ELLE Cover Star: The Girl Reaching For The Stars

Ananya Panday February Elle Cover Star

In school plays, she would always be in the background—in all likelihood playing the role of a tree, standing with her arms raised. ‘I would audition but never land the main role’, goes an old complaint from Ananya Panday. There’s no relegating her to the background anymore. Ananya’s on your feed, on your watch-list and she’s on hoardings in your city. By all parameters, she’s a success. But I want to know if she feels the same way. “Success is about the little things,” she says. “The first time I saw myself on a poster, or each time a new song of mine is released, I’m just so happy that I get to be an actor. My dad has always taught me that success is so transient— it’s constantly changing. He’s always taught me to just be happy while working, and work with good people. And I guess that that’s what success means to me—it’s happiness.”

Top and skirt by Faraz Manan; earrings and rings, all by Mia by Tanishq

A Sisterhood Of Shared Experiences

Ananya is 23, an age at which most people seek validation and evaluate their worth via opinions of complete strangers on social media. She, on the other hand, turns to close friends Shanaya Kapoor and Suhana Khan to discuss every topic under the sun. I wonder what I would be privy to, if I were a fly on the wall when the friends are chatting away. The three young women bond over their common backgrounds, growing up with famous parents, in households where dinner table conversations revolved around films.

Medusa woven chain blazer, chain silk bralette, and La Coupe Des Dieux silk pants, all by Versace. Meraki black enamel resin earrings, DVF black resin bangle, and Soleil black enamel two stone ring, all by Isharya. Maisie chain, and Rabab chain, both by Anayah Jewellery. Diamond leaf ring, and floral diamond ring, both by Tallin Jewels. Joisted heels, by Steve Madden.

Is it overwhelming, being a celebrity by association, I ask Ananya. She admits that she’s lucky to have friends who understand what it’s like to be under constant scrutiny. “When you have to deal with constant comments about your weight, looks and style from a very young age, it can get a little scary. It’s great to have someone who understands this feeling and is there to support you no matter what. I can call either of them at any time of the day or night and I know they’ll understand me without any judgement. And that’s a relationship that I want to hold on to for the rest of my life.”

White beaded gown by Faraz Manan. Earrings, bracelets and rings, all by Mia by Tanishq.

“Besides close friends, there are so many people that I look upto. Most of the women around me are so inspiring. When it comes to actors, I look up to Kareena and Alia, just because of the balance I see in them. They don’t shy away from any kind of cinema; they do a little bit of everything. And they’re so good at what they do. I don’t think that there are any roles that they’ve done that I feel like I could have done justice to; because they’ve been phenomenal in everything. But I would love to play someone like Geet, that Kareena played in Jab We Met. Because I felt that it was such an arc in that character. There were so many subtle nuances and so many changes in her personality. But I look up to both of them for their personalities off screen too. They both have been very real and honest. As a young girl, that’s something that I’ve really valued in actors—when you feel like you can relate to someone that you watch on screen.”

Zirconium Iridescent Gold Hand-Embellished Tulle gown by Pankaj and Nidhi. 92.5 Sterling silver studded with Swarovski Zirconia earrings by Soni Sapphire. Tennis Chain 2mm, and Baguette ring, both by Zillionaire.

Role Play

Ananya is four films old; her debut movie Student of The Year 2 came out in 2019. Much has changed since then, and yet, some things remain the same. I ask Ananya about her nerves before her first movie released. She takes a moment before replying, “I’m happy that I was nervous before it came out. I still get nervous before any film releases. I still get nervous before every day on set or every shot that I take. It’s not a scared kind of nervous, it’s excitement mixed with nervousness, where you don’t know what’s going to happen next and I want to keep that going. I never want to know too much and I never want to get too confident. I want to keep that nervous energy and use it in my work.”

Gold chainmail halter top, and gold chainmail wrap skirt, both by Rocky Star. Chain Earrings, American diamond bracelet, sterling silver studded with Swarovski Zirconia bracelet, and American Diamond Bracelet, all by Soni Sapphire. Diamond leaf ring, and floral diamond ring, both by Tallin Jewels. Double butterfly ring by Viange Fine Jewels.

We chat about Gehraiyaan, Ananya’s latest release that has ignited numerous conversations about her character in the film and morality. I’m keen to know the young actress’ take on relationships.” I am not okay with infidelity,” comes the steadfast reply. “I’m an extremely loyal person and to me, trust and communication, and honesty are very important in a relationship. But from Gehraiyaan, my takeaway is to not be judgmental about relationships that you don’t know about, or situations that you’re not in.”

White beaded gown by Faraz Manan. Earrings, bracelets and rings, all by Mia by Tanishq.

Which brings us to Ananya’s film reviews, some of which are ruthless. An oft-repeated comment is that she plays herself in the films. Ananya, however, strongly disagrees. “All my characters are pretty far from how I am as a person. Sure, there are parts of yourself that you borrow from and inject into your characters, but you also change and discover parts of yourself after playing them. So, there’s always a fluidity between you as a person, and your characters.” Ananya mentions that she doesn’t have a role in mind that will make her feel like she has arrived. “ I never want to feel like I’ve arrived. I do not want to ever get so complacent. I want to keep learning, keep growing and I want to put myself in uncomfortable situations as an actor so that I can learn and grow from there.”

Top and skirt by Faraz Manan; earrings and rings, all by Mia by Tanishq

Reel vs Real

From my interview with Ananya, I also gather that she’s a bundle of contradictions. “I am an ambivert. I may lean a little more towards the extroverted side, but I do have an incredibly private, shy side as well.” she observes. “On some days, I just want to be in bed, watch movies all day, and on some days, I want to go solo-backpacking! I don’t even know who I am honestly; I’m all over the place.”

Gold chainmail halter top, and gold chainmail wrap skirt, both by Rocky Star. Chain Earrings, American diamond bracelet, sterling silver studded with Swarovski Zirconia bracelet, and American Diamond Bracelet, all by Soni Sapphire. Diamond leaf ring, and floral diamond ring, both by Tallin Jewels. Double butterfly ring by Viange Fine Jewels.

In a time when most actors carefully curate their words and reactions, Ananya is refreshingly honest. And perhaps that honesty, mixed with a bit of naivety (she is only 23, after all), shines through when she faces the camera. As an actor who is often photographed in denims and a simple tee, she is relatable to her fans. But there’s one thing Ananya seems to know for sure—that she is here to be the best actress she can ever be.

Content Director & Editor: Kamna Malik; Photographer: Tarun Vishwa; Fashion Editor: Zoha Castelino, Hair: Ayesha Devitre; Make-up: Stacy Gomes; Art Direction: Sanjana Suvarna; Production: CutLoose Productions; Editorial Assistant: Aliza Fatma; Assisted by (styling): Komal Shetty, Priyuta Sodiwala; Artist’s management agency: Spice.

- Director

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