The problem with being Ananya Panday is that everyone thinks they know what it’s like to be her. Looking in from the outside, the 25-year-old’s life can justifiably appear like a fuschia-toned fever dream. A rolodex stacked with the must-know names in showbiz, a marquee of big-ticket projects in the pipeline and love from international couture houses: check, check and check. The quarter million followers she commands on Instagram is just another cherry on the bubblegum sundae that is her life.
But look closer, and you will find evidence of Panday’s greatest trompe l’œil yet: her ascent to stardom isn’t a fortuitous thunderbolt but rather, a knowing wink at her perceived persona. Yes, she hears your litany on the candy floss lacquer of her seemingly picture-perfect life. Instead of buckling under the narrative, she has been craftily pouring it into a bevvy of roles, from the well-intentioned naïveté of Tia in Gehraiyaan (2022) to Zoya Akhtar’s next, Kho Gaye Hum Kahaan, that is being touted as Dil Chahta Hai for the digital age. In her 25th year now, she is still the same girl-next-door of Student of the Year 2 (2019), but she has since blossomed emotionally.
As she strikes a pose for the cover shoot of ELLE’s beauty special issue, a forgotten memory is ignited. “The first time I ever played with make-up was on my nani’s face,” her voice takes on a delighted trill as she indulges in a gleeful reprieve. The reason behind her mirth is soon apparent: with her sister as a co-conspirator, the duo drew a line down their grandmother’s face for a makeover competition of sorts. On her half of the canvas, Panday sheepishly admits that she commandeered clashing hues and riotous pigments. “A lot of my beauty influences today are drawn from my grand- mother and my mother. I have a very strong memory of my mom wearing turquoise kajal when I was younger, and now, I find myself subconsciously gravitating towards pinks and blues often.”
Over the course of the half-decade that she has spent in showbiz, the star’s lexicon of beauty has faced its own reckoning, and she has chosen to consciously eschew the arbitrary level of glamour expected from celebrities offscreen. “I simply cannot do all these put-together airport looks,” she says. But while she is now comfortable with appearing on screen with a bare face if a role requires it, hers is a hard- earned confidence. “High school is a difficult time for everyone,” she says as she reflects on the body-shaming she was subjected to during her adolescence. “Everyone has their own set of insecurities, and it never really gets better. I still feel insecure about my body, and it’s always different—sometimes, it is sparked by a comment somebody made about your body and other times, it’s just how you feel about yourself on a particular day.”
She finds solace by looking at herself in the mirror with kinder eyes. “I still believe I’ve had it easier because I had a childhood without phones. Things are tougher for teenagers these days as it can be easy to seek validation from social media,” she observes while noting that she isn’t immune to its extremities either. “There is a constant overload of information on social media, and you don’t know how much of it will impact you negatively. It slowly creeps up on you, and that negativity starts building up. Which is why I’ve started muting and unfollowing pages that make me feel anxious, sad or unhappy in any way—I have grown quite ruthless,” she notes with quiet pride.
Concealed within her words is the tidal wave of emotional maturity that has been steadily pricking the insularity of her rose-tinted life. This is a star who still cannot manage to clock in more than three hours of sleep before the first day of a new shoot but is also cognisant of how to show herself kindness in the face of incessant trolling. “Spending time alone helps me because I’m constantly surrounded by people, advice and opinions. There’s a lot of background noise, so spending time by myself and listening to my own voice is what calms me down.”
The ever-looming spectre of nepotism might be one of the most caustic tools wielded by her detractors, but Panday has chosen to have the last word by not attempting to outrun it. As she buckles down, blocks out the noise and puts in the work, one fact is glaringly obvious: the girl next door has, indeed, come of age.
ELLE India Editor: Ainee Nizami Ahmedi, Photographer: Rema Chaudhary, Fashion Editor: Zoha Castelino (styling), Asst. Art Director: Sanjana Suvarna (cover design), Words: Hasina Jeelani, Makeup: Mitesh Rajani (Feat. Artists), Hair: Ayesha Devitre, Bookings Editor: Aliza Fatma, Assisted by: Komal Shetty, Siyaa Mannuja (styling); Raaina Jain (bookings), Production: Cut Loose Productions, Artist’s Reputation Management: Hype PR