and confident versions of themselves?
SD: “I think a step forward would be to distance yourself a little from your immediate attachments. Be it your physical or emotional attachments, or even your relationships... It's important to draw a thin line around yourself to understand who you are outside of being a mother or sister or wife, you know? I feel people are so consumed with the roles they play, that they don't really know who they are outside of those roles. I know so many women who are wonderful mothers, but don't have a life beyond being a mother. It is sad because life must be lived in all aspects.
It is important to pay attention to who you are outside of these roles. Even if it is for half an hour a day, just be by yourself. Maybe go to a park or your terrace, just do something that does not involve interaction...and then question who you really are. This will help you understand yourself better and form a personality that has strength. Alone time is extremely positive, in my opinion.”
NB: And, finally, what is the one thing that really annoys you?
SD: “Irresponsibility. I cannot handle it. Or the lack of discipline; it upsets me. I hate it, with a passion! And, I mean everything I say. For instance, if I say I will not waste water, I will follow it diligently. So when people are dishonest and say things they do not mean, I feel very disappointed.”