Looking at shots from the ELLE photo shoot, Waluscha De Sousa is pleased. “It’s nice to see the way my body has shaped up.” Then quickly to herself, “Okay maybe now you should tone it down.” De Sousa has to be the most guardedly optimistic Bollywood debutant you ever saw. She’s watching her words and treading carefully because this might just be the year that changes everything.
In her early thirties, De Sousa is starting on something new. A beauty queen and model in her twenties, she was discovered by Wendell Rodricks and has been a regular fixture on Indian ramps for years. Along the way, she married and had three children. A couple of years ago, the marriage (with former model Marc Robinson) ended and De Sousa got back to work. “I stopped working for a very long time and this is sort of my second innings. There was a time when I was very naïve and took things for granted. So now I’m living in the moment, in all awareness."
She’s aware, for instance, that she’s living the dream. De Sousa wanted to be an actor from the start, but for over a decade, nothing worked out. Then, boom, a film with Shah Rukh Khan. Landing a role in Fan, slated for release in April, had the effect of unnerving her initially. “It’s a big production house [Yash Raj Films], a huge superstar, a great director [Maneesh Sharma], and I was just very nervous. Shanoo [Sharma, casting director] said to me, ‘Waluscha, you’re in or you’re out.’ It was a no-brainer — of course, I’m in!"
Making a Bollywood debut at this point in her life, says De Sousa, has been kind of perfect. “I’m more confident now. I know what I want and I know what it takes. For me, this is the perfect time. It couldn’t have been earlier, it would never have been later.” That confidence also comes from being in fantastic shape. Thanks to her athletic background (sprints, long-jump, swimming in school), her physique has always been spare and toned. But Pilates has kicked things into the next gear, giving her body a new pliability and strength.
“When I want to become lean and lengthen my muscles, I turn to Pilates,” she says, “I used to do a lot of weight training but I felt like it would make me very stiff. I needed my body to stretch and become more flexible.” Other muscles needed stretching too, specifically the ones that help you emote in front of a crowded set. For those, De Sousa attended acting workshops that had a therapeutic effect. “They help you tap into your emotions and sort of relive them. So whether it’s [for] sadness or joy, you are revisiting your past. It’s healing and beautiful.”
But there was no prepping for the SRK effect. “They say action and suddenly Shah Rukh is not in the room because he’s slipped into his character. Just to watch that transformation happen within seconds… I was imbibing, I was learning.” De Sousa is not allowed to talk about the character she’s playing in Fan, only letting on that it’s very close to who she is in real life. And who she is in real life is a single mother of three with a hectic schedule. How does she stay on top of it all?
For starters, she focuses on the stuff she can change. “There are so many things that go on in my life that I have no control over. The one thing I do have control over is my body. Exercise makes me feel good about myself and that energy translates into everything I do.” She’s also a mindful eater, even if she’s not a big fan of the word diet. “Getting back in shape every time [after a baby] is a bit of a task, but again you have to take control. You need to pay attention to what you put into your body. I’d rather eat things that are fresh and available locally. I also eat for my blood group; non-vegetarian food suits my system. You have to listen to your body and once you do, [staying fit] becomes really easy.
”It’s going to take a cast-iron constitution to withstand the attention 2016 will bring for the naturally reticent De Sousa. Heroines who’ve made a Bollywood debut opposite Shah Rukh Khan have gone on to become somewhat successful. (See: Deepika Padukone, Anushka Sharma.) Fan has already generated a lot of hype for its unusual storyline. Khan will wear prosthetics to play two roles, that of a movie star and his biggest fan. All of director Sharma’s earlier films (Band Baaja Baaraat, Shuddh Desi Romance) have strong women characters. De Sousa’s Bollywood break may have arrived late, but man, is it making up for lost time.
She’s currently reading other scripts and promises exciting projects in the year ahead, though she isn’t talking about them yet. It might become harder for De Sousa to stay so private once the glare of the spotlight touches her. “I have no clue what I’ve gotten myself into. But I’m going to ride this wave, let’s see where it takes me.”
Photographs: Taras Taraporvala; Styling: Sohiny Das; Art direction: Reshma Rajiwdekar; Make-up and Hair: Mitesh Rajani; Assistant: Vaani Kapoor (Styling)